Helpful Tips on Buying and Sizing Junior Golf Clubs
by the staff at All Kids Golf Clubs
Beginning a Lifelong Love Affair
Many children receive their introduction to golf with a simple set of plastic toy clubs. If they share our love for the game, they’ve likely taken to hitting plastic golf balls around the yard until a parent calls them in for dinner. At some point—perhaps after the house or car windows have been threatened enough times—it will be time to transition to a driving range or golf course. If that scene is playing out in your back yard, now is likely the time to trade in that plastic golf set and invest in a beginner set for your junior golfer. Admittedly, the entire process of outfitting your son or daughter to learn the game can be a daunting one. Below, we’ll guide you through those tricky steps, including how to select equipment, maximize your child’s enjoyment of the game, and impart some simple swing tips. We’ll also offer some thoughts on who to turn to as your junior player advances his or her game.
Unlike any other game, golf has a way of imparting life lessons on everyone from young players picking up a club for the first time to seniors using golf to fill their much-anticipated retirement days. With any luck, your child’s first set of clubs will lead to a lifelong love affair with the game and a fun pastime for you to enjoy with your son or daughter until they have sons and daughters, too.
Chapter 1: Where to Begin
Buying a Set Versus Buying Individual Clubs
If you’re child is still quite young—say, ages 5-12—you will likely be in the market for a complete junior set—which generally comes with all the clubs a junior needs to get started, as well as a golf bag—rather than buying irons, woods and a putter separately. As a parent, you’ve no doubt come to grips with the fact that kids grow quickly. An affordable set of junior golf clubs that will grow with your child for a couple of years is the best (and least expensive) way to avoid new club purchases every year until your youngster’s growth spurts slow down. Junior sets are designed to perform over time as your child grows and allow him or her to improve with that same equipment. However, as we’ll discuss in more detail later, it’s important to keep tabs on whether the equipment still fits your child as he or she grows.
Why Junior Sets are Important and the Shaft is Key
Golfing parents who want to share the game with their kids often make an error that parents have made for years: they take their own set of old golf clubs, cut the shafts down a few inches, re-grip them, and hand them over to their son or daughter. As many golf instructors will tell you, this is a bad idea.
By taking adult clubs and cutting the shaft down to fit your child, you alter the flex of the club and also make the head of the club too heavy for a child to swing. Swinging a club that feels too heavy creates bad swing habits for your child long-term. Junior clubs are designed to be the correct length for a child, with an appropriately weighted shaft and the right balance. “Cutting down your clubs for your kids may have good intentions, but it will throw off the shaft flex,” says Blake Dodson, Director of Golf at Rancho Bernardo Inn near San Diego. A PGA Professional who began instructing in 1996, Dodson says that even cutting down a ladies shaft for a young boy or girl, then building up the grip, is not going to result in a club that is suited for your child.
Chris Hall, National Sales Manager for Paragon Sports, makers of award winning junior golf sets, agrees with Dodson. In fact, he says the philosophy of Paragon Sports is that the shaft is the heart of the clubs in junior sets. “A lot of parents want to introduce their kids to golf and they take one of their old sets and cut them down,” Hall says. “The shafts must be designed for a kid’s swing.” He compares the practice of parents cutting down their own clubs to cutting down a fishing rod from eight feet to six feet. “What does that do to the flexibility of the rod?” Hall says. “It makes it much stiffer. It’s the same thing with clubs. Cutting clubs down makes it hard for the kid to get the ball in the air. You need a soft tip in the shaft to get the ball in the air. You need tip-flexible shafts.” If your child cannot get the ball into the air, he or she will likely get frustrated very quickly. This is the fastest way to turn your child off to the game of golf. Our goal as parents of future golfers should be to encourage our children to love the game and want to come back with us the next time we head to the course or driving range.
From a teaching perspective, Dodson says that having the correct shaft flex allows the junior player to feel the clubhead release during the swing. “Every golfer that is proficient has felt that release of the clubhead,” Dodson explains. “If the shaft is extra stiff, a junior can’t swing the clubs fast enough to make it work the way it’s supposed to work. The energy that is stored up needs to be used correctly. If the shaft is too stiff, the energy stored up in the swing is released too early and the child won’t feel that impact.”
Chapter 2: The Right Clubs for Your Junior Golfer
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
As everyone knows, kids grow—and often they grow quickly. For this reason, it’s enticing to buy clubs that your son or daughter will grow into for years to come. In fact, it’s customary for junior sets to be made with a wide age range in mind. Keep in mind, however, that all juniors don’t fit neatly into a recommended age range. One eight-year-old may not be the same size as the next. In fact, your eight-year-old may be the same size as some 11-year-olds. For this reason, it’s crucial to continue to evaluate your child’s clubs as he or she grows to ensure that they are still the proper size.
If you’re looking to purchase a junior set for your child hoping that he or she will grow into the set for the next year or two, it’s important to know how big is too big. It’s acceptable to choke down 1 to 1 ½ inches on a club, but do not purchase a set of clubs that is too long. “Make sure that the club head sits flat on the ground and the clubface is perpendicular to the target,” Dodson says. “And also be sure that the clubs are light enough to swing. There is some range you can have for length, but for a kid it’s not much. It’s all about fitting. You can only choke down on a club so much before the body obstructs the club. If a junior player uses clubs that require too much choking down, the clubs can cause the child to stand too upright, which will take away from their power.”
Dodson believes that a junior should go to an instructor who specializes in junior golflessons to get help in finding clubs that are the correct length. “Those instructors are likely to have extra junior sets around,” he advises. “Go try them. Use trial-and-error. Use that as your fitting process. Some kids can be lanky and some kids are strong for their age. You have kids in different stages of development. A seven-year-old might be developed to the size of a nine-year-old, and there will also be kids at the other end of the spectrum—a seven-year-old who is only as developed as most five-year-olds. That’s why it’s important to go off of a child’s physical age and not his chronological age. It’s really tough to say, ‘You’re seven years old. Play this!’”
How to Fit Your Junior Golfer
Hall agrees with Dodson that you cannot necessarily fit a junior simply by his or her age or height and says there is nothing that frustrates him more than seeing a five-year-old swing a club that was built for a nine-year-old. If trying some junior clubs at a course or range is not an option, there are ways to closely determine the correct size of clubs for your aspiring junior player. Hall recommends that you first fit your child by the length from his or her knuckle to the ground. Using your child’s height would be the second-best way to measure your child, and age would be third.
“If the club is too long, he’ll be out of control, not keeping his balance and he’ll lose confidence,” Hall says. “At Paragon, we fit junior clubs by having the child stand straight up with a closed fist and then measuring the distance between the first knuckle and the ground. You also have to take into account the child’s posture and the length of his or her arms. The only reason we put ages on clubs is as a starting point.”
The second option is to measure your child’s height and reference it against the recommended age and height range given by club manufacturers. But remember that age recommendations from manufacturers are just that—recommendations—and not all manufacturers make the same size clubs for the same age range. Your six-year-old daughter might be tall for her age, so the correct size golf clubs for her could be in the 8-10 age range.
Other Club Attributes to Consider
Much like a set of adult clubs you might by at your local pro shop or sporting goods store, junior sets are full of technology to consider. And while finding the right shaft is a good place to start, it alone is not the only consideration. Hall correctly points out that many youngsters are becoming more serious about the game, and doing so quite quickly. When the golf bug bites, it bites hard and the rounds and range balls can pile up and wear down less quality sets. “Make sure the heads are made of stainless steel versus an aluminum alloy,” he says. This is especially true in irons. The clubs will be much more durable.”
Dodson adds that the grip is just as crucial to a child’s early success. “Grips are very important,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 years old or 45-years-old, you need to have a club that fits in your fingers. For a young child, that’s a very small grip. Make sure it’s one that your junior can hold in his or her fingers.”
It might seem like a minor consideration to an adult, but it’s important to keep in mind your child’s color preferences when selecting the appropriate junior golf clubs for your kid. To a child, having golf clubs in his or her favorite color could be the difference between picking up the clubs with a willingness and eagerness to try, and only wanting to be a spectator of the sport. So if your little girl loves the color pink, DO NOT buy her that red set in the big box store just because it is the only set available. Junior golf club manufacturers realize how important color is to kids so you can rest assured that you will find her favorite color in the proper sized junior golf clubs. It might just take some time searching the Web to find it.
Junior Golf Glove - Is it Worth It?
Wearing a golf glove is probably more important to the junior golfer than even the adult recreational golfer. Wearing a golf glove while learning the game of golf will not only help deter blisters (which are common when someone is learning the proper way to hold a golf club), but will also provide additional tackiness thus helping keep the club from slipping out from the hands while swinging. How should a junior golf glove fit? Well, like a glove of course. The glove should have no bunching across the palm when worn. It is important the golf glove fits snugly.
Chapter 3: Putting Clubs in Their Hands
The Very Early Ages
If your child is in the 3 to 6 age range, and you’re ready to buy his or her first set of clubs, you’ll be in the market for an abbreviated set of clubs, most likely containing 3 to 7 clubs. But of the clubs in that set, one may be the most important of all. Both Hall and Dodson say the putter is the first club to put in your kid’s hands at an early age.
“If I was really going to grow the game with kids, I’d say we should sell every kid a putter,” Dodson says. “That’s 40% of the game. Get your kids into the game that way. In fact, putting should be a third of your practice time. Instead, every kid gets a driver as his or her first club, but putting is the key to the game. Many people introduce clubs far too early in the process. Remember, loft is your friend when you’re starting out.
Putting also makes for simple fun with dad or an older sibling on the practice green or at the mini-putt course. “As a young kid, you can play your dad in a putting contest,” Dodson points out. “You may not be able to out-drive dad, but you may out-putt him.” Hall concurs, saying that for kids aged 3-6 there is “no question” that the putter is the club to start with. He points out that 95% of golf pros start with putters when they teach beginners. “For older kids, you may start with the putter, but then go to a 7 or 9 iron,” Hall adds. “Those are probably the two easiest clubs to hit. When you start with those clubs, there’s a strong likelihood that the youngster will have immediate success.”'
Going to the Range
If available, a local driving range is a great place to give your young golfer the chance to hit golf balls for the first time. But remember: the first trip to the driving range should be fun. Period. “Give them clubs, get the bucket and let them have at it,” Hall advises. “Ninety-nine percent of the programs that pros have, they will spend a minimum of six lessons for kids before they allow them on the course.”
The biggest reason children don’t stick with golf isn’t because it interferes with Little League, soccer practice or dance recitals. It’s because they lose confidence early and quickly get out of the game. For that reason, getting some basic instruction early on is important, but Dodson says just enjoying the idea of hitting balls at the range is crucial early on.
“The PGA says for kids to swing as hard as possible and that it should be fun,” says Dodson, himself a PGA professional. “Kids are going to have fun by making putts and just smacking it. But if they are fitted correctly for success, they are more likely to find success. If you don’t have the right equipment, it will hurt development, and you’d hate to have a kid give up the game early on for that reason.”