It takes a village to raise a golfer. In my case, the #1 influence - by far - is my dad. He was the first person to put a club in my hand, teach me the basic fundamentals of the swing and help set me on the road to a lifelong obsession with the game. I played my first full holes of golf with him at the age of six and have been hooked ever since. Once my dad got me started, he handed me off to the experts for camps and clinics that shaped the golfer I am today.
It's this time of year - the end of spring - when many parents start looking for golf camps and clinics for the summer in hopes of introducing their children to the game. May is the best time to sign up because many programs running in June, July and August tend to fill up early, so don't delay. This story is just the latest in our beginner series that emphasizes growing the game. Use the advice in the paragraphs below to get your young golfer learning and enjoying the game this summer, and hopefully, for many years to come.
My golf camp memories as a child
Besides my dad, another key figure in my formative golf years was a local pro named Jim Tennant, who worked at Westwoods Golf Course in Farmington, Conn., a par-61 town muni about 15 minutes from where I grew up. As part of his head-pro duties, Tennant ran a summer junior golf camp that packed the course with children several days a week for much of the season.
Most days, my mother would drop me off in the morning and pick me up late in the afternoon. The intervening hours were filled with golf. The crowd of kids was separated into three groups and we would rotate between chipping, putting and full swing practice. We'd break for lunch between our second and third practice rotations: hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken, always followed by those neon-orange popsicles with two sticks that you'd break apart to turn into two.
We were also visited by special guests from time to time, who would talk to us about their lives in golf or sports. LPGA Tour players like Emilee Klein and Carin Koch hung out with us, as did Suzy Whaley, who is now one of the PGA of America's highest-ups. Sportscaster Karl Ravech even came by one day from ESPN's Bristol HQ to talk to us. We would finish up each session by playing the par-3 16th, 17th and 18th holes at Westwoods in huge groups.
It was paradise. Tennant and his band of assistants always made it fun, handing out baseball cards as rewards for good shots. I learned to enjoy spending hours at the course, which granted me a sense of independence and an ability to be comfortable spending time with myself. I also learned the discipline to spend an hour or more working on one part of my golf game. Now that I have a family, that skill helps me seize and savor occasional practice opportunities and maintain a decent level of play, which is important to me.
Westwoods set me up for a long, happy life in golf. Even though Tennant is no longer working there, I'm thrilled to know that the course's summer junior golf camp program is still going strong - their two week-long sessions for June 2023 are already sold out. It makes me happy to know that other kids will fall in love with the game there, just like I did 25-plus years ago. There's no purer example of growing the game.
Great local programs and resources for your beginning golfer
Chances are there are multiple fun, rewarding junior golf camps like the one I experienced at most, if not all, of the local golf courses in your area, too. Click here to search courses near you. If you find a local course of interest, visit that club's website or make a call to find out what's available and the logistics such as cost, how many weeks the program runs, age and skill levels and more. Keep in mind, too, that the private clubs in your city may also host junior golf camps and clinics, even for non-members. It's also worth checking their websites or making a phone call to inquire about potential options.
Your state golf association should be a good resource as well. The USGA works with 58 "Allied Golf Associations" across the country - here is a list of all of them
Many golf-rich areas have local associations that can be helpful finding camps or even host them. My current home of Vero Beach, Florida, is lucky to have the Indian River Golf Foundation, a county-wide program that introduces golf to kids and provides them with opportunities to level up their skills and competitiveness if they want while also keeping it fun and casual for others.
A similar avenue to look out for is junior clinics tied to professional events. Most PGA Tour events involve some sort of junior golf clinic; if you live near one, chances are there are events in the lead-up to the tournament that your junior golfer might enjoy.
9 nationally-known junior golf programs and resources
Several nationwide programs and resources also exist to help kids get into golf as well. Here are some of the big ones:
1. First Tee
Probably the most visible of all, First Tee integrates golf with character-building in order to have a positive effect on kids' lives. Founded in 1997, the organization has grown to encompass dozens of chapters across the United States, with more than 3 million young people participating in its programs annually. firsttee.org
2. Youth on Course
Founded in the golf hotbed of Pebble Beach, Calif., Youth on Course's mission is simple and direct: reduce the cost for kids to play rounds of golf. With more than 140,000 participating members, the organization works with nearly 2,000 golf courses across the country, which offer green fees for junior golfers topping out at just $5 per round. Youth on Course also has a scholarship program that has awarded more than $2.5 million to over 300 graduating high school seniors since 2008. youthoncourse.org
3. PGA Junior League
This offshoot of the PGA of America has gained in popularity since it began in 2011 to the point where more than 60,000 kids participate annually. PGA Junior League does for golf what your local rec leagues do for soccer and baseball: bring kids together in a fun and just-competitive-enough environment to whet their appetites for golf. The team scramble format accommodates players of vastly different skill levels in a way that traditional competitive junior golf does not. The brightly colored, numbered team jerseys are fun, too. pgajrleague.com
4. U.S. Kids Golf
This company, based at Longleaf Golf Club in Pinehurst, N.C., which has made quality golf clubs for kids since 1996, also runs more than 1,600 tournaments across the country each year through its foundation arm. It also provides certification to hundreds of golf instructors and sells "Player Pathway" kits, which function as step-by-step guides to getting kids into golf. uskidsgolf.com
5. LPGA*USGA Girls Golf
Golf has been a male-dominated sport for much of its history, but thanks to organizations like Girls Golf, founded in 1989 by LPGA Teaching Professional Sandy LaBauve to help make the game friendlier for her daughters, more and more young women are taking to the game. Active in more than 500 communities and currently serving more than 80,000 young golfers, LPGA*USGA Girls Golf is a beacon of inclusivity that will make the game better and better. girlsgolf.org
6. Drive, Chip and Putt
Though it has gained widespread notoriety in recent years since being adopted by Augusta National Golf Club in 2013, Drive, Chip and Putt has existed in one form or another for much longer. The three skills it tests are central to the game, and the competition is less hard-nosed than it is introductory. If your kids are showing an avid interest in the game but aren't quite ready for full-on tournament play, your local Drive, Chip & Putt qualifier might be a great stepping-stone. drivechipandputt.com
7. SNAG Golf
Heavy clubs and a small ball make golf intimidating to beginners - kids and adults alike - so SNAG Golf, founded more than a decade ago by former PGA Tour players Terry Anton and Wally Armstrong, offers a softer introduction via its colorful, friendly-looking equipment. The clubs are large and light and the balls are closer in size to that of a tennis ball, making it easier to make contact - and less potentially dangerous for those first errant shots. SNAG Golf has been incorporated into more than 8,000 schools worldwide as part of physical education curricula. snaggolf.com
8. TGA Premier Golf
This franchise of junior golf programs spans the country, with camps, clinics and leagues that focus on the fundamentals, as well as shepherding willing players up five distinct skill and learning levels. playtga.com/golf/
Our friends at SportsEngine are experts across the youth and recreational sports space, including in golf. Their database of programs and events is a great resource for parents. sportsengine.com/golf