Richard Lord: Free golf lessons offered to spark junior interest
For once, my big mouth may have proved beneficial!
Over the past four years as The Eagle's golf writer, I have told anyone who would listen that we need to find a way to get more juniors onto the golf course. Participation is down, and with so many diversions these days, getting young people interested is a bigger challenge than ever.
There is no doubt that many clubs will be facing major problems in the future (some already are) if young blood isn't pumped into the game.
In separate conversations with LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Hall of Famer Kay McMahon of eduKaytion golf and GEAA head professional Jay Abair, I suggested it would be in the best interest of golf courses to let juniors play for free.
Apparently, they were listening.
"I went home after you said that and started to think about it," said McMahon of our conversation. "I knew I couldn't offer that [free rounds], but I could give free lessons."
As a result, McMahon has decided to offer free private half-hour lessons at Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club to juniors (ages 5-17), regardless of their ability level, on Saturdays in October. She'll expand it to Sundays if there is enough demand.
"It's all about encouraging kids to play golf," McMahon said. "It's for those who want to try it, or parents who want their kids to try it, or for those who already play but want to improve and see their swings [on video]."
Abair, meanwhile, has been letting juniors play for free when they play with a parent.
"I haven't made them pay since we talked about it," said Abair, who confirms return trips from some of those who took advantage of the opportunity.
McMahon, a member of the board of directors for the Northeast New York PGA Section, says club professionals are well aware of the situation and are looking for ways to get juniors excited about golf.
"Player development is one of the committees I am on and there has been a lot more talk than there has ever been," McMahon said. "We are exploring different avenues to make it happen. Dottie Pepper (former LPGA star and ESPN golf analyst) is also on the section board and is very involved with junior golf on the national PGA board."
McMahon sees this as an experiment of sorts.
"I will use this as a pilot program," McMahon said. "If it pans out and is successful, I will see if we can do it at the section level. All courses, public and private, are looking for players. It's important to start them young."
One of the reasons this subject is near and dear to me is that golf had such a positive impact on me as a teen. If my mother was still alive, she'd confirm that the investment in my golf game was money well-spent. There are so many positive lessons the game teaches young people.
McMahon has a full menu of tasty golf sayings and the following one says it better than I can.
"Golf helps you develop life skills by developing the game of a lifetime," she said.
For McMahon, who was introduced to the game as a youngster by her father when he built her a three-hole course, the goal in offering the lessons is to simply expose kids to the game.
"It's not about having to be competitive, it's simply about being able to go out to play and have fun," McMahon said. "The biggest thing with kids is to be able to get the ball airborne and learning to do that successfully doesn't take too long."
I watched McMahon, who has won countless regional and national awards for her teaching ability, host a junior clinic a couple of years ago and she had those kids making solid contact before the morning was over.
Over the past four summers, the city of Pittsfield's Sticks for Kids program has been a huge success. It has exposed hundreds to the game and from witnessing it firsthand, I'd say 90 percent of them had fun. But, it's uncertain how many ended up actually taking up the game.
"I am going to try and track those who come for the lessons to see how they do going forward," McMahon said. "In addition, I am planning junior programs for this winter indoors when we open in November. I will offer junior memberships and scholarships."
Which takes us back to McMahon's menu of golf sayings.
"Golfers are made in the offseason."
To contact Richard Lord:
or (413) 496-6236
For free lessons ...
Kay McMahon, the director of eduKaytiongolf, is offering a "Learn to Golf 4 Free" program on Saturdays in October. The half-hour lessons are limited to one per person and include video analysis.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.