Family Sport

By Chandra Orr

January 30, 2009 5 min read

FAMILY SPORT

Kids can benefit from getting on the greens

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

For Nancy Woods of Duxbury, Mass., golf is much more than just a hobby. It's a family affair -- and she's not alone.

Families are increasingly hitting the tees as a way to teach children the value of good sportsmanship, proper etiquette and self-discipline. With patience, perseverance and the importance of practice, kids can learn a lot from a day at the links, and cruising the course is a great way to get the whole family active and enjoying the outdoors.

"A lot of people complain about the amount of time it takes to play golf. However, a positive is that you can spend that time with your family. Even though you're playing a game, there is a lot of down time to talk and get to know what's going on in each others' lives," said Ryan Taylor, head golf professional at Wolf Creek Utah, a private master-planned ski and golf resort community in Eden, Utah.

For Woods, who regularly hits the greens with her husband David and children Jonathan, age 14, and Maura, age 10, it's a tie that binds. Her children started playing at 6 years old, and their love for the game quickly blossomed. Her son now plays competitively in local tournaments, and the entire family plays together regularly.

"We love our time on the golf course as a family. There are very few sports, if any, where multiple generations can play together and have that quality time. It's time together outside amongst nature with no distractions, and it can slow the busy pace of family life down doing something we enjoy," Woods said. "Our family makes a commitment to play together in the summer once a week -- even if it's for 3 or 4 holes."

Even the youngest children can hit the course with Mom and Dad -- don't forget that Tiger Woods started when he was just 2 -- but age 6 is an ideal starting time, according to Brian Morrison, director of golf at the Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Ill., host of the 2003 U.S. Open.

At that age children can hit the driving range and chip on the practice green with parents and older siblings who can offer assistance and provide guidance on the proper posture and stance. Just remember that kids will be kids.

"It's important to keep in mind that a kid's attention span at that age is very short so you have to keep it fun and simple." Morrison said. "As the kids get older they can gain exposure to the course with a few holes at a time, but it depends heavily on the child and his or her ability to stay interested in the task at hand."

Whether they pick up putting like a pro or just spend the day chasing balls, the game of golf has a lot to offer kids. Because proper etiquette and impeccable sportsmanship are essential on the course, golf helps instill the value of good manners and respect for other players -- and learning to play by the rules fosters a strong sense of self-discipline.

"Golf is the ultimate game in teaching integrity, honesty, sportsmanship and friendship," Taylor explained. "In golf, you are your own referee. You call your own penalties and keep your score. Children learn from day one that they are responsible for their actions on the golf course and, in turn, life."

To get kids going on the greens, start with the basics and enroll them in a beginner's class.

"It's critical that children start out with a good foundation, like a proper stance or swing approach, since they will continue to build on these skills as they develop and play the game," Morrison said. "Learning how to chip and putt on a green with Mom or Dad is a nice introduction, but you should then find an organized junior program with competent instructors who can provide guidance and teach them proper techniques for swinging and posture."

Look for junior and beginner programs that focus on improving coordination and teaching the proper mechanics of the game while practicing good manners and proper sportsmanship. The Tiny Tees program at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, Calif., for example, emphasizes fairness, honesty and camaraderie while teaching kids about stance, swing and scorekeeping. Prices for such programs start at around $100 per session.

Be sure the program incorporates a variety of teaching techniques to keep kids interested. The SNAG Golf System, for example, really grabs their attention.

"Golf instructors use oversized plastic clubs and tennis balls to teach proper golf fundamentals," Taylor explained. "The children hit balls at a variety of targets, including a teacher dressed in a Velcro suit. Kids love it."

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