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Ace of Clubs

New Golfers Need the Right Equipment to Help Ensure That Their Time on the Links Isn't a Subpar Experience


Is your kid charging around the neighborhood, grabbing any stick longer than 3 feet, whaling away at anything remotely resembling a golf ball and squeaking, "I'm Tiger Woods"?

For that matter, are you?

Largely as a result of the meteoric emergence on the PGA tour of the kid from Cypress with the supersonic swing, former non-golfers young and old are showing up at driving ranges to sign up for lessons. Dazzled by the spectacular 21-year-old, new legions of rookies are haunting pro shops and golf retailers and twitching clubs around in the air.

The market can be overwhelming. There are about 80 golf equipment manufacturers in the United States, accounting for sales of more than $2 billion annually. The high-ticket clubsmiths such as Callaway and Taylor Made have not yet turned to manufacturing tools specifically for the beginner, but a handful of others are starting to offer them.

Even for a beginner, club selection is more important in the golf shop than on the course. You won't want to start off with $1,500 worth of top-of-the-line, high-tech sticks, say pros, but you still want to come up with clubs with the proper length, flex and balance.


Kids grow. Depending on their age, they'll be able to use a particular set of junior clubs only so long. Also, because they'll be practicing at the driving range or playing more often on shorter courses, they're not going to need every club that's contained in an adult set.

"Depending on the kid, what you want to start them with is a driver with a 3 wood loft, so they can get the ball in the air," said Jeff Bennett, the national sales manager for the Santa Ana-based club manufacturer Pinseeker Golf. "The rest of the set is usually a 3, 5, 7 and 9 iron and a putter. It's critical that the putter isn't an adult putter that's cut down."

In fact, pros say, cutting down an adult set doesn't make for good golf.

"With a cut-down set, the flex that was originally built into the club changes radically and it's hard to gauge the flex for a junior player," said Kevin Ostroske, the director of junior golf for the Southern California Professional Golf Assn. The result probably will be frustration and faulty swing mechanics.

A club's flex--the degree to which the shaft will bend during the course of a swing--is an important factor in club fitting. The natural strength and speed of a golfer's swing may be best served by a shaft with more or less flex.

Fitting the clubs to the child can be as easy as standing the kid next to the box containing the irons. It's common, said Steve Ross, an assistant manager of the Roger Dunn Golf Shop in Santa Ana, to see a color-coded chart printed on the side of junior set boxes that correspond to the height of the child's hand when the arms are hanging at the sides. Hand height indicates club shaft length.

"You want something that looks good like Dad's clubs, with a lightweight shaft, no flex difference or lie angle difference, something to get started in that doesn't cost a lot of money," Bennett said.

In general, different sized clubs are made for children 5 through 7, 8 through 11, and 12 through 14. When a child turns 15, a ladies' "petite" set may be in order, or a ladies' standard set or even an adult men's set, depending on the player.

"Everyone should have their clubs fitted regardless of their level," said Marty La-Roche, the PGA teaching pro at Tustin Ranch Golf Club in Tustin, "but for juniors approximation is OK because they're going to grow. I've seen kids grow 3 inches and their swing speed increase 20 mph in one year."

Most starter sets for juniors cost about $125, often including a bag. But if money is tight, the PGA offers a program at several Southern California courses, mainly in Orange County, through which kids can get clubs free. Called Clubs for Kids, the program receives clubs from private donations and close-outs by equipment companies. The SCPGA distributes them to PGA teaching pros on an as-needed basis.

Junior players up to age 18 are eligible for the program. For more information on the Clubs for Kids program, call the SCPGA at (714) 776-GOLF.


Starter sets for grown-ups can be viewed either as an inexpensive flirtation or the beginning of a more expensive love affair.

The key features--apart from the all-important shaft length--in an adult starter set, Bennett said, are sole weighting in the club head and a large club face. The weighting, which concentrates more of the club head weight in the part of the head closest to the ground, allows the player to more easily get the ball into the air, and the larger face has a bigger sweet spot that will forgive many mis-hits.

Lie angle, both for junior and adult sets, also should be a consideration. It is the angle at which the shaft rises from the club head when the head is properly grounded.

As in most junior sets, you'll see four irons, two woods and a putter in an adult starter set. The price is similar, and the sets are usually traded in for more advanced weapons if the player decides to continue the battle. Used sets, both for juniors and adults, are commonly available.

But, LaRoche said, there is another way to approach clubs for adult beginners. "Some people will just want to start with a [higher quality] 7 iron that is fitted for them, and as they progress they can buy other clubs that are fitted and matched. And after two or three years, they'll have a very good complete set of clubs that are fitted just for them."

Clubs can be bought at golf course pro shops and sporting goods stores but, say pros and manufacturers, the larger golf specialty and discount stores will feature a greater selection and club fitting expertise--and possibly lower prices, particularly for starter sets.

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