Gems on Running a Junior Program – Colleen Henry

When asked to write about some insights on junior golf, I was honored.  Our network has so many fun and engaging professionals that I’m confident what we do at Rancho del Pueblo Golf Course is happening a lot around our Section.  That being said, I’ve discovered some gems (fundamentals) that are the foundations of success for any junior golf program.

Know your ‘WHY’!  Why do you want to coach juniors?  I’ve met several colleagues who say, ‘Nope … not interested in that target market.’  That’s OK.  For me, young people are energizing.  They are so honest, candid and eager to learn.  They live in the present moment, which is a gift many adults are trying to get back to.

Who is your market?  Juniors?  Parents?  Juniors are different than other target markets in large part because they come with parents.  It’s a double education curve that can take many forms.  Parents range from avid golfers with high hopes for golf achievement and scholarships to bogey golfers who don’t want to pass along their self-diagnosed bad habits to novices about the game who just want their kids to have opportunities they didn’t have.  In addition, the whole parent conversation impacts scheduling considerations because junior golfers rely on parents or other family members to get them to golf.  (Scheduling covered a little later.)       

Why do they stay in the game?  It’s my thought that they simply feel good!  And the ‘good’ is not always about golf.  Yes, many develop the golf skills to shoot low scores.  Most do not.  Not because they don’t like golf, but because they don’t invest the time it takes to develop their skills.  They feel ‘good’ because it’s FUN and they meet new FRIENDS.  Have your golfers bring their friends and your program will grow by leaps and bounds.      

The money …  What to charge?  Junior golf does not have to be discounted time.  While many expect a lower rate similar to a senior discount, it is possible to maintain your $/hour and increase your student base.  First, offer 2 for 1 pricing with juniors.  This way, you reach two golfers and maintain your $/hour.  Second, is to do groups with just kids.  i.e. Summer camps or clinics.  And third, is to offer parent/child packages and classes. 

The pricing for packages and classes is all over the map.  When I was in Sacramento, our program had a mix of pricing strategies.  Some activities were designed to give access no matter what the financial picture might be.  Classes such as the year-round Junior Club offered scholarships and were supported by grants.  Others, like summer camps, were intended to generate a profit.  Check out what kids in your area are doing for summer activities.  What does basketball camp cost?  Or dance class?  This will give you an idea of what your market will bear for activities for young people.    

Scheduling, Content, and Format?  This is the dynamic part on the administrative side.  Scheduling is looking at the calendar to decide WHEN to offer classes.  Content is WHAT are you are going to cover.  Format is HOW you are going to cover it.  i.e. Practice areas or on-course?  It’s best to map this out on an annual or semi-annual basis.  Parents schedule their child’s summer activities as early as March so having your calendar in place will help you fill the classes. 

Things to consider for scheduling:  age groups, skill levels, and when parents can bring them.  Are you going to have your classes by age?  Or skill?  This is a preference.  My experience says to first distinguish by age and second by skill.  An example of age breakout is: 6-8 year olds, 9-11 year olds, 12 & older.  Once they get to a class, sub-group them by skill for some activities and stay together for other activities.  The reason for age before skill is that many a 10-year old has quit golf just because they were in a class with the ‘little kids’.  It’s much easier to be the newest golfer with your peers than it is with younger players.  Also, going back to WHY kids stay in the game (make friends), being in a classes with the same age golfers is a better recipe for both enjoying and staying with the game.     

Thing to consider for content: WHAT you’re going to cover depends on how you break out your age groups.  Remember, less is more.  Ages 7 – 10 are the most popular time for young people to get introduced to the game.  Keep it big picture.  For example, with my juniors, the first bunker lesson we rarely cover the rule about grounding your club.  It’s about splashing the sand as far as you can make it go.  Time has shown me that when they keep coming back—due to the fun and friends part—they develop their knowledge of the rules and golf skill development. 

Also, when it comes to the WHAT to cover, there are many great golf programs out there.  Most focus on the golf skills so depending on your area, you may not need to re-invent the wheel.  One reason The First Tee Life Skills Experience is such a fit for me is that it has written curriculum for golf and life skills that are compatible with my beliefs about juniors.       

Things to consider for format:  HOW you are going to cover your content will effect both the schedule and the pricing/budget.  If you are going to be at the practice area, that is usually less expensive than on-course programs.  That being said, getting on the course early and often is key to learning the game and staying with it so budget it in as soon as you possibly can.   

Junior golf can be one of the most rewarding part of any instructor’s calendar.  It can be as simple as coaching a few kids and families in individual lessons to full out programming with 1,000 smiling faces.  The rewards are many for kids and coaches! 

Colleen Henry is a LPGA Class A Professional, and The First Tee Master Coach.  She has been the Golf Operations Manager at Rancho Del Pueblo Golf Course since 2010.  In addition, she is The First Tee Recognized Executive and has a degree in Management and Marketing from the University of Dayton.   

In her 20 years as a golf professional, Colleen has been a leader in coaching and developing junior golf programs both locally and nationally.  Currently, she serves as National Life Skills Trainer and National Program Observer for The First Tee.  Over time she has contributed to the development of curriculum and instructional materials for both young golfers and coaches. 

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