What We Can Learn From Junior Golf

junior_golf_logo_160I’ve been doing a little research into the world of junior golf. Yes, GOLF. Given that tennis and golf are both referred to as “Country Club Sports,” I figured there might be some overlap in terms of the junior aspects of both sports. And I figured we parents might benefit from learning how things are done with our golfing brethren. So, I’ve put together a list of things we can learn from them.

  1. Options are good. When I spoke with Craig Goldstein, father of a 12 year old nationally-ranked golfing son, he was surprised to learn that tennis does not have a variety of tours for players to compete in. That, basically, our kids have USTA events and maybe ITFs once they’re old enough, and that’s it. In golf, there are a number of tours available for juniors to play, and they must earn their way up the proverbial ladder into the higher level tours. Here is a sampling of what’s out there for young golfers (there are other tours, too, in addition to what’s listed here) . . . For beginners, there is the First Tee Program which is an international youth development organization introducing the game of golf and its inherent values to young people. US Kids Golf has local tours that lead to its World Championships each year. The Metropolitan PGA (sponsored by the PGA) provides a higher level of competition. The highest level of competition exists on the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tour, a spot on which has to be earned through performance-based play at the lower levels. Each tour is run by an independent organization and is proficiency-based rather than age-based (I hope the USTA 10-and-Under Tennis folks will adopt a similar model).
  2. Parent education is not only good . . . it’s a necessity. When doing my research, I was encouraged by the mandatory parent meetings and parent education opportunities made available in the junior golf world. These parent meetings not only inform attendees of the rules specific to each event, but they also provide information on college recruiting and volunteer opportunities for the young golfers. The various tour websites also contain information much like that provided by ParentingAces – how to prepare for a tournament, Parents Code of Conduct, information on grants, playing as a family, etc. I love that the tours each take responsibility for this aspect of the sport, making sure parents have information at their fingertips as they navigate through their child(ren)’s experience in golf. There is also great information on keeping young golfers healthy such as the free Golf Training Fitness Guide found online here.
  3. Clear, concise, timely enforcement of the Code of Conduct is crucial. Each of the golf tours mentioned above has a clear-cut Code of Conduct on its website which players, parents, and coaches are expected to follow. Any infraction is met with immediate action from one of the many Officials on duty. For example, if a player behaves poorly on the golf course, the Official responsible for that group of players will issue the player a Yellow Card. If that same player misbehaves again during the event, the player is issued a 2nd Yellow Card and is immediately disqualified from that tournament and may even be suspended from the tour for the remainder of the year. While junior golf has its share of misbehaving parents, the rules are very clear on how those parents are to be reprimanded, and the reprimands are carried out quickly and consistently. Golf parents are allowed to be on the course while their children are competing, but they must stay on the cart path or as far away from competition as possible. As in junior tennis, parental coaching is prohibited during play. According to Stephanie Dittmer of AJGA, often times players or parents will direct a staff member to a situation in which they feel a parent is too close or sharing too much encouragement, maybe advice, with a player, and at that time, the AJGA staff member assigned to that group will address the problem with all parties and monitor closely to ensure no advice or coaching is being given. If it is found that the parent is coaching or giving advice, appropriate measures are taken immediately.There are no warnings, no wishy-washy officiating, simply adherence to the rules and consequences as stated.
  4. Gearing events and tournaments to a traditional school schedule is beneficial to all junior players. While a growing number of high-level junior tennis players are now opting for homeschooling, a majority of junior golfers attend traditional school and are able to stay in traditional school throughout their junior competition years due to the fact that tournaments and other events are held only on the weekends during the academic year. Because the ultimate goal of junior golf is earning a college scholarship, organizers are sensitive to players being able to travel to their events after school on Friday, returning home in time for Monday morning classes. Of course, there are some events that require a missed day of school. However, overall, absences for most players are kept to a minimum, and a player’s academic performance is highly valued as a key factor in his/her ability to earn a coveted scholarship.
  5. Event sponsors add so much to junior tournaments. In junior golf, sponsors are very visible at every event. And, it’s not just a random banner or sign that you see. You’ll also see representatives from the various sponsors present on the golf course, interacting with the players, talking with them about their dreams and goals and futures. The junior players learn how to have casual though productive conversations with these sponsors and learn the value of networking from a young age. Many times, these sponsors provide summer internships to the players that could lead into full-time career opportunities after college. Sponsors also allow for player-parent-coach dinners, product giveaways, and other perks present at most junior golf events. Tennis tournament organizers could definitely benefit from adopting similar practices.
  6. Playing at the collegiate level is viewed as a high-level accomplishment. The AJGA’s mission states that getting juniors college golf scholarships is the basis for all its practices. College coaches are invited to the tour events and are encouraged to interact with the families (within the NCAA guidelines of course). Coaches are also invited to speak at year-end banquets and award ceremonies. For example, at its annual awards dinner the Metropolitan PGA invites coaches and former players as keynote speakers who emphasize the importance of using golf as an entree into college and to earning a degree. Each of the junior golf tours also includes easy-to-access information on its website on college recruiting and scholarships (see http://www.ajgau.org/). Like tennis, however, there is an inequity in the number of college scholarships available to boys vs. girls. In golf, there are 6 scholarships on the women’s side but only 4 1/2 on the men’s side (tennis has 8 for women, 4 1/2 for men), so both sports continue to be great choices for our daughters who want to play a varsity sport in college and hope to get a scholarship. For our sons, it’s a bit more challenging, but the opportunities are absolutely there for those who set their sites on them.
  7. Governing bodies are not responsible for coaching or professional development. If a junior golfer wants to turn pro, the onus is on him/her to get the coaching necessary for proper development then take that leap. None of the organizations mentioned above are involved in developing professional players. Their job is strictly to educate and put on stellar events. Coaching is left to the individual player and his/her parents. Development is left to the individual coaches. I would sure love to see USTA adopt a similar policy and stick to growing the game of tennis by putting on top-notch events and league play, leaving coaching and development to those in the trenches.

USTA needs to reach out to the various junior golf associations and figure out how to incorporate some or all of these concepts into junior tennis. I’m sure there are facets of other junior sports that our young tennis players could benefit from as well. If you have experience with other youth sports, please share in the Comments below. By working together with other governing bodies and getting a bit creative, all of our junior athletes might just wind up winners.


6 Comments on “What We Can Learn From Junior Golf”

  1. Hey Lisa—It sounds like they’ve got it together in junior golf!! If you’ve got some contacts to share, HIGH-TECH SPORTS VIDEO would love to hear from you!! Tennis will always be our first love but the ship is clearly sinking & we gotta do what we gotta do!

  2. I coach tennis to a 10 year old girl and 12 year old boy ..they have. Played golf internationally and are exceptional for their age.. In golf parents can caddy and coach during competition.. This leads to ruthlessness and I kept thinking how great it can be or how horrible it could be if we allowed coaching… If we could incorporate certified professional match coaching in a team format even in a limited basis we may find a greater and quicker success..

  3. Point 1: “Options are good”: How do these junior golf tours differ in substance from the many levels of tennis tournaments? The fact that we don’t call the 5-6 different levels of sectional tournaments “tours” does not mean they are not distinct. Players know their levels, and only enter the tournaments that are best suited to them.

  4. Some sections are creating team formats for high level competition, ie, NorCal. Moreover on the National level their is a NEW Level 1 National Team Championship.
    The competition will include 2 days of training and education followed by 4 days of competition. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd place teams shall receive Gold, Silver and Bronze Balls. Here is the link to this year’s offering. http://tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=139341

  5. Well-researched article, Lisa. I am a tennis professional of 40+ years and have a daughter who is finishing up her sophomore year in college playing golf on a full D-1 golf scholarship. I’m well versed in objective comparison between what tennis and golf do from a parental standpoint, from a professional standpoint, and from a governing board standpoint. (I’ve served as a USPTA board member for tennis.) Adding to your excellent points: The PGA is greatly invested in HS golf, unlike the USTA which is and has been a mainly ‘hands off’ participant in HS tennis. In my 40 years coaching and teaching, (I’ve been a HS coach for over 30 seasons, boys and girls, a head tennis professional, academy owner, club director and general manager), I’ve had next to no support from our governing tennis board. However, I’ve been impressed with the PGA as they not only are very involved with the running of the state golf tournaments, they host a prestigious state banquet every year in our state, (Utah), and an invitational golf tournament putting all the top ten golfers from each division (1-A through 6-A) in a stroke play championship. The PGA recognizes All-State players and Academic All-State players; They award multiple All-State players with beautiful and memorable trophies. (Clock, glass etched awards, and certificates.)

    On top of this, as you mentioned, there are many levels and competitive programs for golfers. From local programs that offer summer tournament series, (with grand prix style points and player of the year awards), pro-player tournaments, player/parent tournaments, match-play events, etc. Then you have more competitive junior tours: here we have the Utah Junior Golf Association; US Golf Association, (USG), Future Champs Golf, (FCG), and other tours that work, for the most part, hand in hand with the PGA. These, on top of the Drive, Chip and Putt national program, the newer Junior Team Golf Leagues, and then the larger Junior events such as Jr. America’s Cup, Jr. National Amateur, Jr. Stroke Play and Match Play events, etc.

    Compared to the USTA single organization events, the local golf tournaments cost $10. The programs also provide junior golfers that join their local program huge reduced rates to play and practice: $3 for 9 holes on all city courses for 6 months, $6 for the other six months; half price range balls, and a lot of free junior clinics and training days.

    There is no comparison with what the PGA does and what the USTA does NOT do. The PGA is heavily invested in their sport from both a junior grass roots program to a very complementary High School cooperation…again, something the USTA has NEVER done. (If anything, the USTA treats HS tennis as an ugly stepchild with only cursory mention of it at the very best.) The state-run PGA and USGA programs put out a monthly publication highlighting junior and adult golf programs and events, recognizing state champions of each high school division, boys and girls, local and state tournament results, and other pertinent and recognized stories.

    Even as I’m a tennis professional, I’m so very glad my daughter fell in love with golf. (She was an exceptional tennis player featured in many of my articles I wrote for TennisOne.com when I was senior editor for the site for over ten years.) I trained her in golf at the same time I trained her in tennis. I didn’t push her in either sport but let her discover her love and passion. I believe golf was a far better fit for her in many aspects.

    I’d also like to comment on your report on parents in golf compared to tennis. In my 5 years with my daughter during her junior golfing competitions, (which many were very competitive), not once did we have a parent problem within any round. We all tend to walk together and learn a lot about each other and our kids. This is partly inherent in the sport itself: golf is the golfer versus the course. When a fellow competitor makes a great shot there is sincere appreciation by both players and parents…as we all can relate to the difficult nature of the sport both mentally as well as mechanically. When a player makes a mistake, has a bad round, you will almost ALWAYS see opposing players and parents consoling the player. They all know what its like to have a meltdown round or hole in golf. Tennis, we have players obviously playing the opponent directly. This is where good coaching and good parenting is key; to develop competitive players with class and respect. We don’t always see this in tennis, unfortunately, certainly not like we see in golf.

    I coach an amazing team of over 100 boys and girls at our local high school. We teach respect, demand respect, and we teach honesty and integrity. I’ve seen other coaches just basically ‘look the other way’ when their kid acts up or cheats. Its unfortunate.

    The bottom line is this: In our area, golf is growing by leaps and bounds over most tennis programs. Our local USTA tennis tournaments for Juniors run a family over $75 for two events, just for entry fees. Yes, some golf tournaments cost $50 – $100 depending on the course, number of days the event runs, and other variables. But, I will say, the USTA fails miserably in virtually every area of junior player development as it compares to golf. There are no USTA tournaments that are comparable to the aforementioned local junior golf programs and nothing that even comes close to creating parent/junior opportunities as golf does.

    I appreciate this article, even as it is a number of years old. I believe it is even more pertinent now given the complete lack of USTA cooperation with High Schools and virtually no cooperation among the tennis pros to create these types of programs, either. In fact, almost all the golf pros work very well together in developing players but also in helping put on these various events I’ve mentioned in essence of teamwork rather than competition for students.

    Thanks for your insights.
    David W. Smith
    Author, Creator, Hidden Mickey, the original “Walt Disney” mysteries
    Dunlop Master Professional
    Head Coach Desert Hills High School
    Owner, Synergy Books Publishing

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