Tee time for junior golf

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright discovers the old guard of the golfing world has finally moved with the times

Junior golf. Photo / File
Junior golf. Photo / File

With the success of star teenager, golf prodigy Lydia Ko, who is the world's No 1 women's amateur, based on the North Shore, golf is suddenly cool among a new generation.

Compared to other junior sports, it's very affordable to learn, with free coaching included in most junior memberships, from as little as $70 a year.

It may not have dawned on parents eyeing their retirement plans that it is a sport that has the potential to earn talented golfers big money.

More immediately, the values and etiquette that are a big part of the sport are great life skills for any child.

The SNAGGOLF coaching system, standing for "Starting New At Golf" is a system of simplified instructions, as well as over-sized equipment in bright colours, with a small tennis ball weighing the same as a golf ball.

It can be played anywhere, even on the beach.

We take a look at the local golf clubs working hard for their junior members and ask their advice on getting children into the sport.


Remuera Golf Club

Adresss: 120 Abbotts Way, Remuera
Phone: (09) 524 4288
remueragolfclub.com
Junior membership is $361 a year.

Described by general manager Chris Davies as "a green oasis in a central location", the club recently celebrated its 75th anniversary and prides itself on being a friendly club. It has a full junior academy programme with 120 junior members and classes running during the school term.

"My advice when choosing a club is to go to the one that's the closest. After that, consider the access juniors have to the course, because some clubs have restrictions.

"Check out the practise facilities, and of course, the costs," says Davies. "Get a club into your child's hands and let them have fun."

Pakuranga Golf Club

Address: 199 Botany Rd, Howick
Phone: (09) 534 3818
pakurangagolfclub.co.nz
Junior membership is $195 a year, including a club polo shirt and two free coaching clinics. SNAGGOLF (coaching system) available.

Formed in 1968, the Pakuranga Golf Club is a park-like metropolitan club with star players among its junior team. Like most clubs, the junior programme starts at age 6, with free coaching for youngsters on Sunday mornings.

There are also club competitions, with trophies and prizes from the shop.

"We encourage the family environment," says general manager Des Topp. "It's great when a junior joins the club and the parents learn something about the game and want to join too.

"You'll see our older members watching their grandchildren on a Sunday morning during coaching," says Topp. "Lydia Ko's profile is also making younger people want to be part of the sport."

Warkworth Golf Club

Address: Golf Rd, Warkworth.
Phone: (09) 425 8248
warkworth.nzgolf.net
Junior membership is $70 a year, including two 10-week coaching sessions. SNAGGOLF available.

"The most notable thing about our course is the open spaces. It feels like you're in paradise, out somewhere, just you and the course," says general manager Mike Reid. The junior programme has had its ups and downs at the club, but in the past 18 months has been given a strategic approach and the club has also invested in SNAGGOLF, which Reid says is, "for anyone from 5-95 starting golf. I've got 4-year-olds who have done an 8-week SNAGGOLF course and are now playing real golf.

"As well as sport, choose golf for the life skills. It's all centred around etiquette," says Reid. "Once you get involved, it's about the development of life skills: honesty, integrity and respect."

Royal Auckland Golf Club

Address: 30 Hospital Rd, Otahuhu
Phone: (09) 276 6149
royalaucklandgolfclub.co.nz
Junior membership is $324 a year.

"Ours is the top club in Auckland in terms of prestige and age," says Richard Jones, a junior golf manager at the club. "We've been at this site for over 100 years, right next to King's College."

Jones set up a junior golf academy in 2008 as a formal training programme for young members. There are weekly sessions with free coaching and two junior tournaments each year.

"It's a hard game, that's why coaching is really important," says Jones, who admits his dad wouldn't let him go near a golf course for many months, opting to take him to a park to practise his swing first.

"Golf tends to bring out your faults and your good points," says Jones. "Unlike other sports, you can have a long career in it. Start the kids young and it's a sport they can enjoy for the rest of their lives."

North Shore Golf Club

Address: 51 Appleby Rd, Albany
Phone: (09) 415 9924
northshoregolfclub.co.nz
Junior membership $310 a year.

Although Lydia Ko's home club is Gulf Harbour, she's also a member of North Shore Golf Club. With junior membership costs a fraction of the adults' fees, it's affordable to join more than one club.

"It's a big, busy club," says head pro Scott Pickett. "Our main members are adult, but recently we've opened more to juniors, broken down old rules in place for under-10s on the course and put a plan for more juniors to get involved."

"Golf teaches our young members a lot of good life values - you need patience and honesty - and there are a lot of rules, a lot of self-policing. It also teaches perseverance."

"One of the great things about golf is that people of any age and ability can have a game together. A 6-year-old can play golf with a 90-year-old - using handicaps to make them an equal match," says Pickett.

Gulf Harbour Country Club

Address: Gulf Harbour, Whangaparaoa
Phone: (09) 424 0971
gulfharbourcountryclub.co.nz
Junior membership is $100 a year.

It's easy to see why Lydia Ko chose Gulf Harbour as her main club - who wouldn't want a swimming pool, sauna, gymnasium, squash and tennis court, as well as dining facilities alongside their golf practise? "The club's changed a lot in the past six to eight months," says general manager Mike Duncumb. "Traditionally, we've struggled with an ageing membership, but the best thing we did was align ourselves with the Institute of Golf. That has injected our club with a group of passionate young golfers. The club used to be an old-boys' gentleman golf course where you'd have your drink upstairs afterwards," he says. "That's completely disappeared and it's about encouraging juniors and young people. If we don't have them, we're toast."

Pupuke Golf Club

Address: 231 East Coast Rd, Campbells Bay
Phone: (09) 410 7906
pupukegolf.co.nz
Junior membership is $275 a year. SNAGGOLF available.

Laurie Flynn, manager of Pupuke Golf Club, set on a sloping hill in the East Coast Bays, has a different take on why parents choose golf for their kids: "They want a babysitter for five hours."

"Golf can be quite dangerous in terms of stray golf balls, so we have to be cautious about allowing young players on the course when they are not skilled in the etiquette of golf," cautions Flynn.

Pupuke Golf Club has junior golf every Sunday with competitions and, because of its location, is a popular host of local school golf.

Pukekohe Golf Club

Address: 654 Karaka Rd, Karaka
Phone: (09) 294 8822
pukekohegolf.co.nz
Junior membership is $100 a year. SNAGGOLF available.

Located among dairy farms, Pukekohe Golf Club is a parkland-style golf course with tree-lined fairways and three ponds.

General manager Ian Litchfield says it's a bonus that native birds, such as wood pigeons and fantails, follow you around and keep an eye on your game.

"Children are taught after school on a Tuesday and SNAGGOLF is also played," says Litchfield.

"It makes teaching golf very simple and the equipment is all in bright, primary colours, which kids love. As a club, we have a responsibility to get as many kids in touch with sport as possible."


Getting started

NZ Golf programmes range from Kiwi Golf Fun Days to Junior Tiger Training Days, including a national campaign to find New Zealand's "Junior Tiger" and reward them with a trip to Disneyland. Ask your local club for details.

Junior starter club sets are available for $175 from golf.co.nz, and every purchase will give you a $50 discount off junior club membership.

For more information on kids' SNAGGOLF, using over-sized clubs and balls, visit snaggolf.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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