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By Bruce Meadows
golf 707333
Getting kids started in golf

     You want your son or daughter to learn about playing golf, to just maybe become as interested as you are in the game that, obviously, you can play for a lifetime.


     But the question many of you have is: At what age to you start them off and what kind of equipment is best for them.
     I connected with a number of golfers in our community — and would like to hear from more — regarding the best way to deal with aspiring young players.
     If you have any ideas, send them to me at or and I will share them with our readers.


     Paul Nikol, who started the nationally acclaimed GEL (Golf at the Elementary Level) while teaching at Piner-Olivet Elementary School, shared some thoughts.
golf sonoma cc
Sonoma Golf Club has hosted a number of big events, including the Champions Tour championship for several years.
     “We usually start with 6-year-olds at our golf camps at Windsor,” says Paul, who is responsible for getting a lot of kids started in golf, kids who might otherwise have never been exposed to the game. “Golf if a sport with a heavy emphasis on focus, recall and retention, all cognitive skills 6-year-olds seem to possess, and by the end of the first grade, most of them seem ready to learn the skill sets required to play.”
     He added that “we as teachers instruct kids to focus on what we are teaching them, to recall information and to retain subject matter, and that starts in the first grade and can continue all the way through college,” therefore having golf as not only a sport but an instructional tool.
     According to longtime area pro and very successful men’s and women’s golf coach at Sonoma State Val Verhunce, “we start kids at 5 and find that the goal is to create a safe and fun environment for all the kids, no matter if it is a camp setting or one-on-one. We hope to initially teach them a bit about golf and how they can use this sport to play with friends and family as well as complete strangers.”


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     Jim Strong, who in my estimation is the best there is when it comes to repairing, regripping and modifying golf equipment at Strong’s Golf in Santa Rosa, thinks “the younger the better” applies.


     “Even at age 2, they can learn to use one club . . . a putter is good,” says Jim. “Kids get a kick out of seeing the ball go into the cup.” He goes on to say, “if they need more action, give them a wood, like a 7-metal,” adding “that club will get the ball in the air and kids love to see that.”
     Jim says after a year or two, get your child a little junior set or add some clubs so they have a putter, some sort of fairway wood that could be used to tee off as well as off the ground, a 7-iron and maybe a wedge.
     He thinks “a bunch of lessons” are not needed for real young players, mainly showing them a proper grip and stance “and then let them play.”
     Jim also emphasis teaching golf etiquette at an early age, noting “too many young kids show up at the golf course and appear to be wild and out of control when in reality nobody has shown them the proper procedure.”
     We get a lot of new, young players at Fairgrounds and I often suggest to parents that on some of the longer holes, let the younger players tee it up 50-60 yards from the green so it doesn’t take half a dozen shots to reach the hole.  Or you hit your tee shot and let them take over from there. Some courses actually offer “kids’ tees,” which if feasible, is a good idea.
     Strong recalls growing up, and a new young golfer was allowed to play the first hole with the course pro, and the pro would watch to see if he used the proper etiquette. If he or she made a mistake, the pro explain what had been done wrong and then ask them to think about it and come back in a week or two.
     “I remember one of my friends when I was very young went out with the pro and got all the way to the green and the pro asked him to take out the flag stick,” relates Jim.  “He just dropped it on the green and the pro told him to think about the proper etiquette and to come back in a week.
     “The pro had explained how simply dropping the flagstick can damage the green and needs to be placed just off the green.  He came back the next week and didn’t make that mistake again.”
     Dan Stewart at Fairgrounds agrees it is never too early to learn but sees different phases.
     “When kids are 2 or 3 years old, it’s not a bad idea to let your junior start swinging a plastic club and hit some wiffle balls in the back yard,” says Dan. “The next phase is when he is 4 or 5, the time to start taking them to the driving range . . . this is where you can see if they really enjoy it.”
     Dan says when the young golfer is 6 or 7 and seems to enjoy it, start taking lessons from a pro or knowledgeable parent.
     “Overall,” concludes Dan, “junior golf is a great part of the game and it is never a bad thing to get your junior started as early as possible.”
     As far as clubs, most pros agree that it is not wise to go out and buy a relatively expensive set of clubs, in part because youngsters outgrow the clubs before long and you also don’t know how long they will stick with it.
     Stewart thinks any basic junior set will do, to reserve purchase of top-of-the-line brands until a youngster is older and ready to start playing competitively.
     Verhunce suggests buying a reasonably priced set at a place like Costco, Golf Mart, Sports Authority or someplace similar. I would add that checking online (eBay, craigslist) or yard/garage sales can also yield good results. And don’t forget thrift shops.
     I remember when my kids played soccer, that longtime legendary soccer guru Joe Belluzzo maintained a “shoe bank” so kids could bring in their shoes — usually slightly used and still in good condition — and trade them in for another pair at no cost. Maybe a “golf club bank” might be worth considering in our community.
     Nikol gives a tip of the golf cap to Strong’s Golf where “Jim and Kevin have done wonderful things for junior golf programs, like GEL . . . Jim can cut down or extend clubs, regrip, anything, usually while you wait.”
     I second that praise. For many years I had friends collect golf equipment — clubs, balls bags, whatever — and bring them to me. I would pass things along to Nikol, but often after having Strong’s Golf work their magic by adjusting the equipment for beginning youngsters.
 Let me know what you think.
You definitely know when you have reached the third hole at Windsor Golf Club.
You definitely know when you have reached the third hole at Windsor Golf Club.
Skins’ game at Windsor
     Windsor head pro Jason Schmuhl has set up a “skins game” for this Saturday, starting at 1 p.m., with the public invited to watch.
     Schmuhl and pro shop assistants Demian Reddy and Patrick Steiner will be joined by club champ Nick Daniels, with the four competing for $1,000 in prize money.
     In addition, four members of the Windsor Men’s Club will also be competing, with $500 on the line.
Thanks, and let’s hear from you . . .
     This is obviously not the “golf season” for a number of reasons, but we still want to hear from you with items for the GOLF 707 notebook as well as suggestions for possible golf feature stories.
     If you or your golf course or golf shop have golf-related items you feel might be of interest to our readers, please send them to me at or
     If you have any questions about golf in our area, send them to me and I I will endeavor to get you some answers.
     We are also seeking businesses or individuals to serve as sponsors for GOLF 707 notebooks as well as future feature stories on
Let’s hear from you and we will give you details on rates and what we can offer your business.
      The success and continuation of GOLF 707 will ultimately depend on the response we get from our golfing community.