I challenge you to play mini-golf with a child and not give them tips on their game. Like singing the chorus to Informer by Snow, or saying no to an arancini ball, it’s impossible.
My brother and I, who would both like to think of ourselves as relaxed, non-obsessive dads, recently played a round with our four boys, and by the third hole we had both fallen into the irresistible trap of mini-golf parenting.
The problem is little children suck at mini-golf. They hold the club around the wrong way, they constantly forget if they are left, right or one handed, they swing wildly and aggressively with absolute disregard for Newton’s Second Law of Motion, they mix their grips up so their hands are crossed over like they’re in a straight-jacket, they push the ball along like they are brooming leaves, they constantly stand directly in front of each other, they take absolute liberties with the ‘club-head away from the edge’ rule, and sometimes it just seems they have completely forgotten the basic premise of the game. They suck.
And an adult can only abide such mini-golfing atrocities for so long.
We restrained ourselves for three holes but eventually a supportive parent seeks to correct and improve via unsolicited feedback; in a gentle and constructive manner of course.
“Hey, maybe look at the ball while you are swinging aggressively in its direction.”
“Have you thought about pointing the club away from your foot?”
“Weren’t you right-handed a minute ago?”
“Woah, probably would be easier to hit the ball if your hands weren’t crossed over like an octopus.”
“Why are you standing on top of the concrete Statue of Liberty?”
“Isn’t the hole that way?”
“Did you not see your cousin standing directly in front of you as you were bringing your club head back like a champion wood chopper?”
“Did you not see your cousin bringing back his club head like a champion wood chopper? Why are you standing directly in front of him?”
“Do you remember the basic objective of this game?”
“Do any of you care about your handicaps?”
We told ourselves the feedback was for them, not us. They would certainly enjoy themselves more if they played a little better, right? Then they would have more fun! Yes, fun is the objective. There is no chance any of them are going to join the Vegas mini-golf tour with its lucrative powdered orange juice endorsements and its all-you-can-eat frankfurter buffets, right? So what else is there but fun?
Well, they did not appreciate our feedback.
By the 5th hole they were grumbling and telling us to be quiet and by the 7th we had a full mini-golf mutiny on our hands.
“Yes I prefer playing with one hand!”
“No I don’t want to line up my club head perpendicular to my shoulders!”
“You’re not a mini-golf professional anyway so what do you know?!”
“You are the worst dads we have ever had!”
To avoid a complete walk off we agreed to withhold our constructive feedback for the rest of the round, and for the most part we did. We focused on our own scores and passively watched them bumbling around the course; spanking their balls onto the footpath, brooming this way and that for 12s on par 2s, periodically whacking each other in the shins, helicoptering their clubs around single-handed, playing holes backwards and some of them not at all. Not once did any of them even attempt one of the 7 classic putting grips as laid out in the PGA handbook.
Their scores were atrocious and barely warranted tallying. But I must admit they did appear to be having a lot of fun.
So, now I can’t shake the slightly uneasy feeling that my mini-golf feedback may not in fact be confined to the hallowed astro-turf greens of the Holey Moley links. It is decidedly possible that we are constantly dispensing enthusiastic, perhaps over-earnest advice that is at best unnecessary, and at worst unwanted. It is possible we are diminishing their fun.
It seems unreasonable and unfair that parenting should be so complicated, that even our best-intentioned efforts could prove counter-productive. So what are us parents to do?
I think, in fact, that simply being there on the mini-golf fairway with them is the best our children can hope for, and the most we should expect of ourselves. And if they choose a lifetime of mini-golf mediocrity, and they never get to taste the sweetness of a free frankfurter buffet, then that is their misguided choice to make.