Hook a Kid on Golf

When it comes to youth sports, the big three (baseball, football, and soccer) dominate the landscape. The National Alliance For Youth Sports (NAYS) is working hard to add golf to this elite group.

Hook A Kid On Golf is a comprehensive NAYS youth golf program that works to eliminate obstacles to kid’s learning and continuing to play golf, while also instilling in them an understanding of the game’s rules, etiquette and history.

The program (available to kids ages 8-15) can be run on any golf course or driving range and is typically managed by local park and recreation departments and/or public/private golf courses. It can be funded through matching grants, locally approved money, fundraising or out of pocket fees. The easy-to-administer program is divided into four sections/levels: Tee Level Clinics, Green Level Training Programs, Challenge Golf Leagues and the annual Traditions of Golf Challenge national tournament.

Tee Level Clinics

These weeklong clinics work to get children, especially those who might not have access to golf because of cost, course availability, etc., introduced to the game. Instruction focuses on driving, iron play, chipping and putting. The clinic also includes presentations on golf course maintenance, rules, etiquette, and alcohol and drug awareness. The week ends with a golf outing in which the youngsters tee it up for their first round on a real course. Every child who participates receives a bag, hat, shirt, golf balls and a set of golf clubs.

Green Level Training Program

The Green Level Training Program is a six-week course for kids who are familiar with the sport but are not quite ready for on-course play. It features a fun format giving kids practical experience and instruction from tee to green. Special emphasis is placed on basic rules, etiquette and course management techniques including: raking bunkers, repairing ball marks, standing an appropriate distance while others are hitting, avoiding hazards, playing in different weather, and reading greens.

Challenge Golf League

The Challenge Golf League was created following a study that found that 85 percent of kids who are introduced to golf wanted to continue playing in an organized format. The league – the Little League of children’s golf – is broken into six-person teams, and is modeled after other successful national youth sports programs with parents or other volunteers serving as coaches and league administrators.

Teams compete against each other using a scramble/match-play format, similar to what is used during the Ryder and Solheim Cups. In order to participate, kids must meet a minimum skill requirement and pass a rules and etiquette test.

Traditions of Golf Challenge

The annual Traditions of Golf Challenge is the only tournament of its kind in the country. It stresses the importance of knowing the rules, etiquette and history of golf as well as playing skills.

Each team’s score from their 18-hole round is combined with their “Traditions of Golf” score to determine the overall champion of the event. So, knowing what to do after a ball has splashed into a lateral water hazard and how to properly repair a ball mark are just as important as sinking birdie putts. Teams are also observed and graded on their course etiquette by officials at each hole. Teams are penalized if they write down their score while standing on the green, talk or move while someone is playing, walk through a player’s line on the green, use foul language, or place their golf bag on the putting green, among other etiquette no-nos.

Cities are selected for the Traditions of Golf Challenge based on their commitment to utilizing the entire Hook A Kid On Golf program.

Hooked: One Community’s Success Story

The town of Wadsworth, Ohio, may be known as small to some – but to the participants and alumni of the Hook A Kid On Golf program, which has been administered there for 15 years, the experiences and benefits can be described as nothing short of big. And as the 2005 recipient of the Don Springer Award, the Wadsworth Hook a Kid program has the goods to prove it.

Formerly known as the Site of the Year Award, the Don Springer Award is presented annually to the Hook A Kid On Golf community that best exemplifies the efforts of the award’s namesake to make a positive difference for today’s youth through golf. Don Springer, who passed away in 2003, was the co-founder of the Hook A Kid On Golf of Illinois Foundation.

Michael Smith, director of the Wadsworth Recreation Department, has been involved with the National Alliance For Youth Sports’ Hook A Kid program since he first heard of the program more than 15 years ago. Wadsworth was one of four pilot communities to offer the program in 1991. Smith says he was sold on the idea immediately after hearing about it from a National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA) state representative.

“We want to be intentional about offering opportunities to learn the lifetime sport of golf, especially for those children who might never really have the chance,” says Smith.

The community of Wadsworth offers the Tee Level Clinic; the Challenge Golf League; and the Start Smart Golf program, a parent-child development program for kids age’s five to seven.

Smith says golf had an impact on him at an early age. “As a young boy I used to sneak around in the woods around the perimeter of a golf course near my home and find golf balls, clean up the good ones and sell them. I would take the ones with slices in them and use antique wood shafted clubs and hit them out into a farm field near my home,” he remembers. “I really would have loved being exposed to the game in a positive way as a young boy like we do with Start Smart, the Tee Level Clinics and the Challenge Leagues.”

Smith and Chris Siesky – a teacher and golf coach at Wadsworth High School who has been involved with the Hook A Kid program since 1992 – promote the program and work with school principals to make sure that “kids who really need the program” get involved.

Smith and Siesky also share the responsibilities of contacting local sponsors to seek funding, sponsorships for kids, and donations of snacks, lunches and other things. Smith coordinates with his staff at the Wadsworth Recreation Department all mailings to kids, sponsors and members of NYSCA. He has produced Hook A Kid TV shows for local cable television, and also assists the Challenge Golf League and Start Smart Golf site coordinators. Smith says it is because of this combined effort – and that of the volunteers and community – that the program has become such an accomplished one.

Sarah Christy and Greg Bach are communications directors for the National Alliance For Youth Sports (NAYS).

If you are interested in the Hook A Kid On Golf program, you can obtain a program manual through the national office by submitting your program manual application accompanied by a $25 fee. The program manual application can be printed from the www.hookakidongolf.org Web site. Visit the site or contact the national office by e-mail at info@hookakidongolf.org or by phone at (561) 684-1141.