Chips & Divots – Best Tips for Training Kids

Are your kids thinking of taking up the game? Use this collection of advice to help get them started the right way.

We all want our children to learn the game the right way. As golfers, we also have firm notions as to what the “right” way is and tend to teach by rote, as if we were in school. For a young child, this is not the way to go. Learning the correct grip may be fundamental, but to a fertile, inquisitive mind, the grip can be drudgery. The kid just wants to have fun. Let them explore the game on their own at the outset. Follow them around and explain the things they’re curious about. The rule of thumb is this: You are there to do what they want to do, not what you want them to do. — John Elliott Jr., March, 2005

What’s the best time to take kids to the course? Try late in the evening or at a time when it’s not crowded. That way if your kid wants to hit and chase the ball or sink putts from two inches over and over or rake every bunker, you don’t have to worry about holding up the group behind you. Some courses reserve times and areas for children. — Bob Rotella, April, 2004

When you take your young kids to the golf course, remember that they don’t need or want complicated instruction, lecturing or advice. What they need and yearn for is unadulterated praise. When your 7-year-old hits a good shot, say “Great shot!” When he hits a bad shot, exclaim, “Great swing!” I used to love to take my kids to the course late in the day when no one was around. We’d find a water hazard and purposely hit balls into the water. Young children for some reason are enthralled by watching the splash, and it guarantees they’ll have a good time — and they’ll beg you to take them again. — Johnny Miller, August, 2008

Two common problems juniors have are directly related to equipment. First, they’re using clubs that are too long, too stiff and too heavy — like a student at my academy, Jose-Carlos Diaz (left), is doing here. The second problem is a result of the first one: With a club that is too long, too stiff and too heavy, a smaller player swings on an arc that is too flat relative to his height, so the swing bottoms out behind the ball. And simply cutting the shafts down to a shorter length isn’t the right answer. A slow-swinging young player already has enough trouble getting the ball to fly at the right trajectory. Stiff, heavy clubs with grips that are too big for him will just make that more difficult. — Hank Haney, January, 2009

Everything you say should be expressed at the child’s level, and I mean that literally. Don’t stand when you talk; kneel down and look the child in the eye. Watch what you say, and how you say it. Even adults struggle with terminology, so I really simplify things. Rather than say “wide arc,” I say “big circle.” Instead of challenging them to make a “descending blow,” I ask them to “thump the ground.” Children must comprehend an idea before they can execute it. Don’t let a small thing grown-ups take for granted — like sticking a tee in the ground — become a frustration. Be ready to lend a helping hand. — John Elliott Jr., August 2010

You’re right to be encouraged by your kids’ enthusiasm for golf, and you should bring them to the range and let them have at it (preferably with plastic clubs and balls for toddlers), but don’t try to teach them the right way to swing until they’re at least 5 or 6 years old. Let them hit the ball with the grip end of the club if they like, as long as they’re having fun. Let them tell you when they want lessons. If you add instruction to the mix too early, you run the risk of turning a fun time into work, which will make your children lose interest in the game before they can spell the word “scholarship.” — Stina Sternberg, from “Ask Stina” column, June, 2010

Should I try to teach my child how to play? Parents should embrace the attitude: I’m going to let my kid teach me golf. Don’t worry about teaching your kids the proper grip right away. If they want to play three holes and go to the clubhouse to get a soda, so be it. The best thing you can do is show your kids what a great time you’re having. If they see you having a wonderful time, then chances are they’ll have a good time, too. — Bob Rotella, April, 2004

It’s rare to see an adult who uses the practice green as much as the practice range. This chronic neglect of chipping and putting is a mistake you don’t want to make with a young child. The rule is this: Never walk past the practice green with a child. Walk on it, then use it. Heighten the child’s curiosity about this vital part of the game, and then let the child pursue it. This is the place to introduce kids to competition. They love chipping and putting contests. — John Elliott Jr., March, 2005

Once they start playing in tournaments, what should I say if they have a bad day? Either say nothing or be supportive. Be more like a cheerleader and less like a coach. On the ride home from a tournament, the best thing you can do is remind your child about the good shots, or don’t talk about golf at all. — Bob Rotella, March, 2004

There’s nothing worse than earning something and then having to wait for it. So pay the bets you make with your kid right away. Our milkshake games on and around the practice green are competitive and bring out the best in everyone. Kids enjoy trying to beat people who are older than they are, especially if there’s a reward on the line. When you lose, be a good sport and pay up. I always do — just check my tab at the halfway house — because it validates their accomplishments. If you put it off, it loses its luster. — John Elliott Jr., August, 2010

-Compiled by Alex Myers for Golf Digest.