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Why Golf Is a Great Game

When my son Scott was six years old, he loved accompanying me to the driving range and whacking ball after ball. If I emptied a big yellow bucket, then he matched me swing for swing.

I was happy that Scott relished hitting range balls, but something inside me said Don’t push him, so I did my best to avoid becoming the Golf Parent From Hell. Whenever I saw his interest waning, I would call it quits and hand him some change for the Coke machine.

About that time an old college roommate, Joe Prochaska, gave me a call. Joe told me his son, Bard (a year younger than Scott), was starting to play golf as well. “What do you say we have a father-son golf outing?” Joe suggested.

“Sounds great, Joe. There’s a new junior chip-and-putt course at Disney World that would be perfect for the boys,” I said. “The holes are 75 to 150 yards long, there’s plenty of room, almost no sand bunkers—it would be just perfect for the kids.”

While Scott had played a few holes with me, this would be the first time he would play a “real” golf course. Of course, I wanted him to come off the 18th green raving about what a good time he had, but I also wanted him to learn more about golf. The last time we played a couple of holes together, I noticed that he would advance the ball in little chips toward the green until he poked the ball barely on the green. Then he would start jabbing dinky putts in the direction of the hole. The thought of actually hitting the ball toward the hole was foreign to him.

Standing on the first tee at Disney World, I hunched down and met eyes with Scott, who was decked out in tube socks and an oversized golf shirt.

“Scott, every time you hit the ball, you want to hit for the pin. Your goal should be to make a hole-in-one if you can.”

“What’s a hole-in-one, Dad?”

“That’s when you hit from the tee and knock the ball into the hole in one shot.”

“Is it hard?”

“Very hard. Many people go a lifetime with never making a hole-in-one. But what you want to do is try to hit the ball into the hole every time.”

Scott nodded and I stood up, not really sure if he understood my point. He walked to the junior tee, waggled his club just like a pro, and poked a great drive about 10 yards short of the green on the 125-yard hole.

“Nice shot, Scott, way to go! Now don’t forget what I told you about trying to hit the ball in the hole.”

“Right, Dad.”

Scott pulled his pitching wedge from his bag, took a few practice swings, then let it fly. The ball bounced twice before rolling into the hole.

Everyone roared their approval, and when I saw a grin sweep across Scott’s face after carding his first legitimate birdie, I knew he was hooked on golf. Twenty years later, I can assure you that golf has enriched my relationship with Scott, provided untold hours of enjoyment between us, and helped me teach him important principles about life and God in deeper ways than I’ll ever know.

If that’s what you want for your children, golf will help because the game has an uncanny ability to teach moral lessons. In addition, golf is a great family game because it provides a superb opportunity for you to spend quality time with your children—time that can be used to teach them about honesty, determination, planning, concentration, and self-encouragement.

Here are some additional points:

1. Golf imparts great values. Golf is a sport of integrity and honesty. No black-and-white striped referees walk down the fairways with you. No umpire notices whether you improved your lie or not. You are expected to make the call or ruling, no matter how painful the penalty will be, as pro golfer Tom Kite demonstrated when he once said the ball moved while he lined up an important putt. No one saw the ball move after he apparently touched it with his putter, but Tom called a one-stroke penalty on himself, and it cost him the tournament title and tens of thousands of dollars.

Golf also teaches youngsters respect—for others in your playing group, for the group in front of you, and for the “Rules of Golf.” You don’t see John McEnroe-types wrapping an iron around a tree or digging up a green in frustration. Although everyone has gotten upset and tossed a club toward the bag, temper tantrums should be rare occurrences around the course.

If the kids don’t hear you swearing after missing a shot, then they are hearing just the opposite message that the world teaches: go ahead and utter a four-letter word when you blow a shot. Believe me, sooner or later they will ask you why you don’t swear, which will open the door for you to explain why.

2. Golf teaches young players to get along with their elders and their peers. Since players of all ages can comprise a foursome, junior golfers are bound to learn something about standards when they are paired with older players, including their parents or grandparents. Important social skills are imparted on the golf course, skills such as shaking a person’s hand upon introduction, addressing elders by “Mr.” and “Mrs.”, waiting for your turn to hit, marking your ball on the green, and letting faster groups play through.

Let me tell you something about golf as it relates to your parents. Golf can bolster your relationship with your father, as it did with mine. You may disagree with your father on your Christian beliefs, your values, and your political views, but it seems like when you get together on the golf course, you can put those things aside for a few hours and enjoy being with each other.

You can build on those shared memories together, and perhaps that will lead to an opportunity to share your faith. Maybe it won’t, but golf will bring you closer, and God doesn’t waste any opportunities.

3. Golf builds character—and reveals character. Character still counts in many quarters, and golf has a knack for instilling important lessons about life. And who best to teach those lessons? You! How you conduct yourself on a golf course is being watched and assimilated by your youngsters. They see everything, including your famous “foot wedge” or the way you shave strokes on a long par-5. On the other hand, if they see you sticking with the rules, playing the ball from bad lies, and counting all your strokes while attempting to get your ball out of the bunker, they are learning the right lessons about life, and that builds character.

There’s something about golf that brings out the best and worst in all of us. If you can remain positive, show good character, and soldier on after notching another “snowman” on your card, your kids will fall into step right behind you.

4. Golf is a great game to have on the résumé. If your children grow up to be decent golfers, a good golf game can open doors in Corporate America. A healthy percentage of deal-making is struck on the golf course, where relationships are cemented and sales are consummated. Young women increase their chances of breaking through the glass ceiling if they can play good “business golf” at corporate outings—and win the respect of men around the company water cooler. The Executive Women’s Golf Association (check out their Web site at www.ewgnatl.org) is a nonprofit organization that “fosters a spirit of acceptance, dignity, and respect for career-oriented women golfers.”

Girls and women are entering golf in unprecedented numbers. The National Golf Foundations says 5.7 million women play golf today, a 24 percent increase over the last decade. Women employed outside the home have ventured onto the golf course twice as much as stay-at-home moms.

Savvy business executives will tell you that they can find out more about a person on a golf course than in any other social activity. Golf has a unique way of unmasking how people handle pressure and displaying their sense of humor, honesty, intensity, concentration powers, and ability to recover. If your adult children can successfully get up and down from a greenside bunker, they can handle any “hazard” that comes with the job.

That’s what Professor Dan Weilbaker at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, was thinking when he asked his school if he could teach a class called “Business Golf 101.” Students aiming for a degree in sales lined up to take his one-day seminar on the do’s and don’ts of behavior on the links:

• Replace your divots.

• Carry a rake with you into the sand trap.

• Mark your ball on the green.

• Don’t drive the golf cart like you’re at the Indy 500.

• And don’t talk business—for at least the first six holes.

A few eyebrows shot up when Professor Weilbaker received permission to teach “Business Golf 101,” but then several sales students were hired after playing a round with potential bosses. He counsels students not to rush things, using the first six holes to know your customers’ families, hobbies, and background. The middle six holes should be used to better understand the customers’ business, with the final six holes used to share ideas about how your business can help clients with pressing needs. Any deals should be closed at the 19th hole (the clubhouse bar and restaurant) or at a later meeting.

Johnny Miller, an NBC golf analyst and former U.S. Open winner, knows how important golf is in the business world. “Playing golf in business is going to be like being computer-literate. You’ve got to play golf,” he said. Johnny’s attitude is carried by a growing number of Fortune 500 companies—such as IBM, Marriott, and Merrill Lynch—who have sent their junior executives to “business golf” seminars to learn social graces and tactical savvy on the links.

Carried a step further, business golf can open the door to sharing your values and your faith with others who wouldn’t normally cross your path. Call it “outreach golf.”

5. Golf is an international game of the future. The global village is being exposed to golf, and international players from different ethnic and national backgrounds are breathing new life into the game. The best female player in the world is Annika Sorenstam of Sweden. Vijay Singh, a Fijian of Indian ancestry, and Se Ri Pak, a dynamic young woman from South Korea, have captured major titles—the PGA and U.S. Open, respectively—in recent years. Sergio Garcia of Spain and Shingo Katayama of Japan are exciting, dynamic personalities. International competitions such as the Ryder Cup, President’s Cup, and the Solheim Cup have given the sport a tremendous international platform.