The increasing popularity of golf over the last decade has demystified the game greatly, bringing it closer to people. Parents now recognise golf as an all-round, great sport and skill for children to learn and carry with them for the rest of their life.
There is a school of thought, however, that kids should be encouraged to play other sports like tennis, football or basketball at an early age and not golf. Those sports demand a lot of running, jumping and athleticism and children burn a lot of energy while playing them. Golf demands patience and discipline, two things that most children don't have in abundant supply. The other school of thought says that is exactly the reason why golf is such a great game for children to learn at a young age.
Why teach golf to kids?
"In golf the biggest competition is against oneself, to do better than you did before. Golf teaches you that success comes from within, and that certain rules and etiquette have to be followed without question in this game - just like everyday life. It also has the ability to teach children how to be logical, make good decisions and even make a few calculated judgments based upon the playing circumstances that are presented to them," explains Mr Anitya Chand, Head Professional - DLF Golf Academy, DLF Golf & Country Club, Gurgaon.
Children learn discipline and patience and good sportsmanship through this game. Apart from the great physical exercise you can get from walking the course, golf also allows children to develop excellent muscle memory, strength, hand eye coordination and balance.Golf is universally acknowledged as a game that values honor. This is one sport that presents lessons of honesty and respect that might be lacking in other things that kids experience while growing up. Additionally, golf promotes a respect for others in the practice of etiquette established in the game over years of play.
Aside from being the ideal place to catch up with your friends, golf is slowly emerging as the preferred sport to spend some quality family time.
At what age should you start?
"We recommend the starting age for boys should be around 4.5 to 5 years while for girls it should be around 5.5 to 6 years. But more important than the numbers is the physical build of the child. Parents need to first check if the child has adequate strength in his shoulders, arms and hands to comfortably pick up a golf club and swing it," says Anitya. Golf may appear to be a sedentary sport, but that is not true. A player requiresa high level of physical strength and fitness to excel in it. Parents shouldn't think they're missing the boat if they don't get their kids golf lessons at a tender age.
What is the first step to learning golf?
"Just as in any other sport, make sure your child is really interested in golf before enrolling him in a coaching programme. The starting point has to be the child's own interest which will lead to enjoyment while playing the game," explains Anitya. Once a child starts lessons with enthusiasm, it is up to the coach to maintain it, but nothing can motivate a child who has no interest in the game and is there only because he has been compelled to attend.
What equipment is required to start taking lessons?
Most teaching academies provide all the equipment you will need as a beginner - i.e. golf clubs and balls. You do not need golf shoes to start with, any sports shoe is acceptable. Golf attire however is not negotiable - collared T-shirts with shorts/skirts or trousers are necessary and denim is not allowed at all. Unless you start developing calluses, your instructor will advise you not to use a glove initially as you need to get familiar with the club and the grip. Do not invest in a golf set until your child shows sustained interest in the game and wants to continue with the coaching. Junior sets are available for prices starting Rs. 4000 to 5000.
Where can my child learn the sport?
Golf academies such as the DLF Golf Academy, Gurgaon, run teaching programmes through the year, for all ages and skill levels. Most golf courses have instructors present at their driving range, to guide beginners with the technicalities of the game. Coaching in golf can start at as little as Rs. 2000 per month. While many golf courses have a members-only policy, many others allow players on their driving range on a pay-and-play basis.
Is golf coaching also very time intensive?
"Golf demands no more or less time than any other sport. For a young child, we recommend not more than twoinstruction sessions of one hour each week. Older children can add on two more sessions per week to practice the week's instruction on their own," suggests Anitya Chand.
How to choose the best coach and programme?
Children need a balance between having fun and learning and a good coaching programme will strike that balance. Since kids usually have short attention spans, they should be allowed to experiment with playing a variety of different shots.
Choose a program that teaches basic fundamentals, with plenty of variation for practicing and playing.
The coach needs to be supportive and encouraging, as the early phases of learning the gameare difficult and can become very tedious for the child. Good coaches know how to keep the motivation levels high and boost confidence as required.
Your programme should not only teach the shots, but also etiquette, behaviour and finer points of the rules of the game. This would include how to fill in a scorecard correctly and etiquette on the course.
A good coach will be able to gauge every player's capacity and capability and can adjust the level of complexity to each child's individual level of progress.
How will golf help in the future?
For all the reasons mentioned above, golf remains a lifelong game. You can enjoy it at any age, any weather and any location. If a child is serious about the game and has shown proficiency, it can even be made a large part of his or her career, though that should never be the end objective when starting out to play the game. After the beginner level, a child has to become good enough at the game to play on the course and then to build a handicap. The next step is zone level tournaments and ultimately, national level tournaments. Proficiency in golf is recognised by most leading universities in India and abroad. Many colleges also offer golf scholarships to deserving students.
Taking on golf at a professional level is a decision to be made between the coach, the player and the parents and is something that should certainly not be considered before the age of 14-15 years. Till then, apply the biggest lesson from the golf course - put your energies into the things you can control, let go of the things you cannot control, and take pride in the fact that you are giving your best.