Golf: A Sport for the Entire Family

There’s something special about a day spent on the golf course, but there’s something even more special when it’s shared among multiple generations. Indeed, golf is one of the few sports where children, parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents, compete equally.

“I’m a grandfather and I’m in my late 60s, so I doubt that, at family outings, playing football is going to be high on my list,” says Ron Skubisz, head golf pro at Pottawatomie Golf Course, in St. Charles. “And, basketball is getting tougher, too. But with golf, you can be a grandfather and still play with the kids, or maybe the grandkids, and everyone can reach the same scores.”

The reality is that any member of the family can play together, and there are few age limits. It truly is a family game. Skubisz says the oldest consistent golfer at Pottawatomie is 92, and he’s typically on the links three times a week.

On the other end of the spectrum, Skubisz has seen children as young as 5 get involved with the game, starting with lessons from a golf pro or a parent. Tournament play is typically open by the time they reach 8 years old, and the game only grows from there.

“I’m not a hunter, but friends who are tell me that, from a young age, they’re taught safety and etiquette and all that stuff before they’re even allowed to go out,” says Skubisz. “I think there’s a bit of a corollary there to golf, where you learn how to conduct yourself on the course, how to protect the greens and sand, tend the flag sticks, obey the rules and be courteous. Those are good for life, let alone good golf.”

There’s no bad age to learn the game, says Skubisz, but there are some smart ways to get children engaged when they’re ready. It can start as simply as chipping balls in the backyard or putting on a practice green.

Dedicated lessons are a good way to further engage children, once they’re interested and ready. Depending on where you live, lessons could be available at your favorite golf course, a park district or a private golf academy. As the resident PGA golf pro and manager of operations, Skubisz leads all lessons at Pottawatomie, and he brings more than 30 years of professional-level experience with the game.

The most important thing in lessons, he says, is to learn the fundamentals.

“Think about the letters PGA: posture, grip and alignment. Those are the basic fundamentals of the game,” says Skubisz. “Certainly at 5 you can learn those.”

Once kids are ready to hit the course, it’s important to encourage and motivate them. This isn’t a time for Mom and Dad to show off. Rather, it’s a time to review what the child is learning and encourage them to keep trying. It’s not about score. It’s about improvement and development.

“Take the Disney approach, where you look at the world through the eyes of a child,” says Skubisz. “If your child is able to hit the ball maybe 50 yards, then the parent should take out the club they hit 50 yards. If you’re hitting 250 yards and the child’s only able to hit 50 yards, they’re going to think, ‘I’ll never be able to do that.’”

Keep it up and pretty soon, they’re neck-and-neck with dad or mom. That’s when they’re actually having fun and the “aha moments” begin.

“You’ll have this magic moment where the child hits it by you and they’re saying, ‘Mom, Dad, I hit it farther than you,’” Skubisz says. “And then they move up one club. They can see the advancement.”

With more play time and more guidance, children will start to reach what Skubisz calls “more better shots” – a funny way of saying they’ll experience good, or improving, hits at a higher frequency.

“They’ll start to experience more better shots in a row, maybe five to six in a row, and then there’s that magic time when they hit an entire nine holes with good shots,” he says. “That’s how you measure progress. It isn’t just in score. It’s how well are you executing your shots?”

Golf courses come in all varieties here in the suburbs, but when it comes to an attainable, easy-to-learn course, Pottawatomie ranks high, Skubisz says. The nine-hole layout is just long enough for a young player to get a taste of the game, and its park-like setting with mature, tree-lined fairways offers just enough obstacles to keep things interesting.

“We have a whole list of people who come here now as grandparents, telling their grandchildren, ‘This is where I learned the game, too,’” says Skubisz. “The course can be very competitive, but it’s also a fun course. It’s a fun place to walk and to experience the game, and if you play the right tees it can be fun.”

Golf carts make it easy for family members of any age to get around the course, and extra accommodations are always supported. But if mobility is an issue, golf simulators offer yet another way to enjoy the game. The simulator at the Pottawatomie clubhouse provides a low-impact game that families can share together. It’s available year-round by appointment.

“If you’re thinking, ‘I don’t know if I have the patience to do this, or if my body’s going to let me do this, or how long I’m going to be able to this,’ it’s a chance to start out,” says Skubisz.

Many golf courses in our region offer junior-rate season passes for children under 18.

Pottawatomie’s season pass costs $150 for residents and $200 for nonresidents. For frequent players, “there’s absolutely no question that is a great deal,” says Skubisz.

He’s seen an increasing number of junior golfers hitting the links in recent years, whether playing with family members or with groups of friends. It’s rewarding to a seasoned pro like Skubisz to see the game move on to a new generation. And parents like it, too.

“A lot of parents will say they really appreciate the fact that the kids can get on the golf course and then they’re not stuck in front a screen,” he says. “How many times do you hear that these days? Golf is an outdoors activity where kids get fresh air, they walk, they play with friends and family. It’s a good thing.”

Pottawatomie Golf Course is located at 845 N. Second Ave., in St. Charles. To book a tee time or schedule lessons, call (630) 584-8356.