A Parent's Guide On How To Watch Your Child Compete In Golf

Photo Courtesy Golf Canada/Youth On Course

By Brad Ewart

Casper the friendly ghost would make a good golf parent.

As an invisible ghost he could always remain out-of-sight and out-of-mind allowing his golfer to play without distraction.

Often when parents think they are helping or doing what’s best for their player — they are doing the opposite. Negatively getting into their player’s mind and disruptively into their game.

Perhaps as a parent-spectator you don’t realize that you could adversely affect your golfer and their result. Let’s hope that moving forward you will begin to help and not hinder your player.

Every good golfer playing in a tournament cherishes the day when they complete all 18 holes without a bogey. Pars and birdies only. That’s called a clean card!

That means the golfer didn’t make any mistakes. They maintained their focus. Kept to their game plan and didn’t make a bogey all day. Parents should strive for a clean card every time they step onto a golf course. They need to learn how to be a good golf spectator.

They should be aware their actions can affect their player’s score.  Let’s call it, “The do’s and don’ts of being a parent golf-watcher.”

Rule No. 1 for golf parents. Get your golfer to the course one hour before their tee time. They need time to warm-up with a small bucket of balls, hit a few chips and get a feeling for the putting green. They need time to relax and get ready.

Too many parents have learned the hard way by showing up just a few minutes before their player’s starting time and they rush to the first tee without a proper warm-up. A player late for their starting time will be penalized two strokes. If the player is more than five minutes late upon arrival - that player will be disqualified. (See rule 5.3a)

Golf professionals know that Murphy’s Law is part of the game. On the way to the golf course learn to expect the unexpected because some things can and will happen. Traffic delays, car problems, a club left at home and more. Anything can happen. But if you allow extra time you can deal with these issues and get your player to the course on time.

To play good golf the elite players know they must get into a zone of concentration before and during the round. This is called ‘focus’ and the best players are very good at it. It's easy to disrupt this focus when a parent says or does the wrong thing before or during the round.

Rule No. 2 is every good golf parent should have a pair of binoculars in their back pack. This is where the binoculars are useful to help watch from long distances. It puts a little distance between you and your golfer and that’s a good thing. The parents who do the best job watching their golfer do it from well down the fairway.

There are many options for a pair of sport glasses or binoculars. A medium range, wide angle 7 X 35 mm model or even larger 10 X 50 mm will allow a golf spectator to watch from well down the fairway. With a little practice one can follow the flight of the ball and see where it lands and comes to rest.

Stay away from your golfer. The rules of junior and amateur golf require the parent or spectator to remain at least 50 paces away from the players. That’s why a good spectator will carry binoculars so they can see the player and his ball from a long distance.

It’s okay to watch the opening shot from the starting tee off area. Once the player has hit their opening tee shot then get down the fairway as quick as you can. And don’t walk in the fairway. Walk in the rough or in the trees and stay out-of-sight.

image credit: Ron Lach/Pexels.com

Estimate how far your golfer and the players in the group can hit the ball and try to position yourself just a little further down the hole than their tee shots. Here is where parents can play a helpful role in their player’s round. Be a spotter. Watch where any errant shots are hit and be prepared to tell the player where the ball went if they ask.

Don’t start looking for balls until the player asks you to. When a golfer has hit a shot into a trouble area, they should always hit a provisional ball. This second shot is allowed by the rules of golf and helps with pace-of-play. They have hit a provisional ball because their tee shot may be in an impossible spot and, perhaps, they don’t want to find their ball.

If the player asks spectators to look for a lost ball, then proceed to help. By the rules of golf, the search can continue for three minutes. The ball is then considered lost and the golfer will proceed with their provisional ball.

After the opening hole try to avoid watching from the tee area. Get down the fairway and behind the green as fast as you can. Some golfers have ‘rabbit ears’ and can hear everything. If they hear you talking or making noise you can get blamed for a bad shot. Even if you had nothing to do with the bad swing, some golfers will find blame with the culprit who made the noise. 

Rule No. 3 is really important. Don’t talk to your golfer. Parents can clap and cheer. Shout words of encouragement, but no instruction or parental advice. Exhibit sportsmanship and courtesy and clap for the other golfers in the group. Some parents forget that their child is not the only golfer playing that day.

Show respect for the group and don’t move or talk while others are trying to play their shot.

Parents who don’t play golf or understand the nuances of the game may not understand this point. How many times have you seen or had this happen to yourself when the course marshal or players assistant pulls up in his cart 225 yards down either side of the fairway. Invariably someone in the group is going to hit the cart.

It happens also where a parent standing down the fairway will get hit. This person becomes a magnet to the golfer’s eye and unbeknownst to the player they are aiming directly at this wrong target. Remember to be out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

You don’t want to be seen. Hide behind trees and stay in the rough and don’t become a target.

Lower your expectations and they will often be surpassed. Golf is a difficult game. Nobody wins every tournament they play in. Good golfers play in many tournaments and only win a few.

After the round don’t ask your golfer what they shot. You can find their result on the scoreboard or on the Leaderboard App. If it hasn’t been a good round the golfer is not happy and doesn’t want to hear Mom or Dad say, “What did you shoot?” Leave them alone and let them learn from their round.

And don’t stand on the edge of the green hanging over your player’s shot. They don’t need to see you grimace or hear an exasperated groan after a missed putt. Go hide behind a tree and make as many excruciated faces as you want.

Just don’t let your player see your reaction. Learn to develop a poker-face with a nice smile.

Go ahead and keep their score. Just don’t let them see you do it. Let the score on the day become irrelevant. If they happen to have an off day your golfer needs to think that you are not going to be openly disappointed. Even the best players miss the cut sometimes.

Always deliver a positive message. These are young golfers new to playing a very difficult game. It requires tremendous emotional strength to play golf well for 18-holes. They need to learn to be positive at all times. The parents need to understand this and they should help through the rocky learning stage.

They need your support. Not your anger over a double-bogey or a high score.

What happens when a car runs out of fuel? It stops working. The same thing happens for a golfer when their body runs low on fuel energy. They start making mistakes. Make sure to regularly pack a healthy lunch bag full of fuel and energy for your player. A healthy sandwich, fruit and nuts are good.

Try to avoid negative food energy such as candy bars, French fries and soda pop. Food that will build energy and sharpen your golfer’s focus such as power bars are probably the best thing to eat during the round.

When playing in hot weather the golf rule is, “hit a shot, then take s sip.” Golfers need to hydrate to replace the sweat that is leaving their body. The water helps keep the muscles working properly and will help to avoid cramping.

It’s not easy being a golf parent. It’s even more difficult being a good parent-spectator but with practice you will learn to help and not hinder your golfer. As a golf-parent-watcher strive to improve your own game and watch your golfer’s game improve as well.

image credit: Iron Hill Science Center

Be Prepared - What to Bring to Watch Golf

Back pack - This is essential to carry things that you and your player may need during the round.

Binoculars - Find yourself a good set of binoculars or sports glasses that allow you to watch from long distance. Compact binoculars with 32 mm — 35 mm range are light and portable and therefore suitable for watching golf.

Golf Shoes - Always wear golf shoes when you walk on a golf course. They provide traction and help avoid slipping. Waterproof shoes are best.

Water Bottle - Especially on a hot day as a spectator you will need to hydrate to avoid problems in the sun. Carry an extra bottle of water for your golfer.

Healthy Snack / Food - The golfer’s body needs food energy to play their best. Peanut butter & jam sandwiches. Fruit, nuts and nutritious power bars are positive fuel for the golfer’s engine.

Wear a Hat - Keep the sun off your head and avoid sunstroke.

Sunscreen - You will need this both for yourself and your golfer.

Lip balm - Keep your lips healthy in the sun and on cold days.

Advil / Ibuprofen - An 18-hole walk on a championship golf course is between 9 - 10 kilometres. People not used to walking that distance should start with nine holes and eventually get to walking 18 holes.

Rain Jacket - Be prepared for all kinds of weather.

Portable Seat / Chair - It’s a long walk around an 18-hole golf course and if your body is not used to the test a portable seat can help for the occasional rest break.

Umbrella - When it rains it pours. Have at least two umbrellas in your car with one for you and the other for your golfer.

Towel - Put a small towel in your bag. You will need it.

First Aid Kit - Make your own kit with band aids, tissue, allergy pills, sanitary wipes and eye drops. Occasionally someone in the group or your golfer will need one or more of these items.

Sharpie - The players need to mark their game-ball with a line or series of dots. They often lose their coloured pen. Have a pen in your back pack and ensure they mark their ball properly. A golfer playing the wrong ball can be disqualified.

Battery - When your golfer least expects it the battery in their hand-held yardage GPS rangefinder will expire. Have an extra in your back pack and save a quick trip to the drugstore.

Scorecard / Pencil - It’s okay to keep track of your golfer’s score. Just don’t let them see you do it.