The first step in getting your 4 years and older child started with golf is identifying their interest. Golf is one of those things that you either have it in your DNA or not. You talk to some folks and it’s the same for kids. Some will be interested in hitting the little ball with a club and others just won’t have an interest.
This isn’t to say two or three swings and they are a golfer. You’ll want to give them a chance to exhibit long term interest. For some kids, the best thing to do is take them with you to the practice area. The putting green is a good first stop to test interest. In fact it’s a good place to start even if you don’t golf. Have a putter handy for them, shorter the better, maybe a ladies 31″ putter laying around, but not critical. Another choice to test interest is mini golf, but I preferred the practice green as it is less distracting.
Let them know they can practice too, with their club and a ball, and go about your practice on the green. Of course you’re not there to practice but to provide an example for them and to observe. You’ll see quickly if there is any interest. If they hang in there putting more than a two or three times, you *may* be on to something. Don’t be discouraged if not. You can try this any time.
If they seem interested, show by example a stable set up, a good grip, and swing “smoooooothly”. The putter swing should be like a pendulum the same distance behind the ball as passed the ball. Tell them to watch the ball until it is gone. Start immediately with the goal of getting it close to the cup. Let them know that good contact is their number one job. Always work on good contact. The biggest challenge will be getting them to hit with control. Challenge them to NOT go passed the hole, but leave it close for a “two putt.” You’ll know they’re a golfer at this point, not necessarily the next Tiger Woods, but someone who can play the game.
As her putting improves and she starts consistently two-putting from outside six feet, move off the green with an iron. Here the challenge was to make par in 3: a chip on and a two put. First we started just off the fringe, then increased the chipping distance as he improved. By now you may have found some kids clubs, even a toy steel set, but at least a putter, 9 iron or so, and a wood. See the Equipment page for more info.
It may be time to hit the practice tee with a small bucket and introduce him to driving. The swing thoughts are the same … swing smoothly and keep looking at the ball until it is gone (head down). An added component to the driver swing for him was to brush the grass going back. I would show him a sweep back from the ball along the grass, then, swing smoothly and keep your head down. Again, as with putting and chipping, never more than ten maybe twenty minutes, unless he asks to stay. Keep the sessions short and sweet.
Focus on contact as job one. Even a half swing back and through with good contact is better than full swings with bad contact. Get him used to focusing on good contact and swing easy. Let the club do its job.
Keep in mind the four basic parts of a golf swing:
- the setup,
- the back swing,
- the through swing, and
- the finish.
These four parts can be taught to a young child golfer.
For the setup: have them straddle the ball, club behind it, and count to three before the back swing.
For the back swing and through swing: after counting to three in the setup, have them say “peanut” in the back swing and “butter” in the through swing, or “Coca” “Cola”, or anything they have fun saying that has a tempo.
For the finish: our son “won” a trophy during his golf after school enrichment class at two and a half. He was very proud. We always told him, and still do … “finish like your trophy.” Visuals are better than words at this age and they can see the trophy and imitate it. Go to a trophy shop, or on line, and buy a small golf trophy with a golfer on it. Have your own tournament and award the trophy to your child golfer. Then you can do what we did. Without a good upright balanced finish in mind from the start, it’s very difficult to have a good swing.
By the way, you’ll hear the term swing thought a lot in golf. These thoughts are the little reminders in each part of the swing. Go to a trophy store and buy a small inexpensive golf trophy and give this prize to your child golfer early, otherwise, have fun trying to explain a good finish with words, time and again!
Speaking of prizes, please let me share another tool I employed along the way. This was okay with us and you’ll have to make your own call. We established “par prizes” for our son. A par prize is a small prize for making par. At this stage, we defined par as a three strokes, a chip onto the green and two putts. What quickly became apparent for us was that this was also a wonderful tool to teach earning and saving. We allowed him to accumulate prizes and two small prizes equaled a medium prize and three small prizes equaled a large prize.
My wife and I discussed par prizes and together we decided we like the idea for us. We felt that even for pros, prizes are a part of the sport. We established the value of a small prize at five dollars or less. This amount of five dollars for a small prize was okay with us and our budget, but truthfully to a four or six year old, is somewhat arbitrary. If you choose to employ par prizes, certainly choose a value, or even non-monetary prizes, that work and feel right for you. Kids that young have no concept of dollar value, it’s the prize itself that motivates.
Now, I said five-dollar par prizes worked within our budget, but, very quickly, that train left the station and was chugging really fast down the track! He was walking away with two and three prizes each session. So, with due explanation and request for his understanding that, “I have to buy dinner too,” we had to change par to two strokes total, a chip close and one putt. Well, I have to tell you, he was making pars again in no time. We created a monster; and we were happy about it. He was getting good at golf very quickly and wanted to play a lot. He was also very proud when we made our trips to the store for prizes, and, if he had none “stored up”, he was eager to play to earn some. Par prizes stayed with him for a long time, albeit with some adjustments as he improved.
One day we were at the chipping green and, lo and behold, he aced one … yep, a hole in one. An ace was bound to happen, but boy, when it did, he looked at me as if he did something wrong. He just didn’t know what to do! I nearly cried. This was a gift from him to me that I will cherish forever; that look on his face, priceless. That was the moment I decided he was ready for the course. Oh, and I bonused him an extra prize for the ace.
Note that all this will likely accelerate if your child is six, seven, or eight. The basics remain the same though.