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  • Writer's pictureRichard Mandell

U.S. Kids in town: You think Earl caddied for Tiger Woods at age seven?

Pinehurst, August 4, 2011— The U.S. Kids Golf Championships are back in the sandhills for the fifth consecutive year. That means more than 1,300 children and teenagers from all over the world are here - and their parents, ugh. I took my two boys (ages three and seven) to the opening parade in the Village of Pinehurst Tuesday night and couldn’t see the kids, parents to the left of them, parents to the right of them. Maybe because I was trying to take some pictures I was sensitive to the distractions but everywhere I turned parents were more a part of the parade than the kids. Oh, and they were pampering them every step of the way.

One of the venues for the event is Longleaf Country Club. The third and fourth holes just happen to be right outside my front door. For the past few days I’ve seen kids practicing with parents absolutely hovering over them – in the fairway, on the green, in a bunker, in a cart. They did not hit a shot, would not hit a shot, could not hit a shot, no, but neither would they allow their tots without telling them how to do it right there on the spot.

Enough of the Seuss but the bottom line is that this whole junior golf thing has gotten way out of control. I even saw a Dad pick the ball out of the cup for his daughter (maybe eight). These kids are supposed to be the future of golf but I am afraid events like these will send the majority packing before puberty. I got my start in a very delinquent way – by sneaking onto Rye Golf Club with about five others in the eighth grade. I stuck with it and went legit the following year with a junior membership and, with the exception of a shank-laden decade, have been a career core golfer.

I am not too sure that fostering such a competitive drive in ones so young is such a good thing. I have seen Ford Expeditions pull up and empty out the child, his caddy, a swing coach, a psychologist, nutritionist, and mom and dad. Five of us used to pile into the car of the only one old enough to drive to our junior tournaments and mostly strategized about the buffet after the tournament more so than the actual golf. We often were forced to run a toll or two due to many empty pockets after an event as well. Those memories of golf will always be with me and fostered the camaraderie that golf allows. Unfortunately I am afraid the modern junior golfer is just not getting that same experience. I call it real life and not a canned atmosphere with a focus on perfecting a grooved swing at age six, or nine, or even twelve.

So in two weeks my seven-year-old will be playing in his first golf tournament, a two-day nine hole event as part of the Tin Whistle First Tee Junior Tour here in Pinehurst. He has participated in the First Tee program on Saturday mornings for about three summers now and is going at his own pace. For him, it goes away when soccer season starts and only returns after basketball and tee-ball pass as well. My goal is that he gains just enough exposure to reignite any possible desire to play the game years from now.

It was his decision to play in this event on a Monday and Tuesday afternoon at Pinewild Country Club. He saw the sign at First Tee and gave me those puppy dog eyes asking if I will let him participate. To me, that is the way the passion should be ignited. I only hope that the kids playing in the U.S. Kids events this week initiated their entries as well.

Now I will be damned if I am going to caddy for the kid. I mean I love him, don’t get me wrong, but I have some fundamental issues with caddying for a perfectly healthy child even at that age. It’s not like he is going to lug around a staff bag. In fact, he only needs a few clubs. Golf is supposed to teach us all life lessons about character and one lesson we all need to learn early in life that is we have to carry our own weight more often than not.

Luckily the First Tee crew does not require caddies for the youngsters. This is in contrast to the U.S. Kids organization that requires caddies for kids eight and under in the name of speed of play. Not sure I buy that myself. If they are old enough to compete on such a world stage, they ought to be well-versed in golf etiquette. They certainly don’t need to be fully fitted inside the bag and out. My kid will carry from start to finish. I’m just going to guess Earl made Tiger tote his own at age seven too.

About Richard: Richard Mandell runs Richard Mandell Golf Architecture in Pinehurst, North Carolina ( Educated as a Landscape Architect at the University of Georgia (he is licensed in both North and South Carolina), Richard has close to two decades’ experience in designing new golf courses and renovating existing ones. Richard may also be the only golf architect in the world who is a certified arborist. He co-hosts a weekly golf radio talk show in Pinehurst and continues to teach a class on Golf Architecture at North Carolina State University which he started in 1997. Mr. Mandell also wrote the award-winning book, Pinehurst ~ Home of American Golf - The Evolution of a Legend (International Network of Golf Book of the Year – 2007).

Richard Mandell has been a Golf Content Creator for the Washington Times Communities since October 20, 2008. Read more of Richard's work at Golf Today: Players, Events and Fields in the Communities at the Washington Times. Follow Richard on Twitter @RichardMandell.

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