Bribery, Lies and Other Recommended Parenting Strategies

On doing whatever it takes to pass along the love of the game
14- Bribery, Lies
Listen to a reading of this feature by the author

It’s the chicken fingers. That’s the first thing I say when someone asks for tips on getting their kids into golf. Bribe them with chicken fingers—and probably French fries or some other golden-brown item—from the golf course’s food-service area, a place that operates first as a recreational outlet, not a restaurant. Their little palates haven’t been around long enough to be pretentious. All of it is good. Maybe even throw in a post-round milkshake for winning a putting contest, or for just participating in a putting contest. 

Equate the game with a greasy basket of food and you’re off and running with a tyke-size coalition of the willing. And if a pandemic closes the inessential or indoor operations of a course, make sure you pick up some curbside chicken fingers on your way.

It’s not that I expect my kids to get into golf. It’s certainly not that I need them to be good at the game. It’s just that I want it. This desire and being a good parent who doesn’t heavy-handedly push his kids into things can coexist peacefully and normally, right? There’s a big, open field between that parental preference and Marv Marinovich. You can want them to enjoy it without feeling a persistent urge to force it upon them. That’s where I am right now, and maybe it’s where you are too, or where you’ve been, or where you may be in the future. I want them to want to go to the golf course. 

So I bribe them with fried food. Outside of earshot from the others, I also tell each one they have the best swing in the house. I tell them this often because I don’t know when the day will come that they’ll know I am full of it, and dubious plaudits will no longer provoke a smile and a newfound determination to hit 15 more dribblers with gusto. My kids are 7, 5, 4 and not quite 1, so we’re still at the stage where I can tell them anything—literally anything—and they are likely to believe it. I tell them they have the best swing in the family because the way it registers on their faces, and the first determined hacks afterward, makes your heart sing.

My parents are first-generation golf lovers. My dad was the youngest of five boys who needed to work and make some cash. So he caddied his ass off at The Country Club (the other The) outside Cleveland, Ohio, often for Mark McCormack and his hotshot IMG clients who came through town. It was a love borne from chance and necessity. That passion was passed on to me, though not without several years of apathy mixed in.

What clicks in a kid to enjoy golf? Or even just accept it? I do not know when or why I did. I played most of my earliest golf on a par-3 course riddled with goose shit; I caddied through my teens and played casually into my 20s. But I would not say I truly loved playing golf until I was out of college and an adult (in age only). In those earliest years, the game just was a way to spend time with family, or goof around outside with my grade-school friends, often without supervision. Later, going to play golf became an excellent camouflage for enjoying beers while underage. To my own kids, skip ahead to the next paragraph, but: Cover with your 12-pack is best sought not in some basement or woodsy knoll, but in a large space with open sightlines and an attendant recreational pursuit that promotes social distance (before that was a health strategy) and requires luggage with lots of pockets. I accepted golf as the concurrent activity for other things, truly fell in love with it years later, then made it a significant part of my life and career.

For all the treacle about a game of fathers and sons, and traditions of passing it on to your kids, there must be far more instances where the chain breaks. And that’s fine. Maybe your offspring hates it. Maybe they suck at it. Maybe they are just exceptional at many other things and don’t have time for chasing a little white ball around a field. 

Among the many crippling and irrational pangs of fear that hit you as a parent, your kid not acquiring your love of golf should not be on the list. But it can cross your mind that they may never want to play golf—or, more accurately, may never want to play golf with you. Maybe that concern makes me a bad parent. I’m still working this all out while trying not to burden anyone but myself. 

I haven’t taken a lesson in 25 years. My equipment is considered laughably outdated. I harbor no desires—or even illusions, at this point—of lowering a handicap. I don’t get to play that much these days. I will always love and want to play, but I have no personal goals on the course. My attention has turned to my kids, and whether or not they have even a passing interest. It’s not my primary focus as a parent, but as it relates to my golf life, it is almost the only one. What do they want, if anything, to do with this game?

It’s not yet clear what they want, but it’s early, and so far my strategies appear to be working. They may never appreciate the feel of a flagged wedge shot or salivate watching Rory McIlroy hit his second into a par 5 like their dad. And I’m OK with that. I’m still going to struggle with sharing my own loves and preferences without imposing them on my children. Especially when, in this case, the love is just a game. I just want them to grow up happy and healthy, and hopefully start to mix in an occasional salad on our way to the course. 

Brendan Porath is a golf journalist and co-host of the “Shotgun Start” podcast. He is also a contributor to Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive.”