James (Jim) Hardy - U.S. Kids Golf at Longleaf Golf & Family Club
In 2015 I moved from Houston to the Cradle of American Golf when U.S. Kids Golf purchased Longleaf Golf Club in Southern Pines NC. I was tasked with opening a Jr. golf academy in order to test our curriculum with our own students. I tweaked it a bit and added to it a great deal so that we’ve created a 10 level curriculum that can take a person who has never touched a club all the way to shooting even par or better if that’s what they want to do. We changed the name of the facility to the Longleaf Golf & Family Club so that the name would better suit our mission.
How old were you when you got started in golf and what eventually pulled you into becoming a golf professional?
I started golf very young, probably around 5 or 6 walking with my dad as he played with his buddies. He would let me hit a drive then as we walked to his drive we would scoop my ball up and drop it next to his. He would let me hit it a few times then he’d throw it on the green and he would let me putt out.
I continued to play for fun throughout school and into my first career which was car wash related. I was extremely fortunate in that business and was able to sell my company at 30 years old. I had an opportunity to partner in a golf venture which consisted of buying a driving range and the land next to it in order to build a lighted 9 hole par 3 course. While we operated the range and par 3 course I fell in love with teaching golf, mostly to juniors but I also enjoyed teaching adults and good players. The first time I jumped in to help out with a summer camp, a PGA member suggested that I join the PGA and “get my card”, so I did. Since then I have continued to teach and pursue learning better methods and knowledge of the game so that I could become a better teacher.
How do you stay current with the latest developments in teaching methods?
I attend a couple of teaching and coaching summits each year. The one I enjoy the most is the Plane Truth group that was started by coincidentally Jim Hardy (no relation) and Chris O’Connell. The older & much wiser Jim Hardy became friends over the years and I consider him my mentor in golf instruction. At each of these coaching summits we get to participate in presentations of all the latest and greatest technology and theories of the golf game. One of the coolest things that I’ve been introduced to is Personality Motivators and how they affect the learning experience.
What are 2 trends in golf that you’re excited about?
I’m very excited to be a part of making the experience of learning golf fun again. I think for awhile we have gone down a path where we learned a great deal about how to dissect golf swings and use technology to make very subtle changes etc. But the fact is, the golf industry isn’t really about good players…It’s about the average players who occasionally hit shots that make them feel like a good golfer. Those players are the backbone of our industry yet, we have in the past tried to make every single golfer into a tour pro by using our infinite knowledge of every minute detail of the golf swing. The fact is though, this is a fun game and anyone can play it.
I’m also very excited to be part of the Longleaf Tee System (longleafteesystem.com). This Tee system is a simple way to scale the golf course so that everyone has a better chance of getting the “Tour Experience”. That means that if you play from the correct tee, and the average tour player plays from the correct tee, and you both hit your average tee shot, you’ll hit the same club into the green. If it’s a driver, 7 iron for the tour player, then it ought to be a driver, 7 iron for you too.
Do you specialize in teaching any facets of the game?
I specialize in beginner golf and more specifically junior beginner golf. This is the golf industries greatest opportunity for the greatest growth. 40 million kids in the US and only 10% play golf. I want us to get better at introducing this game to kids in a way that creates as many junior golfers as there are junior soccer players. It’s a simple matter of making golf fun enough, long enough, till they can’t get enough….Which is a really complex thing to do. You have to teach lightly, play a game that is fun that trains the skill you are trying to make better, then have a reward system and a next level to aspire to.
We call this “Game Based Learning” and it is really effective when done right. Fun but purposeful is what we try to balance. The beginner needs to get better at the game while having a blast doing it.
What sets you apart from other golf professionals?
I think the main thing that sets me apart is when I hear “That’s the way we’ve always done it” I take it as a challenge to do it better. In the beginning of my golf career I jumped into a summer camp because the kids looked bored and the teacher to student ratio was wrong. I instinctively made up a game that included the golf skill that was being taught but made it more fun, or as I like to say more funner! The Pro told me that the kids were now too loud and that was the wrong way to do it. I knew I had found my new mission then.
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
Professionally, I’m excited to help develop coaches and academies that specialize in growing jr. golfers using our simple formula that removes barriers of entry and the boring ways of older methods. U.S. Kids Coaches and Academies are springing up all over the world and this will ensure that the golf business stays healthy for years to come. The model has to change though, we can no longer cater to only the gentlemen. We have to become a family sport, a family destination and encourage family interaction that builds lasting, positive memories.
What has been your most challenging experience with a student and how did you handle it? How did you overcome it?
In my world of teaching kids, discipline or lack of it is always an ongoing issue. We start overcoming it by being more than baby sitters. In other words, if you have a solid plan, a solid curriculum and plenty of fun, you’ll have engaged, enthusiastic kids and less discipline issues. In our curriculum we have a chapter in each level that is called qualities of a true champion. We start in the first 4 levels with Respect; for the course, others, ourselves and the game. In later levels we delve into; being smart, persistent, focused, resilient and positive. By making these qualities part of the course, we make better golfers and better people.
Do you actively play competitive golf? Any recent bragworthy performances you’d like to share?
I do still tee it up in our Carolinas Section Senior events and usually fire something around 75 which doesn’t scare many people. In 2011 I did finish top 5 in the STPGA Section championship which qualified me to play in the PGA Professional National Championship. That was really fun because my son Woody, 14 at the time, made the trip with me and caddied for me. We were on TV for a few holes on the first day of that event. We both got a kick out of that.
Is there a highlight from your career in golf that stands out above the rest?
Hopefully the best is yet to come. I get the most satisfaction when I make a difference in someone’s life that goes beyond golf. I have had plenty of those when it comes to counseling parents of good players and how best to avoid burn out and turning something that was fun into a job. I’ve seen a few kids that because their talent for the game was great, their parents tried to help but made the mistake of turning it into a not very fun job for a 12 year old. The kids will get resentful and the parent child dynamic changes in an unhealthy way.
Any advice for someone considering pursuing a career as a golf teaching professional?
The best advice I can give someone interested in teaching golf is to get two certifications. In either order, become a U.S. Kids Certified Instructor and become a Level 1 Plane Truth Certified Instructor. Add as much as you desire but do those two and you will be a better teacher because you’ll know how to keep it fun and you’ll know how to help a player hit the next ball better without re-inventing the wheel.
Anything else you’d like to comment on while we have you?
Just that I think golf is an exceptional game for teaching kids life lessons. It’s also a game that literally anyone can play as long as expectations are managed correctly. You don’t have to be good to enjoy a round of golf.