Just Let Them Play

The stress of and solutions to introducing your kids to golf
Just Let Them Play Shane Bacon

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There is a unique pressure to being a golfer parent with young kids. You conspire about ways to get them into the game, constantly searching for the key to unlock how they can share the love you have for our weird, beautiful sport. My kids are both under 3 and I’m already daydreaming about the golf trips we will take. But how do I get there?

We’ve all seen the overzealous parents on the driving range trying to hammer the game into their kids, unwittingly making them hate the game we love. That’s clearly not it. So, as my son approaches 3 years old, I’ve been reaching out to people I respect for advice.

My good buddy Joel Klatt, father of three boys, told me that once the kids show any interest in actually playing golf—not just driving the cart or checking out turtles by the pond—you have to make it a game within the game. Play one hole for real: Everyone tees off and hits it until we’re all finished. Then the next hole is whatever the kids want to do: throw rocks in the pond, go look at those turtles, play in the bunker, whatever. Everybody wins.

Tom Coyne, a name familiar to everyone reading this publication, sent me an amazing note about how his father approached the game when young Tom dreamed of making it big in this profession. Tom said that whenever he played in tournaments, his dad would stay home. “He explained to me years later how hard it was to not be there watching me play,” Tom told me, “but he stayed away because he wanted to leave my golf to me. He didn’t want to add pressure if things went south, nor did he want to somehow steal any of the shine should things go well.”

Hey, Mr. Coyne: Your boy made it!

My uncle, a man whose selflessness and wisdom I deeply admire, broke it down to base level: Just take them to the range and let them take whacks. “Line the ball up with your zipper, stand tall and bust it,” Uncle Doug told me. What kid wouldn’t want to hear something so easygoing as they’re watching every adult on that same driving range try to recreate the RV scene from Tin Cup? Keep it simple, stupid.
I have friends who purchased shiny new clubs for their kids—even signed them up for lessons—before they could actually lift said clubs. Golfers are, if nothing else, prepared. Call us a more degenerate group of Scouts. But we sure as hell can’t build a fire out of wet wood.

I’ve decided my approach will be a mixture of them all, with a focus on allowing my children to decide for themselves if they’re going to love this game at an early age or if it’ll come later in life, when pick-up basketball is an afterthought and the baseball glove is catching only shelf dust.

It will be fun first. If they ask for it, then we’ll make it competitive. I’ll let them enjoy it as much as possible before they realize what a snap hook means or feel the sting of a bladed 4-iron.

And as for my dad’s advice? “You just liked it, right away,” he told me. Hopefully my kids make it that easy.