Teri Johnson could not have come up with a more appropriate name for introductory golf program for children ages 3-9 years old.
View just one of the 45-minute classes at any of the 10 schools in which she has offered the program and you will immediately understand why it is called Grasshopper Golf (golfgrasshopper.com).
The children bounce around excitedly as they learn and play, using plastic clubs to hit special golf balls similar to small tennis balls.
The married mother of two boys, Johnson is both a PGA and LPGA golf professional who has worked at Kiawah Island Golf Resort and Kiawah Island Club. But when her oldest son Camden, now almost 4, began pre-school, Johnson realized the hours of a golf professional and a young child did not exactly mesh.
She said as she began receiving offers for curriculum enhancement and enrichment programs from the O’Quinn School on James Island that golf was not among the myriad of programs.
“Why doesn’t anybody do golf?” she thought. So she began developing a curriculum and O’Quinn allowed her to come in and do a pilot program over a recent summer.
“I’ve been certified by Starting New At Golf, which is the equipment I’m using. But their curriculum doesn’t start until the age of 5. I’ve also been certified with U.S. Kids Golf, but they really don’t have a curriculum for anyone under the age of 7. Because I was working with younger kids, I had to develop a curriculum for that. I’ve kind of developed my own program,” Johnson said.
Johnson recently received Top 50 U.S. Kids Golf honorable mention for her efforts.
Grasshopper Golf can be played indoors or outdoors, depending upon the weather. Children begin with a warm-up activity, and then break into groups led by Johnson and her assistant, Channa Honigman, for games such as “Angry Birds Golf” and “Feed the Tic Toc Croc.”
The “Angry Birds” game concept is that the golf club is the slingshot and the children get to hit the red bird and speedy bird into blocks to get points for bad piggies and busted bricks. It promotes creativity, problem solving, teamwork, taking turns, color recognition and math skills while working on golf skills such as distance control and accuracy.
“Feed the Tic Toc Croc” promotes imagination, healthy food choices, counting and teamwork. Jake and his pirate crew feed the croc to save Peter Pan. Golf skills taught are proper setup and aim.
The kids and parents both love the approach. Megan Durkee said her 5-year-old son, Jack, is participating in the 13-week program for the second time.
“He got in the car last week and said it was the coolest thing. They got to play ‘Angry Birds’ and the coach dressed up in a huge suit that had a target on the front and back. They hit balls with Velcro on them attempting to hit the target,” Durkee said.
Durkee said she and her husband are occasional golfers and thought the program would be good for Jack.
“We weren’t expecting Coach Teri to turn Jack into some golf superhero. It was just a chance for him to engage and have fun with his buddies. They are having a ball. We think Coach Teri’s awesome,” Durkee said.
Johnson said that at this early age she works on golf basics such as setup and swing and learning about the parts of a golf club so the children will be able to communicate in a golf language as they get older.
Johnson teaches at the four public elementary schools on James Island, Mason Prep and Charleston Day in downtown Charleston, the O’Quinn Schools on James Island and in Mount Pleasant and Daniel Island Academy.
Johnson’s goal is to continue to grow the program. She said more than 500 students have already been through Grasshopper Golf and she would love to expand to as many schools as possible and help to grow the game.
“I’m learning quickly that it’s difficult to get green grass space, which is what brought me into the schools,” Johnson said. “I wanted to make it as convenient for the parents as possible. I bring golf to them. I bring all the equipment. Parents just sign them up and they have this opportunity, rather than getting home from work and having to rush somewhere.”
She said if the youngsters continue that, by the time they are 7 or 8 they can actually take what they have learned and be ready to play on a golf course.