Kids Golf Explodes

We’ve seen the future of golf—and it’s fun!

Some of the most exciting golfers in Westchester aren’t quite tall enough to ride the Dragon Coaster at Playland. They’re part of the growing legion of kids drawn to golf by attention-grabbing variations on the game, kid-friendly equipment, welcoming golf courses, and enthusiastic parents and instructors. Judging by the swelling ranks of young duffers (and maybe a few future PGA and LPGA Tour stars), the outlook for golf is pretty bright.

“Golf is now geared to showing kids how to enjoy the game more, rather than teaching them to swing the club,” reports Brian Crowell, head pro at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford and leader of the national PGA of America Youth and Family Summit, which took place in Orlando this winter. “Golf gets kids outdoors in the fresh air and gives them a great level of fitness if they’re walking and carrying their bag,” Crowell points out. “It’s also a great way to learn to overcome disappointments.”  

Kids don’t care about all of that, of course. They just want to have fun—something golf provides in lots of ways.

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Brian Crowell’s Advice For Parents

Equipment
Put an age-appropriate club in their hands as soon as they’re physically able to handle it—and let them swing it any way they want.

Don’t go overboard with equipment at first—or ever. Sneakers, a putter, and a seven iron, and you’re playing golf.

Teaching
Giving lessons isn’t necessarily the best way for a parent to introduce their kid to golf. It’s great to put a club in their hand and have some fun with them, but don’t get all technical about it. Tee it up—tee everything up—and let them swing away and have some fun.

Let the youngster play a three-ball scramble on their own. Have them hit three balls off the tee, then pick the best one and play three more shots from there until they hole out. Everybody likes to succeed.

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Encourage your kids to invite their friends to learn with them; like most sports, golf is more fun with a group.

Learning Together
Have fun on the course. Bring the whole family, and forget your score (and theirs). To get everyone involved, play alternate shot or a scramble.

Think about what kind of role model you are for your kid on the golf course. How do you react when you miss a shot? Do you ever stretch the rules? What kind of language do you use?

 

PGA Junior League Hits A Home Run

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The most successful grow-the-game initiative the PGA of America has ever introduced is PGA Junior League Golf. “PGA Junior League has been a great success for us,” says Met PGA Operations Director Kelli Clayton. “We had over 80 teams competing last year. That was up from four just two years before. Approximately 900 junior golfers participated.”

Fenway Golf Club PGA Junior League Team

The success of the concept stems largely from turning golf into a team sport that encourages social interaction. In other words, it’s kids having fun with kids. The teams comprise both boys and girls ages 13 and under, and no prior playing experience is required. Players wear team jerseys, much like other team sports. They play nine-hole matches in a two-person scramble format, which reinforces the team concept and aids the learning process. Coaches substitute players every three holes so that all of the golfers on the team can participate.

While teams were still being formed at press time, both public and private courses field them. Mohansic Golf Course participated last year, and the other county courses are working on it this year. Other public courses with teams included Patriot Hills, Beekman, Moshulu, and Phillip J.  Rotella.

To find a team in your area, visit www.pgajlg.com.

 

Scarsdale Sets The Pace
“Kids are great,” says Scarsdale Golf Club head pro Bill Smittle. “They’re the future of the game, and we want to show them how much fun they can have on the golf course.” Scarsdale mounts one of the largest and most successful junior golf programs in Westchester, having introduced the game to 138 kids in 2015.

Learning the basics at Scarsdale Golf Club

“We offer multiple levels of golf education,” Smittle explains. Junior programs run nine months of the year, including after-school sessions, day camp with golf two days a week for 4- to 10-year-olds, junior golf and tennis camp for 11- to 14-year-olds, an after-camp golf program for those who want additional golf, and numerous competitions, teams, and formal and informal groups. Scarsdale fields a PGA Junior League team and stages club competitions for kids, too, some as few as three holes.

Kids at Scarsdale earn different color bag tags as they advance through various skills tests and playing levels that include everything from health and posture to green-reading to the ability to curve the ball on command. To earn their first tag, kids have to shoot par on the front nine from the 50-yard markers. Each level moves 25 yards farther from the green.  As Smittle says, “The kids love it because they’re achieving something tangible.”

 

The First Tee teaches more than the golf swing

The First Tee Opens The Game To All
The biggest program in our area for kids ages five and up is The First Tee, a multifaceted program that offers golf instruction, after-school programs, summer camps and more, all built around an educational experience that teaches essential life skills, as well.

First Tee reaches 40,000 youngsters in the metropolitan NY area. Some 3,200 of them attend weekly classes that combine golf and life-skills programs. About 500 kids are part of the program at Moshulu Golf Club in the Bronx and Westchester Golf Range in White Plains.

“The values of the game of golf are part of everyday life,” says Barry McLaughlin, senior director of operations for The First Tee of Metropolitan New York. McLaughlin adds that First Tee is for kids of all backgrounds and that scholarships are available for those who may need some help.

www.thefirstteemetny.org

 

Patriot Hills Specializes in Fun
Fun was the key ingredient in the new junior golf programs at daily-fee course Patriot Hills in Stony Point last year. Head pro Dave Fusco says they were so successful he’s anticipating an even bigger turnout in 2016.

Golf is monstrous fun at Patriot Hills

One big addition was PGA Junior League. “We competed against Rotella, Rockland Country Club, Tuxedo, and Paramount,” Fusco explains. In addition to the schedule of matches, Fusco says Jim McCann, who coached the team, held practice sessions twice a week. “He worked with them on the range and on their short games. It not only helped them play better, it kept them involved.”

Then there was something out of the ordinary. “A couple of evenings, we bring Golfzilla into play. The kids are hitting balls and working on the range, then we blow this thing up and they go ‘Whoa!’ They have an absolute blast.” The kids hit oversized balls and plastic golf darts at the 25-foot monster. As Fusco points out, “The key ingredient is having fun.”

Patriot Hills also holds junior golf camps in the summer. Sessions for 7- to 14-year-olds run half days four days per week. The teacher-pupil ratio is generally five to one.

 

More Golf Opportunities for Kids

Westchester County Courses
Junior golfers are welcome to play at the six county-owned courses, although those 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult and get permission from the club pro. Juniors 16 and under save on greens fees, too. Golf camps are scheduled by the individual courses during the summer. golf.westchestergov.com

LPGA/PGA Girls
The LPGA has teamed up with local experts to make the game fun for girls ages 6 to 17. Each Girls Golf site provides golf instruction mixed in with pizza parties and fashion shows, connects them to resources like college programs, and organizes events and even national academies. www.girlsgolf.org

Drive, Chip, and Putt!

Qualifying for Drive, Chip, & Putt at Apawamis

Who wouldn’t like to compete at Augusta during Masters Week? The Met PGA hosts six local qualifiers for boys and girls ages 7 to 15. The kids compete in separate divisions by age category and winners advance to a series of regional qualifying rounds to play their way to the National Finals to be played at August National on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Advance registration is required. www.drivechipandputt.com

Junior Tournaments

Ready for tournament golf? The Met PGA offers a full schedule of junior events throughout the season at www.metpgajuniorgolf.com. Slightly older juniors may want to tee it up in MGA events like the Met Junior Championship or the MGA/MetLife Boys Championship. Details at www.mgagolf.org. If you’d like to take your game on the road, try the American Junior Golf Association, which has nine tournaments scheduled in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut this year. www.ajga.org

Nathan Han, 14, of Somers and Rina Jung, 16, of Briarcliff Manor won the 2015 Metropolitan Junior PGA Championship at Metropolis Country Club in White Plains.

Golf School
Golf Magazine Top 100 Instructor Mitchell Spearman’s golf academy at Doral Arrowwood in Rye provides summer camp, after-school and weekend programs, and individual instruction for golfers of all levels (and ages). www.spearmanjuniorgolf.com

See the Stars
Kids admission is free at two area PGA tournaments this summer: The PGA Championship at Baltusrol in Springfield, NJ (July 25-31), and The Barclays at Bethpage Black in Long Island (August 23-28). A ticketed adult can bring three youngsters to The Barclays and four to the PGA. thebarclays.barclaysgolf.com and www.pga.com/pgachampionship

 

U.S. Kids Golf Builds Enthusiam
The leading brand in kids’ golf equipment, U.S. Kids Golf, not only sells a complete line of size- and skill-appropriate clubs and equipment, but funds a non-profit organization to train and certify coaches and stage tournaments as well.  

The company offers nine sizes and three models of clubs to fit to the player by height, not age.

Last year, there were eight U.S. Kids tournaments on the Westchester-Fairfield local tour. Check www.uskidsgolf.com for upcoming events for ages 5 to 14. They play for the opportunity to advance to state, regional, and world championships.

 

Top Local Instructors

These area pros made U.S. Kids’ Top 50 list of Kids Teachers and Master Kids Teachers.

Jessica Carafiello
Innis Arden Golf Club, Greenwich

Brian Fallon
Westchester Country Club, Rye

Ryan Peffer
Tuxedo Club, Tuxedo Park

Joseph DiDomenico
Pelham Country Club, Pelham

Harvey Lannak
Westchester Country Club, Rye

John Deigan
Wykagyl Country Club, New Rochelle

 

Kids’ Gear

The lightweight cushioning of the FootJoy Junior Hyperflex shoe provides great underfoot comfort and heel support. Sizes 1 to 6. $75

 

Sunscreen’s a given, but protect your young golfer even more with this soft, quick-dry Jackson hat with a 3-inch brim by Wallaroo. It’s 100% microfiber and ventilated for comfort and rated UPF 50+ against UVA and UVB. $28

 

The Yard club, by U.S. Kids, with an oversized wedge head and a training grip, is perfect for beginners. Three foam balls, included,  but you can hit real golf balls, too. $45

 

The Zero Friction Junior Compression Golf Club has mesh lycra on the back and palm for breathability and a patch around the first finger for a solid grip. Sized to begin and grow with 8-year-olds. $14

 

LPGA star Stacy Lewis wears Antigua polos like this Pique Xtra-Lite because it lets her move on the course the way she needs to hit it long and straight. Desert-Dry Xtra-Lite moisture management keeps her cool, too. Sizes XS-XL in eight colors.  $27

 

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