Fitting Junior Golf Clubs

Fitting junior golfers is often taken for granted and unfortunately in certain fitting situations, can cause the junior golfer to lose interest in the game quickly. Over the years I have discussed junior fitting with literally hundreds of clubmakers, parents and grandparents. Based on what I have heard, I would like to share all this information at one time. Hopefully, you will be able to understand all the complexities associated with this special group of golfers.

Tips for Fitting Kids Golf Clubs

First, we should define what a junior player is. For a parent, “junior” means their child is under 18, living at home, probably on the couch watching TV, texting, and eating snacks when they should be doing homework and picking up their room. For the golf industry, that picture is quite different. Junior golf clubs are primarily designed for pre-teens or for kids that are 12 years old or younger. Usually when they reach 60 inches or 5 foot tall, then they no longer fit into junior sized clubs. At that point they go to clubs labeled as “Teen.” The other option is to use adult clubs, albeit at a shorter length. As you can already tell, this is an extremely wide range of young golfers when discussing “junior” fitting.

What is the Proper Set Make Up for a Junior Golfer?

When a parent takes their small child out to dinner, what do they order from? That is right, the kid’s menu. The main difference is not the food itself, but the portion size. Why? As kids are much smaller they do not need to consume as much as adults and the same holds true for kids or junior golf clubs.

Typically, for very young golfers or toddlers, a single lofted iron to a 5-piece golf set (high lofted driver, 7-iron, wedge, putter and golf bag) will suffice. Do not add too many low lofted clubs in the bag because youngsters will not have the clubhead velocity to get them airborne or to create enough distance gaps between consecutive clubs. As they become better, stronger and start to master the lofted clubs, then it is time when they can add the longer, less lofted clubs to the junior set.

At about the age of 9, you will see packaged sets of golf clubs being offered with more additional clubs than the clubs marketed for the very young players. To complete the progression, a commercially available teen set may be offered with 10-12 clubs.

For the committed youth who wants adult clubs, sit down with them, and let them be part of the decision making process. After all, it is their clubs; not yours. Even if you decide on a partial set to play with, consider buying the rest of the clubs in the set. This way the junior will eventually have a matched set with which they can grow. Another reason for parents to buy the remaining set is to reward the child with a new club when they do something good. For example, did they bring home an A in math? Make up the 8 iron. Did they take out the garbage without being told? Make them the 6 iron. Is their birthday coming up? Make them the 4 hybrid. Be creative in rewarding junior players for jobs well done.

I had one heated discussion with one parent who wanted his 5-year-old son to be a better ball striker. The father's idea was to put his son in a set of forged blades so he would learn to hit the ball in the center of the face. Please, please, please…do not “punish” the youngsters! Give them a cavity back club instead. If the parent wants them to be better ball strikers just give them formal training with a local PGA teaching professional.

If the child happens to be left-handed, well this is the least represented groups in all of golf. For manufacturers, the profit margins are small, yet tooling costs are extremely high for them to justify as there is a low return on investment. Sadly, there are several golf companies that do not even offer a right-handed junior set at all let alone left handed junior golf clubs.

How Junior Clubs Are Traditionally Marketed

Kids golf clubs are based on broad age groups such as 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12. If Levi’s had marketed their jeans based on age groups when I was growing up, in bet they would not have the success or loyalty they do today. Use your imagination for a second. All the tall kids would have been running around with the stripes on their tube socks showing. The shorter kids would have had their pant legs rolled up so far that they would have had to walk bow-legged. The fortunate few would have their jeans fit correctly. Levi’s simply had you measure your waist and inseam, look at the tag, and the jeans would fit regardless of which store they were purchased. Age based fitting just does not allow for a proper fit because of the disparity of heights in certain age categories. The same is true for jeans as well as golf clubs.

What Age Range Is the Crossover from Junior to Adult Club Heads? 

Again, do not necessarily look at age as much as ability and dedication. If parents are buying clubs for their child just to see if they are going to like the game, then the junior club heads will be just fine. Once the child has committed to the game and has the correct fundamentals established, there is no reason they could not use an adult head. Also be cognizant of the fact that the juniors entering the junior high age group may not want the junior heads because their friends may be playing name brand clubs or adult clubs. The image of using junior clubs may hold them back from playing competitive golf.

A Look at Materials for Junior Golf Clubs

Most junior clubs today are die cast, being made from aluminum for the woods and hybrid club and zinc for the irons and putter. The materials are less expensive to keep the overall cost down. The materials are also softer and will get nicked up more than stainless steel heads. Clubs marketed for teens will be the same materials you find in adult clubs.

Head Weight are Lighter

Another major difference in clubs marketed as junior, the club heads often made (for the most part) to lighter head weights as younger kids have not developed the strength to swing adults clubs. I say for the most part because the larger sized driver head may not always be lighter than an adult head. The other major problem is unlike adult head weights that often do not change from manufacturer to manufacturer the same, cannot be said about junior models. Their head weights can vary greatly.

Any time you change club head weight, guess what? Length also changes as the two are interrelated as you want to maintain the same balance or heft in the player’s hands. Let us say we were to make two junior clubs at the same length, but one with an adult head and one with a very lightweight junior model. Depending on the length, one might feel like a sledgehammer and the other a feather in the junior’s hands. This is why the recommended length should be proportional to the head weight.

Junior Club Lengths

Length should be based on height and the athletic ability of the junior golfer. I know there are kids out there who have good hand-eye coordination who can make good contact with their parent’s clubs, but they are far and few between. Most junior golfers choke down automatically on adult clubs so the length will be proportionate to their height. After all, it is a matter of proportionality. A standard height adult male golfer uses a driver slightly less than 2/3rds of their height and a conventional putter that is about half their height.

We offer a height based fitting chart later based on these same proportions, but it will take some further explanation. Obviously, body size and athletic ability may allow for slightly longer clubs than the charts would suggest. For instance, a chubby child who has more body mass to swing around than a thin tot does may need a longer shaft. Youngsters with excellent hand-eye coordination could potentially use a longer club too.

Parents may be concerned that their children will outgrow their clubs over the summer and that the clubs will be too short for the upcoming season. This is a valid point. However, if the parents want the clubs much longer than their kids really need so that they will last a few years, this may serve to create bad swing habits for the kids. If the clubs are too long, the kids are more likely not to hit the clubs as solidly and become discouraged very quickly. Kids are very result oriented. If they are failing, they are more likely to try something different if they can. If the parents want some room for growth, suggest no more than an inch over what they should use presently.

In the case the child does outgrow the clubs there are two things that can be done rather inexpensively. First, the clubs can be extended. Since most junior shafts have a .500” butt diameter, you need to be creative with any extender since that is not a standard stock shaft extender size. You can use hardwood dowels or portions of used steel or graphite shafts to extend the clubs. The second method, re-shafting the clubs, is more expensive but may be necessary if the strength of the juvenile golfer increases or if he or she grows quickly.

If the child has younger siblings, the undersized clubs could be hand-me-down clubs to them. We have heard of companies and individual clubmakers who have lease or rental programs with junior equipment. Instead of purchasing the clubs that children will outgrow, the clubs are traded in for a longer set as the child grows. The old set now could be used by another junior golfer.

Junior Shaft Flex

Long before junior golf shafts were available, it was common for an existing man’s sets of clubs to be cut down to the length the child needed. Although this is an inexpensive way of introducing the kids to the game, it may not be the most appropriate. Men’s shafts will be on the stiff and heavy side for the junior golfers, plus the fact the lofts may be stronger and make it harder to get the ball airborne. This situation may not be in the best interest of the junior golfer as it may be difficult to gain confidence and have fun at the same time. If you are going to cut a set shorter, let it be mom’s set because the shafts are generally lighter and more flexible. In addition, the increased lofts of women’s clubs are a benefit. Just remember to make a new set for mom in this situation.

There are many options in shaft choices for junior golfers. There are junior shafts, ladies and senior flexes and standard men’s flexes that can be appropriate in the right situation. There are also choices of steel, graphite and fiberglass that must be considered as well.

For small toddlers it may be a benefit to look at some very flexible fiberglass shafts. A small child does not have the physical strength to use something very heavy. In addition, when cutting a shaft that short, the flexible fiberglass shaft will provide some feel and increased loft where a steel shaft does not. The best part about the fiberglass shafts is they cost about the same or even less than steel. Do be aware though, for juniors approaching 5 feet tall, these shafts can be a little too flexible.

Junior steel shafts are all but gone. At the time of writing this text, only one junior steel wood and two junior iron shafts was still in production. If it were not for existing inventory, the steel wood shaft would not be an option. The difference in junior shafts and one marketed as ladies is the smaller butt diameters allowing for matching up with an appropriate grip, while at the same time making the shaft more flexible.

As the adolescent golfer grows to near the 5-foot range, the junior shafts may no longer be an option due to the shorter lengths that they are manufactured. When the child has reached that height range then ladies and A-flex (amateur) shafts are better choices for the average child. However, you are starting to see some children in the 5 foot height range that are very powerful and could handle some men’s flex shafts. Use your discretion wisely.

Junior Golf Grip Sizing

The most creative aspect of fitting and building junior equipment is in grip sizing. Even though many junior shafts have a .500” butt diameter and the grip are available in the corresponding diameter, you may still need to add build-up tape to hold the grip in place. Shafts will only have a limited parallel butt section. Once you cut the shafts to noticeably short lengths, you could conceivably need to add quite a bit of masking tape, especially under the lower hand. Experiment on one club first until you get the right dimensions. Keep good notes so the rest of the set will not require a whole lot of time.

As the child becomes taller, their hands and fingers will become proportionately larger as well. What shaft are you working with? Is it a junior, ladies, senior or standard men’s shaft? What will be the final butt size after you have cut the shaft to the desired length? Can you use junior grips still or will you have to find ladies or even men’s grips to come out to the right size? Do your homework ahead of time.

Does the junior golfer play baseball or hockey? If so, the grip areas on these are much larger than typical junior golf grips. You may want to build the grip larger or start with a larger model to accommodate the right feel in the junior’s hands. As we said before, you need to be creative with proper grip sizing.

Overall Weight and Swing Weight

Do not be overly concerned with swing weight, but rather more with overall weight. In many cases with very short clubs, the swing weight may be lower than A0 and you will have to use the gram or ounce markings on the scale as your reference point.  Clubs less than 24” may not even clear the end of the swingweight scale or be long enough to fit over the slot at the top of the scale. The only concern we would have in swing weighting is to make sure that the clubs within the set are relatively close to one another or do we?

Pictured in the diagram is a small junior 7-iron with a length of 27.5”. The head weighs 252g, cut shaft 34g and grip 35g for an overall weight of 321g. The balance point of the club is 23.3” from the butt end or only 9.3” in front of the 14” fulcrum point. If you look at the mark on the swingweight scale, the tick mark will be well below A0 down around the 15 1/8 oz. mark. Using the information from the Weight chapter we see the club produces a moment of 2985 g-in around the fulcrum point.

diagram of a junior length golf club on a swingweight scale and factoring in overall weight and second moment of inertiadiagram of a junior length golf club on a swingweight scale and factoring in overall weight and second moment of inertia

However, one interesting phenomenon occurs. The shaft is so short in this case, the shaft’s balance point lies on butt side of the fulcrum point, which leads to a negative swingweight when factoring in the shaft alone into the equation. Obviously that weight is forward of the hands and should be additional heft in the junior player’s hands. Perhaps a better way to match junior clubs, at least the shorter ones, would be with a MOI scale or calculate it mathematically.

diagram of a junior length golf club on a modified swingweight scale and factoring in overall weight and MOIdiagram of a junior length golf club on a modified swingweight scale and factoring in overall weight and MOI

Overall weight is more important. In some cases this will take care of itself by using lighter weight shafts and heads. For very short youngsters, keep the overall weight down so they can swing the club efficiently. As juniors grow, then the weight of the clubs should go up correspondingly as their muscles develop. For taller and stronger juvenile golfers, do not try to make the clubs too light, otherwise the junior golfer can develop bad swing habits by getting quicker than their natural swing allows.

Junior Length & Height Based Chart

Below, find a matrix of head weights (top row) with the two far left columns indicating the height. This chart was devised to obtain clubs that will balance out relative to one another regardless of what the number is engraved on the sole and whether using junior heads (which are typically lighter) or adult heads. It takes in account the proportionality of adult clubs.

junior golf club fitting chart based heigh weight and player's heightjunior golf club fitting chart based heigh weight and player's height

For example, we have a child who is 48” tall. Remember we really do not care if the child is a boy or girl or what aged they are as we are only concerned with their height. In our case we would recommend a 32” driver if the driver weighs 190g. If it had been 200g, we would have made it 31.3” long (you can also use 31 ¼” or 31 ½” if that is easier). The most important part is the length seems proportionate to their height and has the right amount of heft for them to swing it efficiently.

Junior Fitting Summary

Building and fitting junior clubs is rewarding as well as challenging. Just remember to fit club length based on the child’s ability and height, rather than age. If you make the clubs too long, too heavy, or too stiff, the ability of the junior golfer to get the desired results will diminish. Chances are if you fit the youngster right the first time, then they will have fun and make this game, a game for a lifetime and that is what I call a good return on your investment.

Modern Guide to Golf Clubmaking

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