They’re lauded as the future. The next generation. But at some of our clubs, junior golfers are still regarded with mistrust by the membership.
No one takes their child to a football match, only to make them leave at half-time because they paid less than an adult. Concessions are a routine part of life.
So why do some clubs welcome junior members only to restrict how they can play the game, using tired excuses like ‘they don’t pay the same fees’?
In my experience, competitions which are held for younger players can be sparse at best – and are often staged at times when the tee sheet is more likely to be empty of the rank and file.
And even when they are allowed entry to the big tournaments, time and again I see handicap restrictions imposed that don’t apply to their seniors. That’s discrimination in my book.
Given our sport, and society as a whole, spent much of the decade pre-pandemic wringing its hands over ways to encourage young people to get off their consoles, put down their iPads and pick up a club, it’s utterly perplexing to me why – once you’ve managed to get them hooked – you’d find ways to keep them off the course?
What does it all really come down to? How they’ll interact with weekend members? Genuine safeguarding concerns? Or is it – and I’m prepared to stake a significant sum on this – the envy that they may win a precious pot?
I’ve played a lot of sports in my time and there is always politics and there is always whining. But moaning because a fast-improving child might beat you – do you know how bitter, even, err, childish, that sounds?
Shouldn’t you cherish the success of tomorrow’s generation? Why not revel in their achievements, rather than carping about why you were ‘robbed’ of a £10 voucher?
I’ve also seen clubs where there are no restrictions on junior golf. Presentation events weren’t dominated by teenagers walking off with all the prizes. They were evenly spread.
Not only that, but such clubs were proud of them. They celebrated them. What’s more, they recognised that they needed them. You often hear football fans singing with pride about players who are ‘one of our own’. Surely the same applies to promising young golfers at our clubs?
We’ve had a post-pandemic boom in participation, but the average age of members continues to rise. In the long run, that is clearly unsustainable.
So would it not be better to concentrate on making juniors feel an integral part of the club – rather than treating them as an irritant until they can turn out for the scratch team?
Yes, juniors improve quickly. Yes, sometimes quicker than their handicaps. But if you used the World Handicap System properly, and encouraged golfers to put in more of their rounds instead of burying your heads in the sand and pretending the old-CONGU system is about to come riding back into view at any moment, then you might find another truth.
As well as going up faster, handicaps can come down faster too under WHS. That’s without even considering the power committees have to alter indexes and use exceptional score reductions.
Look, no one is saying you must open the floodgates to complete novices and that any youngster touting a 54 handicap should have unlimited access to competitions.
Handicap requirements can be effective and clubs are well within their rights to enforce them. But the point is it should be done across the board, and not to discriminate based simply on how old you are.
You would have hoped the shared experience of the pandemic, the joy that golf brought everyone amid the blight of lockdown, would have finally encouraged those in our sport to embrace everyone and stop pursuing their self-interested little cliques.
But it appears we’ve still got some way to go. The time has come to stop treating our future golfers like they’re second-class members. That time is now.
What do you think? Does junior golf get a raw deal at clubs? How can we make our members of the future feel more a part of the club and have a better experience of junior golf membership? Let me know with a tweet.
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