This week marks the halfway point of my third year as a teacher. The possibility of coaching golf played a big role in leading me to this career, and it became a reality this fall. With that new gig came a crash re-introduction to the realities of high school girls golf, and the issues that face our sport.
Based on what I remember about playing competitively in high school and college, I was ready for tears. That’s girls’ sports in general – we cry. But kudos to my team for being the toughest of tough girls. I had a lot of beginners, but they kept chins up – even on the day of our conference championship, when rain blew in so hard that we all struggled to see the ball fly. It rained the whole day, yet no tears.
What I did learn through those beginners is that golf isn’t an easy game to understand if you haven’t been exposed to it before. There’s a language that doesn’t necessarily make sense to outsiders (I used the word fairway for weeks before realizing that some of my new players understandably had no idea what that meant), and the golf swing is a movement that doesn’t always come naturally. I saw the Rules of Golf from a different perspective, too. Many of the everyday rules (like getting out of trouble and navigating the golf course) aren’t intuitive, and can feel petty and penal.
The farther into the season I got, the more I realized that in golf, the biggest advantage a parent can give his or her daughter is simply to expose her to the game – talk about it, watch it on TV, and definitely play it. I grew up playing golf with my dad, listening to him talk about the game with his buddies and with me. I was lucky this season to have a great group of supportive parents backing our program and getting their girls out on the golf course, but when I looked beyond that for the next generation of players who I hope will grow this program, I didn’t see any dads and daughters. That was maybe the biggest surprise to me as a coach. Golf is what my dad and I did, and most of the girls my age who played were there because their dads had taken them to the course at one point or another.
How do you pick up the sport if you don’t have a parent who sets you on that path?
For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading headlines and social-media conversations about parents being banned from high school golf competitions in Montana. In Florida, where I coach, parents are prohibited from getting closer than 50 feet during a competition. It hangs up play when parents do too good a job staying away from their kids, but more importantly, it doesn’t encourage a lot of parents to send their kids out for high school golf. How hard must it be in Montana to get parents involved in your program and recruit new players when you have to deliver the news that parents can’t be at all involved in the competition aspect?
State high school athletic associations worry way too much about keeping parents away from their kids during golf competitions. We’re making ourselves unnecessarily crazy over this. (I sat through coaches meetings where parent contact was discussed at length, but local rules were never addressed.) I understand that the concern in golf is not so much behavior oriented as it is advice oriented, but golf is a game of honor. The huge majority of parents who show up to a high school golf match to spectate are golfers themselves and understand that. On the other side of the coin, some parents couldn’t give helpful advice to their child if they wanted to -- they’re just there to be supportive. We’re creating an issue for everyone when most parents know how to act.
Making golf a family affair is what keeps kids interested in the sport and gets them out in the offseason, when they’re not just showing up because they have to. We don’t need to put any obstacles in the way of that.
From a coaching standpoint, I’d like to think less about which parent is standing 48 feet from the green instead of 50 feet, and get back to coaching. There will always be the parent trying to fix his kid’s swing during a match, but there’s also going to be the one in the stands swearing at the officials. Let’s take a normal approach to unruly parents and address the issue as needed, rather than running off the majority of well-meaning parents who want to devote three hours to watching a golf match.
Can you imagine closing off a gymnasium or a ball field for a high school competition, or even moving the crowd 50 feet away from the action and prohibiting them from speaking once they enter? We should apply this common sense to golf, too.