As a state championship Illinois High School Coach – and a teacher who’s developed 100’s of high school and college golfers – I have been a significant advocate of junior golfers playing in tournaments for both fun and learning:
Here is a useful junior golf tournament planning guide to help parents think through the process:
In looking at competition schedules, it is important to begin managing well in advance of the competitive phase. Beyond the obvious pitfalls of missing deadlines, overlooking good events, or overloading your schedule, a poorly managed schedule can also wreak havoc on athletic performance – causing undo stress on athletes which can hinder their skills.
The question of where you’re going with all of this is, of course, a big one. The purpose of playing competitive events is usually pretty consistent, but we cannot assume that every player will share a similar goal for his or her golfing life. While the great majority of young players we meet do share a common vision (they see themselves at a US college) there are many good reasons to play competitive golf and not all of them are as a means to an end.
No matter what your motivation for playing competitive golf, we would like to present some pertinent information for players and families who are planning out their competitive calendars for this coming year.
How to Choose the Appropriate Level of Event
Choosing from an overwhelming number of choices is no easy task, but there is a certain logic that can be followed in order to ensure that your schedule is solid and that it will get you where you’re going.
The level of event is the first item to recognize. Events can be classified according to the following levels which make up a typical pathway for a young athlete developing from the age of 9-18.
Club championships; Interclub; Invitationals
Illinois Junior Golf Association: IJGA.ORG This organization offers “Youth Development Program – Small Fun, no pressure events for young beginner golfers from age 6 through 12 – plus more competitive 18 hole events from 12 to 18 yr olds – and its MAJGT Tour events for the serious and more skilled 12 to 18 year old Jr’s.
Regional Tour Events
MAJGT Tour , AJGA.Com. FCWT, Plantation Tour, Hurricane
National Events & International Events
United States Golf Association USGA.ORG
US Junior, AJGA events, invitationals,
How long a player spends at any given stage depends on so many variables that are impossible to predict. The only advice I’ll give is that there is no rush. The best golfers in the world are almost always determined in their twenties, and the events that athletes play in while their growing up have very little relevance – despite what it may feel like in the moment.
And while success at events in their teens will not guarantee fame and fortune in future years, a negative series of experiences in their teens will all but guarantee that the athlete will not be playing that sport in their twenties.
As much as you can – and generally contrary to the current which seems be pulling families in a dangerous direction (“win at all costs or else I won’t get a scholarship”) – work to foster the love of the sport so that every round you play contributes to your future self.
Designing Jr Golf Tournament Schedule
The first step in building a sound competition calendar is to identify 3 or 4 major events. These are events that will have the greatest amount of preparation, and they go into the calendar first. In most cases, these major events will have qualifying procedures to follow – so you’ll need to be sure to register for the qualifying events if there are some.
The next step is to identify the “minor” events. These can be one rung above or below “where you belong”, or else they are right in your ability level but for any of various reasons will be considered a “minor” event.
The last step is to fill in your calendar with “preparatory” events, and these can be added at any time in the season
The Ladder Approach
We encourage players (and their families) to use a “ladder approach” to building their schedule. This means first identifying which rung of the competitive ladder you belong at. You should choose your majors from your appropriate rung, but you should also sprinkle-in some events from a rung above and a rung below.
1. A glimpse of the level above will prepare you for your future years where you will compete at that level. Invaluable experience can come from these events, but enter them to learn and not necessarily to perform. You may be surprised at how well you perform in this mindset, by the way.
2. A return to the level below allows an athlete to be a “big fish” and to experience the mindset of confidence and courage. An occasional win never hurts and can be tough to glimpse if we never play in “softer” fields.
Most of the major events have one-day qualifiers. Take the time to register for suitable qualifying sites but don’t try to be too clever here. Find courses you like and make sure that the date fits into your schedule.
You will be well served to consider: exam schedule, family plans, as well as taking into account what other events you might be playing in around that time. Because major events almost always require some form of qualifying, these one day events should be treated seriously – make sure you have enough time to prepare, that you can play one or more practice rounds, and that you are comfortable with your game by the time this date rolls around on your schedule.
Junior Golf ScoreBoard
Almost all TWO-DAY competitions are eligible to be part of the JuniorGolf Scoreboard point system. At the end of any season, the players with the most points will gain some benefits – be it selection to teams, early acceptance to events in the future, or simply the pride of being ranked ahead of others.
I would caution players from reading too much into this point system – we have found that obsession with this system has led players and their families to “chase points” all around the continent, when the reality is that these points are merely a complement to a competitors resume, and should not be the centre-piece. College Coaches do look at these rankings, FYI.
US Exposure – as your Child moves into their high school years:
Most players are interested in pursuing a competitive career as a student athlete, and in most cases they want to do this at a US school – ideally one that is near the beach, in the south, and that plays at a great facility and has a great coach…
Now of course only a very small number of the hundreds of young athletes desiring this will actually achieve the dream scenario, the reality is that there are still great opportunities for many athletes to pursue a college degree while playing NCAA golf.
We encourage players to use the shoulder seasons in their competition calendars to fulfill this goal. There are just so many tournaments all over the US that one can play in, so you can easily choose events that fit your schedule and travel planning.
Some rules of thumb for the Academic and the Golf Skill balance: Have your child position themselves their school grades above 85 and your scoring average below 75 if you would like to open doors to NCAA institutions. I can’t iterate enough the importance of having exceptional grades, and of course this will impact the planning of a competitive calendar (your exams essentially become a “major”). And then in search of a scoring average below 75 for competitive golf – be sure to find a mixture of events that will allow you to post some good scores at lighter fields (prep events) while also gaining experience in strong fields with better players. To open NCAA interest – it’s a balance of playing events to get good scores while also playing events with strong fields that you can compare yourself to.
A Classic Example
It is vital to understand that an 18 hole tournament is the same as any other “game” in other sports. The true “trick” is to have the Junior golfer to want to play in at least 1 competitive round of golf per week during the golf season. This can include the Spring – BUT , if your Junior golfer is involved in other sports – DO not pull them from those other athletics. Research shows that cross-sport participation for as long as possible is a POSITIVE thing for the eventual specialization of golf (or any other sport). Plus, it will more “well-round” your child for their future on and off the course.
A very solid calendar for a serious teenage player – which will offer lots of opportunity to learn, enjoy the game, perform, and compete.
10-18 competitions in a season – a mixture of majors, minors and preparatory events. This schedule will ensure that this player 1) improves their skills, 2) enjoys the game, 3) gains some order of merit points, and 4) gets some exposure for US colleges.
You can’t peak every round
Too many players and parents are obsessed with performance and work from a false assumption that one should be at their best all the time. We ask these types to reflect a little on that idea and to ask whether there has ever been an athlete (or person) that is always at their best. It is impossible. Instead, athletes should approach a season of events from a perspective where good rounds are bound to happen but that just the same there will be some bad rounds.
It is a logical necessity that any given competitive season will be made up of highs and lows, and if we don’t accept this necessity it can be a very emotional and frustrating experience. We encourage you to think of Possibility instead – be excited that you will likely play your best round this season, and be accepting of the fact that you will also play some lesser rounds – but that you will nonetheless be able to learn and grow (unless you seek impossibility)
Kids play sports to have FUN
Let’s remember that a junior competitive season is not comparable to an adult’s work schedule. What we mean by this is that we need to remember that kids play sports for fun. Try to limit how much you approach their schedule as a business. Don’t be afraid to sprinkle-in events that add enjoyment to the season – maybe its at a cool golf course, or its an event with lots of friends in the field, or it’s a cool format that the young athlete loves to play in. A solid calendar will satisfy the requirement of gathering some order of merit points, building a strong competitive resume, but most of all, enhancing the life of the athlete by providing an exciting challenge which enables them to learn about themselves and enjoy the process as its happening.
Be Honest and Realistic
Choosing events will require a sober outlook on ones abilities. The fact that one has fired a sub par round does not mean that they will be destined to repeat this in every round. Also, the gap between daily golf rounds and competitive rounds is huge, and is biggest with the least experienced players. So as you enter the competitive landscape, be sure to keep your expectations in their proper place. Shooting fewer than 80 strokes at your everyday course is no guarantee of breaking 90 at a new course in competition.
Recuperation is Critical to Learning and Performance
Don’t overlook the importance of taking breaks in your competition planning. It can be tempting to play a big event every week in search of points of trophies, but the reality is that taking time to rest, recuperate, and even just to practice a bit can provide tremendous benefits to young athletes. Players should be working to perform their best at their major events, and we strongly recommend that you be sensitive to taking appropriate breaks before and after these types of events.
Please contact us directly if you would like to discuss your own calendar – we have many useful tools to support you in this process and we would love to chat with you about your options.