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May 1, 2015

25 Rules for Building a Successful Junior Golf Program

Eric MacCluen’s track record speaks for itself. The PGA director of instruction at Applecross Country Club in Downingtown, Pennsylvania is a two-time Philadelphia PGA Section Youth Player Development Award winner (1998, 2014) and the 2002 Section Teacher of the Year. However, the traits that speak loudest can’t be recorded. It’s a passion and determination to grow the game that drives MacCluen– that same determination which led him to win a sevenyear battle against colon cancer.

As a teaching professional at a private club, it would be easy for him to solely focus on his membership. Yet he does not. He goes out into the community and Eric MacCluen, a two-time Philadelphia PGA Section Youth Player Development Award winner, is the PGA director of instruction at Applecross Country Club in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. 25 RULES A SUCCESSFUL JUNIOR GOLF PROGRAM JUNIOR GOLF through various avenues has utilized the game of golf to positively impact young lives throughout Philadelphia. He has established programs like Girls Golf Revolution – a non-profit foundation, which provides free golf lessons to girls grades first to tenth. In addition, he forged a partnership with United Sports – an indoor sports training facility in suburban Philadelphia – where he can host free, weekly, yearround lessons for girls grades fifth to 12th. When establishing these new junior programs, he uses a guideline of 25 rules. Now we are sharing these rules with his fellow teaching professionals in hopes that they will continue to spark junior golf growth across the country.

FOR THE TEACHER

  1. Be a Part of Something Bigger than Yourself – As a junior golfer, PGA Professional Bill Hackett taught me for eight years without ever asking for a dime. Great teachers share knowledge not only for the money, but because they truly love to help people. With that in mind, when you’re building a program don’t expect to gain something every time you work with somebody. Getting involved gives you a sense of being a part of something larger than yourself. Be committed and teach with passion, the rewards will come.
  2. Connect with Nearby Schools to Offer Instructional Programs – One of the easiest ways to build a program is to connect with a local school. In the past I’ve volunteered to teach at after school programs and even during gym classes. It’s a great way to promote your facility and your services.
  3. Connect with Communal Athletic Facilities – Local athletic facilities like the YMCA often have large databases they market to. Teaming with these types of facilities will spread the word about your programs and get your name out there. Build a free class using their network, and from there you can bring them into your regular programs.
  4. Create Your Masterpiece Early On – When starting a program, dedicate time to building a few really good golfers – even if you’re donating your time. That’s the best way for people to believe in your ability as an instructor.
  5. Never Cancel Lessons – Trust is at the core of any studentteacher relationship. If your students can’t trust you to be there and be on time, they’ll never trust what you’re telling them to do with the golf swing.
  6. Be Flexible to Accommodate the Busy Schedules of the Modern Child – The modern kid is busy with multiple activities, so you have to offer multiple times for clinics and instruction. By having a flexible schedule, you have a much greater chance of capturing kids in the program.
  7. Create a Positive Atmosphere for Your Students – Promote their achievements on the walls. When kids are walking into my building they look around at the articles and pictures from our successful students.They are measuring sticks and motivators.
  8. Teach the Game, Not Just a Swing – It’s important to teach kids how to score rather than just having a pretty swing. Juniors appreciate spending time on the course learning how to hit shots out of trees or out of thick rough. Improve their score by teaching them how to creatively think their way around the course.
  9. Involve Athletic Activities in Your Clinics – We try to involve athletic activities in our general clinics and also in our private lessons. We have multiple slide boards, medicine ball returns, swing fans and many other teaching aids that require coordination and develop strength. Encourage the kids to do these things at home as well.
  10. Have Equipment That’s the Right Size for Learning – It is extremely important that new juniors have equipment that suits their size and strength. When you use clubs that are too big, the kids tend to build bad habits that can last a lifetime. Start them right, with lightweight clubs that they can use to learn proper technique from the start.
  11. Have Parents Participate in Lessons – I try to have parents watch during private lessons when appropriate. The parents spend way more time with their kids than I do, so if we can all get on the same page it creates a partnership in the learning process.
  12. Make your Lessons Fun and Memorable – Golf lessons don’t always have to be about learning to swing. Having games or prizes as a part of the lesson can make it a memorable experience.

FOR THE FACILITY

13. Start Them Young –We often lose out to team sports like soccer, baseball and now lacrosse. If we don’t start the kids by age four or five, we forfeit potential students to other sports.

14. Eliminate Time Restrictions – When building a program, it’s important to not place time restraints on the kids. I offer a 7:30 a.m. practice time for our juniors. At many private clubs, juniors aren’t allowed to come out until late afternoon, which can be discouraging. Having fewer time restrictions will help your program develop and demonstrate your commitment to youth golf.

15. Make Juniors Feel Like They are Part of the Club – Junior golfers at many private clubs are treated as second class citizens. However, it’s in the best interest of the club to promote and applaud the accomplishments of juniors. They are the future club members. In addition, families love it and will be more active at the facility.

16. Activity Creates More Activity – The more the merrier is almost always true with kids. That’s one of the reasons why our programs are open to members and non-members alike. There is no question that a busy program is more exciting than one with only a few students.

17. Open Clinics to Members and Non-Members – We open our clinics and programs to both members and non-members at Applecross Country Club – both for juniors and adults. Our golf school has been a pipeline for new potential members, and on average our instructional programs have garnered 20 members a year. It has been a great way to network with the community and introduce people to our facility.

18. Keep Your Program Active in the Winter – We built a learning center with a wood stove that gives kids a place to practice in the off-season. Those who continue working in the wintertime carry momentum and excitement over into the spring.

FOR THE JUNIORS

19. Junior Golf Must Have a Social Aspect – Junior golf, like most other children’s activities, must have a social aspect – particularly for young girls. That’s why they love team sports. So try to create programs where the kids have a chance to interact and develop friendships.

20. Do Fun Group Excursions Outside of Golf – Through our foundation, we are fortunate to be able to do fun activities like go see a 76ers game, visit with businesswomen to talk about possible career opportunities, and even take a bus trip to the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Atlantic City. These events help develop friendships and bond the kids together.

21. Coed Events Promote Friendly Competition – Not all girls can hit the ball far, but all golfers are capable of putting and chipping like a champ. We have lots of events where girls and boys compete. It makes for tremendous competition and they all get to know one another and become friends.

22. Promote Good Pace of Play in a Positive Manner – In our leagues, we have a two hours and ten minute rule: If you turn in your scorecard within two hours and ten minutes, you get two shots off of your score. Instead of punishing kids for slow play, we incentivize them to play at a faster pace.

23. Have a Yearly Junior “Goal Setting Day” –Get the juniors together to set their goals for the year. Make it an event so they can have fun with it. It’s important for them to reach for a higher level. Goals provide a purpose to practice.

24. Create Opportunities for Junior Girls to Talk With Successful Women –Young women need the opportunity to talk to successful females for inspiration and guidance. This isn’t just golf-related; try to find mentors for your students who are successful in business, life or sport.

25.  Take the Kids on College Visits to Meet Coaches and Players – These trips are both informational and inspirational. After learning about expectations at the next level, the kids come back fired up and ready to work harder.