A young golfer?s initial insight into golf can have a major influence on the pleasure they gain from the game for the rest of their life.
Safety is fundamental. Children have to be aware of their own safety as well as other golfers around them when practising and playing. The features of safety should be reiterated each time your young golfer picks up a club.
Avoid all technical information and instruction. Simple, straight forward instruction will assist a free flowing movement and will maintain the child?s interest.
I believe that a child between the age of 3 and 6 should first be introduced to putting. The lack of strength at this age should not inhibit the goal of getting the ball in the hole. When on the putting green encourage the child to roll the ball with their hand first, this gives them the feeling of rolling and releasing the ball to a target. Then give them a putter and encourage them to do the same thing.
A good shot for youngsters may well be literally getting the club back to the ball and advancing it forwards. Encourage this and get them to hit it hard with a balanced follow through. To assist them in getting the ball in the air ask them to hit the tee peg under the ball.
With older/stronger children using irons and woods, just encourage them to get the ball in the air. To do this the focus should be on hitting underneath the ball and holding the follow through position until the ball lands. Try and encourage the child to hit the ball as hard as they can and then hold their follow through, this will mean that they make a balanced motion with some force. Children like to hit it a long way and I believe that this should be encouraged, not discouraged, while hitting it hard they must always maintain their balance through the swing. Ask your child lots of questions and develop an awareness of what is happening when they swing the club and hit the ball.
When practising with your young golfer keep it varied and incorporate parts of the entire game. Make practise fun and competitive, play lots of games.
When purchasing equipment for your young golfer always take advice from your PGA Pro. Nowadays junior equipment is such good value that you do not need to give your young golfer old cut down clubs that are too heavy for them to swing. You should be able to pick up a starter set of bag, wood (5 wood), iron (7), and putter from approximately £20. Describe to your child the make up of a club, heel, toe, sole, shaft, grip and most importantly the sweetspot, mark the sweetspot on the club with a large coloured spot that the they can see and feel when they hit.
As the young golfer starts to play more thought should be given to further development. This includes instruction from a PGA Pro. Group lessons are a good idea for assisted practice and to meet others.
As soon as a young golfer can consistently get the ball in the air I feel they should play on the course. This does not mean keeping score for 18 holes, this would probably put a young golfer off the game because they lack the strength, stamina and concentration to play that many holes and enjoy it. All young golfers have to understand the reason for the practice, so even just to play one hole on the course will show the child what golf is about. Make the experience on the course as fun as possible;
? Play foursomes golf or a texas scramble format. Playing as a team is something that children are use to doing at school and in other sports and not having to hit every shot will help them with their strength, stamina and concentration.
? Tee the ball up on all shots; this makes it a lot easier for them to get the ball in the air, therefore increasing their confidence and enjoyment.
? As you play around the course with them play their tee shots from the 150 yard marker, the holes will obviously be lot shorter and a lot less intimidating.
? Introduce the idea of scoring and let the young golfer set the par for the hole. Ask them what they think they could score when on the tee and then make the par for the hole.
As enthusiasm and ability develops this would be a good time to consider joining a local golf club. When choosing a club make sure there are plenty of activities organised for the juniors. Is there a dedicated Junior Organiser? Try and speak to this person. A healthy junior section will have lots of other juniors to play with and become friends with. Encourage your young golfer to play with adults and better players too; this is one of the best ways for children to improve. During the school holidays many clubs organise Junior Opens. This is a great way for your young golfer to experience competitions on different courses. This is also an inexpensive way in which to play a different course every day in the holidays.
Never place too much emphasis on the score. The first thing you should ask your young golfer when they come from the club/course is ?Did you enjoy yourself and what did you learn?? Not ?What did you score?? Too much emphasis on score and handicap will lead to your child becoming too result orientated and then they can start to become frustrated with the game, this will potentially affect your child?s enjoyment of the game, which is what it really is all about.
Neil Plimmer is PGA Professional at Mid Sussex Golf Club and a Golf Monthly Top 25 Coach, he is also involved in the Open Mind Golf Centre of Learning.