Brandel Chamblee of Golf Channel, who I normally find worth listening to (he’s not afraid to be critical which is good, and for those unaware he did play on the PGA Tour to some level of success- he has one PGA Tour victory which is one more than I’ll ever see) recently wrote an interesting piece about growing the game of golf. He suggests that the PGA Professional at his home country club was a huge factor for him, and that the home professionals have the ability to make that all-important 1 on 1 contact with would-be golfers. This sounds really nice, except that it lacks a bit of practicality in the 21st century.
I suppose that, if your parents have a country club membership that this is a fantastic means to make that personal connection that can make someone into a golfer for a lifetime. I was not one of those people and I must confess to knowing one person (a very good friend) who grew up in a country club environment (by his own admission, the club was not a sanctuary for the well-heeled but more of a social club that had things for people of all ages and genders). My parents were of very modest means, so joining a country club was a laughable idea (not to mention my parents were not golfers on any level- the best I could do is my father playing minor league baseball and being a fairly decent doubles tennis player). However, I did have my “one on one” introduction via an aunt (since deceased) who was a very good amateur player (we would see her once a year during the family visits that doubled as vacations). At no point did she ever give me lessons other than a couple tips (we played together a few times- she could be as tough as nails but she could also be as sweet and charming in her Texas/Oklahoma drawl as you could possibly imagine) and a suggestion to watch Jack Nicklaus’ videos “Golf My Way” (in my opinion this remains as good of an instructional video that exists- there’s nothing fancy here…just good solid fundamentals); I can still remember watching these videos (renting them from the local video rental store- kids, go ask your parents about “video rental stores”).
I’ve been playing the game off and on for close to 30 years. I’ve probably played at 200 golf courses, and if I’ve met the local PGA Professional at any of them, it would be news to me (again- no need for introductions from the club pros). If you don’t know me, I’m the guy who happily puts on his golf shoes in the parking lot, and then walks into the pro shop to pay my green fee and head to the starter (until I quit smoking I’d be the guy pulling up in untied golf shoes stashing my cigarettes in the cart (if I didn’t have one already lit) where nowadays people stash their mobile phones). Generally speaking, I’m a “hit the ball and hit the road” golfer (a phrase coined by a writer whose work I enjoy). I don’t know anyone who has the time to spend that kind of time at a country club, and the reality is that I don’t see this dichotomy changing anytime soon in the age of two-income families and social agendas for kids becoming more and more compacted.
So unless you’re the child of parents who spend a lot of time at a country club, the reality in the 21st century is that a club professional may not be capable (or willing) to have that one on one time. It’s a wonderful idea (and to be clear, I’ve nothing but kind words for any club professional teaching the game to young people), but is it really practical?
The answer, it seems, is that it’s on all of us. My aunt didn’t teach me grip, stance, or swing. My grip, stance, and swing are entirely self-taught from watching Golf My Way and going out and following what the videos showed me. Is that a bad thing? I’ve had two people give me pointers in the last 20 years. A guy I was talking to at a driving range in 1995 told me to stand closer and more upright to the ball (I’d gain distance and I’d be less likely to come over the top), and a guy at a store I was trying some clubs out identified me as a hockey player based on my swing. His advice? Don’t let anyone get the hockey out of your swing. That and Jack (and later in life, that Jack would sometimes be Jack Daniels, who also offers sage advice).
If you see young people playing, welcome them. Don’t worry about them becoming Tour Professionals (they won’t) and for all that’s good, let them try to figure it out on their own (sounds mean but once you actually figure out what it is you’re doing wrong and how to correct it, you’ll be a much better golfer). Offer aid when asked. Focus on the basics- grip, stance, ball position. I learned by hitting lightweight practice balls in my neighbourhood (I’d cover them with scotch tape to give them a bit of weight and make them not quite as susceptible to wind) and I made my own “course” using light posts and trees for flag sticks (using a single club- an old Wilson 8-iron).
Again, I’m not being critical of Brandel Chamblee, I’m pointing out that his experiences are just that-his. It’s not to diminish them, but rather to point out that there are different paths to the game other than the club professional. I do agree with him that foot-golf (Frisbee golf but with a soccer ball) and the 15 inch hole are not solutions, but well-intended but naive ideas that do nothing to grow the game.
Seriously. Go find a disc golf course and ask folks playing if they’ve ever considered playing real golf. My guess is that they haven’t. Which is fine- they enjoy their sport and I’m free to enjoy mine, just like they can enjoy 20-minute versions of Phish songs, and I can enjoy double scotches.