News & Opinion

Fitting juniors: It’s more than kids’ stuff

One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.

How important is it to have your kids properly fitted for golf clubs?

“CRAZY important!” said highly regarded junior instructor Doug Lawrie in an email response to my question. (The capital letters are his.)

Lawrie is one of a relative handful of U.S. Kids Golf “master teachers.” Since 1997, U.S. Kids Golf has been producing clubs specifically aimed at juniors. Today, the equipment is a fundamental part of its holistic approach to junior golf, said Joshua Kinchen, senior director of product development for the company, which was founded in 1996 by Dan Van Horn.

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The Ultralight series offers young customers of U.S. Kids Golf a progression in fitted equipment.

COURTESY OF U.S. KIDS GOLF
The Ultralight series offers young customers of U.S. Kids Golf a progression in fitted equipment.

“Mr. Van Horn set the mission back then, which was to grow junior golf,” Kinchen said. “Now, we have a full portfolio of services, from our foundation to coaching, tournaments, tours and more.”

For our purposes here, you could call the company a “pioneer,” because it has been providing junior-specific clubs since 1997. The approach, at the time, was revolutionary: Size the clubs by height and ability, not age. That mantra has evolved to the point at which U.S. Kids Golf offers nine options for kids ranging from 39 inches to 63 inches in height. Non-golfers start with the Yard Club, transition to the Ultralight line and then can graduate to the Tour Series. All three lines were awarded the Golf Digest Editors’ Choice award this year.

But they’re facing growing competition, thanks in part to consumer pressure and recent National Golf Foundation statistics that show increasing junior interest in golf. Major equipment companies have developed their own lines of kids’ equipment.

For example, although TaylorMade had brought out the Burner Junior set a few years back, it wasn’t until its Phenom line debuted two years ago that the company demonstrated real enthusiasm for a market segment that certainly isn’t all that lucrative and may or may not lead to lifelong brand loyalty, according to Tomo Bystedt, senior director of product creation.

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TaylorMade hopes to give young golfers the thrill of hitting the ball into the air with the Phenom line of clubs.

COURTESY OF TAYLORMADE GOLF
TaylorMade hopes to give young golfers the thrill of hitting the ball into the air with the Phenom line of clubs.

 “These are for the 95 percent of kids that are just starting out,” Bystedt said. “If your kid is just picking up golf – and especially if they are under 10 years old – a cut-down adult set is definitely not going to work. They will be too heavy and too stiff.

“The biggest challenge is for them to get the ball in the air. That’s their greatest pleasure, and that’s key to the Phenom clubs. Once they experience that with the right equipment, they will fall in love with the game. We want them to have the right equipment so we don’t take shortcuts. Phenom are the same quality as our other clubs.”

Junior clubs are getting attention not only from the marketing department but also from the R&D guys. All of the brand names, such as U.S. Kids Golf, TaylorMade, Callaway and others, are the result of almost identical production values associated with adult equipment.

Notably, Ping recently unveiled its Prodi G junior clubs, which targeted a niche within the junior category.

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Ping claims to design the Prodi G junior clubs with the same effort that goes into its adult clubs.

COURTESY OF PING GOLF
Ping claims to design the Prodi G junior clubs with the same effort that goes into its adult clubs.

“A couple of years ago, we said, ‘No one is making really precision equipment for juniors,’ ” said Paul Wood, Ping’s vice president of engineering. “So, we developed what we call ‘grown-up technology for kids.’ These are not what you would call ‘my first golf clubs,’ by any means.”

“The Prodi G junior clubs are engineered by the same teams that design our adult clubs,” said Ping president John K. Solheim in a release announcing the new product. “They feature a lot of the same technologies and undergo the same rigorous testing as all of our products. For the first time, junior golfers can play the same technology as mom or dad that is custom fit and custom built just for them.”

Like Ping, U.S. Kids Golf and TaylorMade offer online fitting systems but recommend a personal fitting by a qualified professional before purchasing clubs for your child. Children’s growth patterns vary widely, as every parent knows. As mentioned, U.S. Kids Golf features multiple sizing options, and TaylorMade offers a couple. As for Ping, once the child has grown out of his or her original custom-fitted set, the company offers a “one-time, no-cost adjustment.” When the child’s revised specifications have been determined, Ping will re-shaft, re-grip, re-weight and lengthen the set for free as required. “Essentially, you’re getting two sets of clubs for the price of one,” Wood said.

As impressive as these technological developments are, perhaps even more telling were the sentiments expressed by the spokesmen for the companies interviewed for this article. (Put your cynicism aside for a moment.)

Wood echoed his colleagues’ sentiments when he talked about the rationale behind the company’s development of its junior clubs.

“It’s a small segment, and from a strictly business standpoint, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but in terms of growing the game, it’s a big part of who we are. We want to make it easy for everyone – kids, in this case – to fall in love with the game.”

Something your dad’s cut-down 3-iron did its best not to do.

John Gordon, who has covered golf for more than 30 years for Canadian newspapers, magazines and a TV network, has authored eight books on the game. He lives in Midland, Ontario. Email: gordongolf@outlook.com; Twitter: @gordongolf