A PGA Junior League match isn’t your grandfather’s stately round at the country club — but if they let him play, he’d probably have a blast! It’s raucous; it’s rambunctious; it’s revolutionizing the way kids experience the great game. And they’re flocking to it.
“We’ve blown away our numbers,” says Kaitlin Sabbagh, Met PGA director of player development. “Last year, we had 800 kids in Westchester on about 40 teams. We expect 60 teams this year.” Pretty exciting for a concept that was introduced just three years ago.
How does it work? Simply put, kids 13 and under play on teams with their friends, wear matching jerseys, and compete in a two-person scramble format in six- to nine-hole matches against teams from other courses in their area. Boys and girls play on the same teams. Cheering is encouraged, as is pizza and ice cream after the match (sometimes even during the match).
As you might expect, those stuffy old rules of golf are somewhat relaxed. “Everyone on the team can be involved in a match,” Sabbagh says. “Even if they’re not playing, they can help find balls, read putts, tend pins, or rake bunkers.” Substitutions can be made after three holes so that every kid gets a chance to play. Some teams even allow parents to accompany the players, especially when there a lot of younger team members.
Captains, who are all PGA or LPGA professionals, draw up team schedules of home and away matches within the leagues, which are organized geographically. Matches are held April through July. There is a minimum of eight players per team, although some have as many as 30 players. One of the unspoken advantages of PGA Junior League is the quality of the instruction and coaching the kids receive. Team captains are PGA or LPGA professionals, not just well-meaning volunteers.
Nearly every private club in the county has jumped on the PGA Junior League bandwagon, and many of them don’t require parents to be club members. Some of the daily-fee courses with teams include Dunwoodie, Centennial, Mohansic, and Beekman.
The pioneer kids’ golf program in our area, the First Tee of Metro NY, continues to grow its services as it grows the game. Most recently, according to senior director of operations Barry McLaughlin, “We’ve partnered the First Tee Life Skills Experience with our Path to College program to provide even more impact.”
Last year, the First Tee of Metro NY reached more than 10,000 kids at its headquarters at Moshulu GC in the Bronx, satellite courses in New Jersey and Long Island, and its Westchester location, Game On Golf in White Plains.
“We worked with the new ownership at Game On Golf to create a putting green, chipping area, and tee line specifically for First Tee,” McLaughlin points out. “We run programs in the spring and fall after school and weekends throughout, as well as weekdays through the summer.” The First Tee also participates in PGA Junior League and partners with the LPGA/USGA Girls Golf program.
Young girls get a fun introduction to the game at Girls Golf, a program made possible by the USGA, LPGA, and other organizations and individuals. There are currently two programs in Westchester and others in nearby Hudson Valley communities.
Anne-Marie Brillantes started the Westchester/Rockland Girls Golf chapter in 2010 with support from the Westchester EWGA. “The girls get fantastic access to a level of golf that might be otherwise restricted by financial considerations. The registration fee of a couple hundred dollars basically covers private lessons from a pro. Everything else is paid for through our fundraising.”
The program covers two five-week sessions beginning in May. The girls get weekly group lessons both on the range and on the golf course with LPGA pro Katie Decker, assistant pro at Hampshire CC in Mamaroneck.
TGA of Northern Westchester runs the Girls Golf chapter at Pehquenakonck Country Club in North Salem. According to TGA director Kevin Rooney, “The girls get short-game instruction, full swing instruction, and learn about the game on a deeper level, including rules/etiquette, parts of the course, life skills, keeping score, and course management.” A free clinic kicks off the program in May, followed by three-hour monthly clinics for $30 each. Rooney adds, “Students do not need equipment; if they do not have it, TGA provides equipment free of charge.”
Hole-in-One Junior Golf Camps
Dunwoodie, Sprain Lake, Hudson Hills, Maple Moor, Mohansic, Saxon Woods
Mitchell Spearman Junior Golf Academy
Doral Arrowwood GC, Rye Brook
Sharon McQuillan Junior Golf Camp
Pleasantville CC, Pleasantville
Game On Golf Academy
First Tee of Metro NY
Game On Golf Academy, White Plains; Moshulu Golf Course, Bronx
Rye Junior Golf
Rye Golf Club
Kevin Chin Jr. Golf
Lake Isle CC, Eastchester
TGA Southern Westchester
Saxon Woods, Dunwoodie, Maple Moor, NY-Presbyterian GC
TGA Northern Westchester
Hudson Hills, Pehquenakonck CC
The Back Nine Indoor Golf
An amazing number of young golfers compete on the Met PGA Junior Tour. The organization, which represents the PGA of America golf professionals in the NY-metropolitan area, stages 55 events in Westchester for around 650 kids each year. Both nine- and 18-hole events are organized by age group.
Best of all, according to Met PGA director of junior golf Daniel Frankel, “You do not have to be a member of a private club to play. In fact, anyone can join by registering at metpgajuniorgolf.com.” Boys and girls age 7 to 17 are welcome. In addition to a modest membership fee, the player needs a simple certification from a PGA professional that he or she is capable of competing in their age group. Players at all levels can compete in events suitable to their age group and skill levels, although a basic knowledge of the game is necessary since this is competitive golf, not instructional.
The Future Series is at the upper level of the competitive scale. “It’s more kids who are looking to compete in college and beyond,” Frankel explains. “It started eight years ago and has expanded to ten 36-hole events this year.” Each event has a field of about 100 players.
Tyler Gosselin, head professional at Scarsdale GC, offers these tips for parents introducing their kids to golf.
Creating an environment for your kids to have fun is critical to making sure they become lifelong golfers. We have all seen parents who are too focused on perfecting their kids’ techniques on the range. Helping kids understand setup fundamentals will prepare them to learn through their own experiences.
Start by teaching them games and contests on the putting green and at the short-game area. Kids are always more engaged through competition and trying to win. While they’re playing, instead of making direct corrections, ask open-ended questions about the shots they hit, like “Why did that putt roll too far past the hole?” It will help them think about different factors like swing speed and length.
Make sure the kids are in a position to succeed! Putting them on the forward tee box is probably still too long for most new golfers. Have them play each hole from a distance where they can make it to the green with two typical shots — maybe just 40 yards from the green. Once the kids can score 4 or 5 at this distance, stretch it out. They will learn to play the game (rather than just hit shots), have more fun, and avoid getting frustrated.
Gosselin recommends Ellie Bowen and other kids (and the rest of us!) start their golf swing with good “PGA,” or Posture, Grip, and Aim. “We’re really trying to get kids to make good contact,” he says. “Most kids’ swings are very dynamic, so if you can get it started right, their results will be good, and they’ll get excited about it.”