Appeared in May/June 2006 LINKS
Yates Wilburn had tried just about every team sport—baseball, basketball, football, soccer—but the stocky 8-year-old struggled to keep up with his peers. Then his mother signed him up for an after-school junior golf program at Palmetto Dunes Resort on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
The youngster quickly became a regular at the twice-weekly clinics run by former PGA Tour pro Doug Weaver, Palmetto Dunes’ director of instruction. Today Yates is a lean, healthy 5-foot-8 14-year-old with a passion for the game and a good chance of making his highschool golf team.
Yates used to be part of a growing problem in the U.S.: According to government studies, more than 15 percent of children are overweight and another 30 percent are at risk of being overweight. But while golf will never approach more strenuous sports in terms of physical benefits, it does make a difference.
Yates is a walking example of the physical benefits offered by Weaver’s junior program. “He has a sport now and his body has changed for the positive,” Weaver says.
But kids won’t play golf—or walk—if they are discouraged by courses that are too difficult for them. That’s why Palmetto Dunes’ Robert Trent Jones course has a set of tees measuring 2,625 yards. It is one of a growing number of courses offering reduced-length tees, often referred to as “family,” “beginner” or “junior” tees. Played at the same par as adult tees and often with their own scorecard, these far-forward teeing grounds make par more attainable, make the game easier and more enjoyable, and encourage both walking and family play.
U.S. Kids Golf, an equipment manufacturer specializing in gear for juniors, has joined the cause by developing a “Family Course” program that includes suggestions for setting up courses for juniors with two sets of tees, measuring approximately 2,200 and 3,750 yards. Dozens of clubs have signed on, either designing new courses with junior tees or retrofitting existing layouts. At the Daniel Island Club near Charleston, South Carolina, both the Tom Fazio-designed Beresford Creek and Rees Jones-designed Ralston Creek layouts offer 3,600-yard family tees that are laser-leveled and maintained as meticulously as the regular tees.
At Promontory—The Ranch Club in Park City, Utah, junior members play a more manageable version (4,850 yards) of the Pete Dye-designed golf course. Unlike the adult teeing grounds, the junior tees Dye designed require no forced carries and allow youngsters to have fun and experience some success right away.
So as courses around the country get longer, some facilities are realizing that it is just as important to make layouts shorter, for both kids’ immediate benefits and for the long-term health of the game.
Fit for a Kid
Two major players dominate the junior equipment market: U.S. Kids Golf and La Jolla Club Golf Co. Dan Van Horn founded U.S. Kids Golf (uskidsgolf.com, 888-387-5437) in 1997 and began developing Ultralight Kidsklubs, designed to be considerably lighter (up to 25 percent) than adult (and most junior) sets. The clubs are classified by colors, with each color corresponding to a specific age group and height. The company also offers lightweight carry bags with harness-style dual straps.
Founded by Class A PGA professional Paul Herber in 1991, La Jolla Club Golf Co. (lajollaclub.com, 800-468-7700) offers its Super Flex Junior and Teen Clubs with Winn Grips made specifically for juniors, a patented calibrated shaft system (as shafts get shorter, they become more flexible) and a patented multi-use system that combines two clubs into one—for example, the 5/6 combo can be gripped higher or lower to make the club behave like a 5-iron or a 6-iron. Junior stand bags come in a variety of colors.