Junior duffers aren't par for the course
GOLFERS often measure their performances against par. That's okay if a player can hit the ball a decent distance, but what about a youngster who requires six or seven good shots to reach a par-four? Surely he'll get discouraged when relating his score to par.
Par isn't relevant to a junior of, say, 9 years old. He's as likely to make par as a 15-handicap adult is to shoot 68. Yet adult par is al the kid can measure himself against. At least in Canada.
Things are different in much of the United States, and also Sweden and Japan. Sweden has won three professional team championships in the past couple of months, including the Dunhill Cup and the Wor1d Cup. And a Swedish team won the European Boys' team championship in July. That's partly because the Swedish Golf Federation is quick to react when programs that make sense are created.
One program the Swedes have responded to is the United States Golf Association's new Junior Par system. The USGA's director of handicapping, Dean Knuth, came up with it after his l l-year-old son couldn't reach the par-four 350-yard first hole at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., in less than seven well-hit shots.
"My son would get upset when he couldn't reach the green in fewer shots," Knuth said the other day from the USGA's headquarters in Far Hills, N.J. "He thought par was a magical number and wouldn't accept that it wasn't."
Knuth collected hundreds of scores that boys and girls posted during one summer at Canoe Brook, his home club. he looked at how many shots children of different ages and abilities took to reach the green.
Junior Par ensued from his research. It depends on the child's age or handicap and the yardage of the hole as measured from the forward tees. Par for a 13- to 16-year-old girl whose USGA handicap index is between 30 and 40 is six for a 400-yard hole. Par for a beginning boy, handicap 41 and above or 11 years old and under, is eight on a hole of 421 to 500 yards.
The USGA adopted Junior Par as policy for l991, and clubs responded enthusiastically. Canoe Brook led the way by printing junior score cards, so that par on the 5,958-yard forward tee course is 114 for boys classified as beginners, 125 for girls. Those are realistic standards.
"Every state is using Junior Par," Knuth said. "The Swedes thought it was great, and it's very popular in Japan."
Knuth visited Sweden in July. He was taken by the support given youngsters.
It was routine for kids to hit balls after school. Half the golfers on courses were kids playing for free. subsidized by adults. And many were playing courses that had established the Junior Par system.
But not all countries have been as eager as Sweden. Representatives of golf unions in the United Kingdom told Knuth they want to develop their best players. Introducing kids to the game isn't a priority, perhaps because golf is cheap and most youngsters can get on courses. Junior Par hasn't gained a foothold in the United Kingdom.
But golf isn't cheap in and around the bigger Canadian cities. Kids whose parents don't belong to private courses have few affordable places to practice and play. There aren't any short children's courses as in the U.K. Into the breach comes John Gordon, the recently appointed and hopeful executive director of the Canadian Golf Foundation.
Gordon said recently that he is aware of Junior Par. He also said that the CGF, which the Royal Canadian Golf Association finances in part, is working with national golf organizations to establish a grass roots program in Canadian golf. Junior Par could be included.
"There's been no focal point [for junior programs]," Gordon said. "I'm hoping, the golf foundation will become that focal point. Were way behind the rest of the world."
That's for sure. Endless meetings on junior golf have occurred, but few programs have resulted. Meanwhile, Junior Par has been taking-off in the United States. Meanwhile, a Florida program. called Hook a Kid on Golf, that takes inner city kids to courses has gone national. Meanwhile, Swedish adults have 1earned to appreciate that a golf course is, a healthy place for a youngster to spend recreational time. And they help him do so. Knuth developed Junior Par because he appreciates the part golf can play in a youngster's life. He has young children of his own. So does Gordon, who is no doubt motivated to ensure children have access to equipment and course. Perhaps he'll, get a call one day along the lines of that which Knuth received recently.
"It was from a father," Knuth said. "He was telling me that I don't know him, but that his daughter had just made a Junior Par on a hole. She was so happy that she wanted to keep playing golf," Knuth told the girl's father that Junior Par is all about kids having fun at a game that shouldn't belong to adults only. Maybe Canadian clubs will catch on. Maybe Canadian clubs will give more kids a chance. Gordon said that's one of his goals at the Canadian Golf Foundation. Let's hope he can make it happen.