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Chip Shots — Golf is a Great Sport for Kids

Kids today have so many options when it comes to how they spend their spare time. Many of those activities are largely sedentary and somewhat isolating, like excessive video gaming. In general, sports offer children and teens the perfect antidote: physical exercise, socialization, skill development, goal setting, etc.

When I was a kid I spent my athletic hours on traditional sports like basketball and baseball. As a teen, I moved more towards track & field and cross country. In each case, I had coaches who not only taught me the skills I would need, but the intangibles that I would carry into my adult life and career. Things like discipline, teamwork, honesty, and accountability.

Although my friends and I would occasionally play golf (ah, good old Pine Hill, how I loved your open layout), I never was taught the fundamentals or the rules, and I’ve taken that lack of a proper foundation into my adult golf game. But, for today’s kids that doesn’t have to be the case.

You see, the golf industry has realized that in order for the game to thrive it needs to cultivate the next generation of players. A joint initiative founded in 2013 by the Masters Tournament, United States Golf Association and The PGA of America created the Drive, Chip and Putt  Championship (www.drivechipandputt.com), which culminates with boys and girls ages 7-15 competing at the local, regional and finally, national level at Augusta Country Club during Masters Week.  

There is also The First Tee (www.thefirstteemaine.org), an international youth development program spearheaded by the LPGA, Masters Tournament, PGA of America, PGA Tour and United States Golf Association. The First Tee helps shape the lives of young people ages 7-14 from all walks of life using an evidence-based approach. The fundamentals of golf are taught in conjunction with nine core values: Respect, Integrity, Perseverance, Honesty, Sportsmanship, Confidence, Responsibility, Courtesy, and Judgment.

Club Pro and Owner Michael Clendenning instructs his junior golfers recently at Barnes Brook Golf Course in West Enfield, Maine.
Club Pro and Owner Michael Clendenning instructs his junior golfers recently at Barnes Brook Golf Course in West Enfield, Maine.

Fortunately for Maine families there are local options that provide opportunities through either The First Tee or similarly structured programs. Bangor Municipal Golf Course (www.bangorgc.com) and Barnes Brook Golf Course (www.barnesbrookgolfandski.com) in West Enfield both feature The First Tee, and the Old Town Recreation Department (www.oldtownrec.com), in conjunction with Hidden Meadows, offers the Junior Coyote Putt Club.

I spoke with Bangor Muni’s Head Golf Professional Rob Jarvis about their involvement with The First Tee, and he was very enthusiastic about the program. “We use The First Tee as our primary junior golf initiative,” commented Rob. “We currently offer six separate sessions that are divided into specific levels. As kids advance, and graduate, they begin a new level each year. The program is designed to start them as a beginner and grow until they reach high school age. Starting kids early in the game can only lead to good things.”

Head Golf Professional and Owner of Barnes Brook Golf Course Michael Clendenning, echoes many of the sentiments held by Rob. Michael not only offers The First Tee, he has also created the Maine Junior Golf Club and Tour, and Barnes Brook features a Junior League on Tuesdays. When asked about these programs, Michael responds with the same energy as Rob, “The Maine Junior Golf Club Tour was started to promote the game of golf with juniors, both girls and boys ages 10-18, and to give them an opportunity to play in a tournament format. The Tour is played at golf courses throughout the summer in the greater Bangor area from Pittsfield to Lincoln. It allows the juniors to get to know other golfers and create long-term friendships while they are learning life lessons.”

When I asked Michael to share his thoughts on why it was good to get kids into golf at an early age, he had this to share, “Golf is a lot of fun, and golfers come in all sizes and shapes. There is less risk of serious injuries in golf than most other sports. The kids get exercise outdoors, enjoying the fresh air with friends and family. It is a life time sport with many life skills that the juniors are learning in the absolute best classroom environment I can think of.”

I put the same question to Rob, with a similar answer, “Golf is a very difficult sport to master. The beauty about junior golfers is that their main desire is to play and have fun. Kids love to hit good shots as much as adults do, but they tend to place more value on their time on the course rather than what they actually score. Children are also excellent mimics. If they are shown a good example of a swing or fundamental, they will inherently plant that in their mind and try and duplicate it over and over again. Kids are also content with swinging their ‘swing.’ They try to make the most of whatever they can do and just hit the best shot they think they can. When we get to be older golfers we are always looking for the ‘answer’ and kids are just looking to have fun with their friends. As a result, I often tell some of our adults that might be having a bad stretch with their game to ‘play like a kid.’”

So, when considering summer activities for your kids this year think outside the box a little bit and add golf to the mix. You’ll be happy you did.

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