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When you golf with your kids, it's a good parenting day

By Jennifer Mario, Contributor

As a mother, I have my good days and my bad days.

U.S. Kids Golf
Club maker U.S. Kids Golf's annual world championship attracts hundreds of 6-to 12-years-old players from around the world.
U.S. Kids GolfMichelle Wie

The day I fed my three small children microwave popcorn for dinner and fell asleep on the couch at 6 p.m., letting the kids put themselves to bed? Not one of my good days.

In my defense, my husband was out of town, I was seriously ill with the flu and, hey, microwave popcorn can be quite filling. Still, a serious setback in the Mother of the Year race.

But I like to think I offset days like that with particularly stellar ones. Like, say, July 12, when I took my daughter to Pinehurst for a U.S. Kids Golf World Championship event.

The actual U.S. Kids Golf tournament will be held July 26-29 at Pinehurst Resort. Some 850 kids from around the world, ages 6 through 12, will participate, making this the largest-field golf championship in history. You heard me: the largest-field championship in history.

My daughter and I watched some of the participants demonstrate their swings. Eight-, 9- and 10-year-old children hit balls farther than I ever will, then turned to us and grinned. My 8-year-old girl watched in awe, and then we hit a few on the range together. It was one of my best parenting days yet.

And just when I'm patting myself on the back for my unmatched parenting skills, I meet up with the mother of one of the World Championship participants. Eleven-year-old Hailey Crider was enjoying a successful modeling career in L.A. until her parents switched her to sports - namely, golf.

"With all that emphasis on the way you look, how thin you have to be, we decided it wasn't a healthy environment for our daughter," explained her mom, Terri. "It was hard, too, because she really liked modeling. But she likes golf even more." Attagirl, mom.

A different era

When I was growing up, golf was something my grandfather did. Never in a million years would I have thought of it as a game for kids. But my daughter is growing up in a different era. Now, with the likes of Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie leading the way, golf has become, well, cool.

That's why I appreciate companies like U.S. Kids Golf that help make golf accessible for the 12-and-under set - putting me, by the transitive property, back into that elusive MOY race.

How did it get started? Dan Van Horn, founder and president of U.S. Kids Golf, noticed 10 years ago that cut-down 8-irons simply weren't good enough. A father of three, he decided to do something about it. Now U.S. Kids Golf leads the market with lightweight clubs with flatter lie angles, flexible shafts and slender grips to help kids learn a smooth swing and get the ball in the air.

"Golf is a values game," Van Horn says. "It has rules and regulations, honesty and integrity, values that are very good for kids to learn. It can help you in business, in college, and it can help you socially. And of course it's a beautiful way to get outdoors and get some exercise."

"With other activities, you take them to baseball practice and sit there and watch. But you don't really get to play with them. Golf is different."

The problem with tee boxes

Now that he's remedied the club problem, Van Horn has set his sights on other issues, like golf courses themselves.

"Courses aren't set up for kids," he says. "The red tees are too long. The course itself has got to change. Courses now are almost like ski slopes with intermediate and black diamond slopes, and no beginner or bunny trails."

This isn't likely to change any time soon, unfortunately. But why sit around waiting for courses to figure it out? At kids' golf tournaments, organizers set up plates right in the middle of the fairway to serve as temporary tee boxes and provide appropriate yardages for kids of various ages.

You don't need to petition your club to put plates in the fairway - you can do it yourself, and you don't even need real plates.

Base the length of your virtual tees on how far your child hits the ball. If he hits it 100 yards off the tee, set him up at about 75 yards out for a par 3, 150 yards for a par 4, and 200 for a par 5. As his drives get longer, move him back accordingly until he finally reaches those white tees.

If I made my daughter finish a 427-yard par 5, the players backed up behind us would surely pitch fits. She's still a beginner, so for a par 5 I start her out at the 150-yard marker and we're good to go. Last week she made her first greens in reg - and we kept up with the group in front of us.

Before all the purists start chiming in, let me state categorically that this isn't cheating. This is creating appropriate distances for beginners - children. It's keeping up pace of play and giving your child attainable goals. Not to mention, it's what they do at kids' golf tournaments.

Cut the distance of each hole by a half, or even by a third. When your child makes her first birdie, you'll know he or she will be a golfer for life.

With Take Your Daughter to the Course week behind us and the U.S. Kids World Golf Championship ahead, the golf industry is doing its part to help get more kids in the game. Now do yours.

Oh, and don't be too hard on yourself for those not-so-good parenting days. Take your kids to the course - every time you do is a good day.

Jennifer MarioJennifer Mario, Contributor

Jennifer Mario is a regular contributor to the TravelGolf Network and the author of "Michelle Wie: The Making of a Champion" (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006). A graduate of Duke University, she lives in the Triangle area of North Carolina with her family.

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