SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Kids are great. Unless they're in front of your group on the golf course.
It's an attitude as common as the cold in the golf world. Everyone commends junior-golf programs, as long they're not seen or heard at tee time.
Which is why the fairways at great resort destinations like Scottsdale, Las Vegas, Palm Springs and even the town Mickey Mouse built are virtual kid-free zones.
Oh, there are plenty of kids around. Scottsdale's packed with rug rats when Spring Training is in full force. And just try to book one of those breakfasts with Disney characters at the last minute in Orlando. You'll be lucky to get face time with Sneezy.
Yet on the golf courses, it's a parade of 40-and-older men. At least on the better courses, the ones people travel to play.
The youth are the future of our game. Just don't let the punks experience the good stuff.
It's a curious way to run a business, and one of the things that that can make golf so maddening.
When I called up Scottsdale's famed Troon North and asked for the junior rate, it almost sounded like the polite young woman on the other end had dropped the phone.
"We don't have a junior rate," she finally managed.
Can you imagine if a 12-year-old budding golfer got to play Troon North? It's the equivalent of seeing a ballgame at Fenway Park. That kid would probably be hooked on golf for life.
Not that we're likely to ever find out.
Ask someone with kids why they don't take them out onto the course and the answer's pretty standard.
"It's a pain with all the looks and under-the-breath comments you get from other golfers," dad Ben Tellier said. "You almost feel like you need to scream out, 'Yes, they can play. They're not going to slow you down.' It gets to the point where it's not worth the stress.
"It's just easier to have them shoot hoops or something."
Courses such as Troon North are more symptom than cause. The real culprits are us -- average golfers like you and me. Every eye-roll and impatient stare at first sight of a kid in a group has an effect.
It's time to stop reacting to 10-year-olds on a golf course the way people do to babies on a plane.
Face reality. The guy in wraparound shades who think he's a pro is more likely to drag your round into Ben Crane range, examining and re-examining and re-re-examining every freaking putt.
The zit-faced kid you slow-boiled over? He's running up to every shot, blasting away. Most parents are so paranoid about bringing their kids on the course that they'll pick up long before you're bothered anyway.
If only all golfers could be as courteous as those with a junior bag on their cart.
Junior-golf programs and rate breaks don't help anyone pay the bills. So why is it the little courses - the ones without the celebrity architect drawing power and a steady stream of sky-high green fees coming in -- that usually provide these services?
You have to look beyond a resort haven's big-money plays to find its golf heart. You need to see a course like McCormick Ranch.
Right in the heart of Scottsdale's resort corridor, McCormick Ranch is anything but your typical all-snob, no-squeals palace. There are kids all over the range, kids (gasp!) on the course.
This is no bare-bones cheapie -- it's an interesting Desmond Muirhead design that charges more than $130 in high season. Yet it's found a way to succeed welcoming those who are still growing (whereas most high-end courses are populated by those who are shrinking).
As director of golf Mike Lindsey can tell you, this openness to the Wii generation delivers its own rewards.
"Oh, you were talking to Amanda Blumenherst," Lindsey laughs. "I remember when she was kid in the golf shop sweeping up, helping out with anything to get out there and play."
Amanda Blumenherst is the star of Duke's powerhouse golf team, a future LPGA player. I met her and her father, Dave, when she was still in high school, hitting shots past sundown on McCormick Ranch's back practice range.
"You need a place like this where you can actually play the course a lot growing up, rather than just being limited to the driving range," Blumenherst told me.
Such places can be found across the country, if you look hard enough. In northern Nevada there's a wonderful old tree-lined track called Carson Valley Golf Course where kids are treated like regular customers (only with lower rates). The general manager, Tom Brooks, has a young, golf-playing son who matter-of-factly told his dad, "I don't want to be Tiger Woods. I want to break Tiger Woods' records."
Hey, it sure intimidated a bunch of golf writers. Most just handed him $10 before teeing off against him on a bet hole (with the proceeds going to a junior-golf program). You have to know when you're beat.
In the coming months, TravelGolf.com will highlight courses like Carson Valley and McCormick Ranch so you can find them should you find yourself on a Nevada or Arizona golf trip with a daughter or son in town.
Courses like this never make their way on to top-10 lists, but they do the game more good than a hundred $300 tracks.
It's time to start supporting them. And to drop the attitude that prevents more courses from going kid-friendly.
March 5, 2007
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!