A Parent’s Guide: How to Start Playing Youth Golf
By Brendon Elliott, PGA
PGA Jr. League players at Augusta Ranch Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Dave Puente/PGA of America)
As has been widely reported, the game has been expanding by leaps and bounds over the past few years. That increase also includes golf's youngest players.
According to the National Golf Foundation, youth golf has experienced exciting growth during the last two years: 3.1 million juniors played golf on a course in 2021, remaining steady after a 24 percent increase in 2020 — the largest since 1997. This segment remains more diverse than the overall golf population.
Additionally, more than one-third, or 36 percent of today's juniors, are girls compared to 15 percent in 2000, while more than a quarter of juniors are non-Caucasian; just 6 percent were minority participants over 20 years ago.
So it’s (reasonably) safe to say that golf is no longer seen the way it once was by many kids — it’s become cool again, much like the participation boom years of the early 2000s around Tiger Woods’ emergence.
What Parents Need to Know
As we move into a new year, we tend to look at new adventures and new interests to take on that will either improve us as a person or bring us new enjoyment. If your child is showing an interest in golf, there are a few things you should know.
First and foremost, you MUST keep fun at the center of this new adventure for your child. Golf is tough, and there is no getting around that, but it’s also very rewarding — the bug can absolutely bite someone very fast. In order to make the journey one that will be both rewarding and worth it for your child, you keep things enjoyable. This is especially true if your child starts to show considerable improvement. No need to immediately start to think “PGA TOUR, or LPGA Tour, here we come.”
Learn to enjoy the journey as a parent, and stress that thought with your child.
Youth Golf Program Suggestions
Here are a few successful programs I recommend as a PGA Professional:
- PGA Jr. League: This program has indeed been a game changer since its inception in 2011. Making golf a team sport like PGA Jr. League does via team scramble format makes it much more social, which is of major importance to kids looking to start a new sport. This program is a great option for ages 7-17 and is built for all ability levels. While competition is part of this program, the camaraderie and social aspects will hook a kid very quickly. To learn more or register for a team, visit: https://www.pgajrleague.com/
- Operation 36: This is an amazing way to get your child into the game, with getting them onto the golf course right out of the gate at its core. The learning program that accompanies the on-course experience is top-notch. Find a program in your area here.
- U.S. Kids Golf: U.S. Kids Golf is not just a youth equipment company. Through its foundation since 2008, U.S. Kids Golf has built one of the premier introductory- to-advanced learning pathway programs, as well as excellent tournament programs (for all levels). To find a certified, or Top U.S. Kids Golf coach, click here.
- Drive, Chip & Putt: While competition is part of the Drive, Chip & Putt initiative, so is a welcoming environment. Drive, Chip & Putt is open to all kids, of all ability levels, ages 7-15. With amazing courses as backdrops for qualifiers, and Augusta National the final carrot being dangled out for kids to chase, your young golfer will certainly be asking you to let them practice just a little bit more often. Just have them watch the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals coverage on Golf Channel the Sunday before Masters Week — they will be hooked for sure! For more details or to register for a Local Qualifier visit here.
- LPGA*USGA Girls Golf: Have a young lady looking to get into the game? So far, everything I have shared above are all great options but, sometimes, girls want to hang out and socialize with other girls. That’s what makes LPGA*USGA Girls Golf the perfect option. As stated on their website, the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program is “the only national junior golf program that specializes in providing girl-friendly environments for juniors to learn the game.” As a certified LPGA*USGA Girls Golf coach, and having gone through their coach’s education program, I can assure you, this is a very, very quality programming option for any young lady interested in the game! More details can be found here.
- PGA Camps: As a host coach for the last several years, I can’t say enough good things about PGA Camps. Founder Marc Haddad has created and built an amazing legacy with this offering. With camps in almost 40 states, and over 180 locations in total, you are almost assured to find a location in your area. Camps are offered in all shapes and sizes, and for all ability levels, with the best PGA- and LPGA-certified coaches in the country. This means your child will be in very good hands with PGA Camps. For more information, go to: https://pgajuniorgolfcamps.com/
These options will provide you with a great starting point to get your children involved in the game for now, and for life!