PGA pro, TikTok’s ‘CEO of Junior Golf’, and Coursework instructor Gavin Parker joins this week’s Stick & Hack Show to discuss all about his philosophies of teaching junior golf.

The following excerpt has been edited for space. Get the full interview here to learn about the empire he’s building.


Stick & Hack: We’ll ask (first) about the moniker of the “CEO of Junior Golf.” So what does that mean?

Gavin Parker: It means “Chief Energy Officer.” So in early 2020, during COVID, during the quarantine, I would get on TikTok, and all these TikTok video captions that said, “I’m the CEO of dancing, I’m the CEO of cooking.” And I was like, “okay, can I make my own play-on-words with that?” So I came up with “CEO of Junior Golf.” And it became a tag name that kind of just stuck. And I’ve started using that hashtag to start building a brand, a curriculum, a website, and a strategy around being the CEO of junior golf, which specifically just stands for Chief Energy Officer.

S&H: Gavin, I started (playing golf) when I was about six years old, but what’s the advantage of starting golf at a young age? And how should parents deal with getting their kids over being frustrated at such a frustrating game?

Gavin Parker: The first advantage is childhood- play is so powerful for any young person. Through play, the outcome is usually learning. So, in terms of that frustration, some forms of play (related) frustrations are important to be able to stick with it to develop some sense of grit, some sense of passion, some sense of perseverance. And if you’re actually frustrated about something, you might care more about it.

So I would suggest to any young family or a parent of a young golfer: surround their kid with just a lot more playful and inviting outcomes that aren’t solely predicated on a score, or how far your kid can hit it, or how many putts they can make; but on, how long can their balls be in the air? Can we create this great experience? And that’s what I would suggest to any parent of a young golfer.

S&H: You have the enviable task of watching a kid get addicted and hooked immediately, or throughout their young childhood, with golf- literally right in front of your eyes. When do you know that golf has sunk into their bloodstream?

Gavin Parker: In this climate, I guess where we are culturally, most kids don’t think golf is cool. So, if you get a hundred kids, maybe two or three of them are excited. So when I actually get those kids who love the game, you can tell right away- their attitude, their swagger, their demeanor, what they talk about, how they carry themselves when they get on the golf course, starts to change. And it’s everything for me. I think the most important job in the world is being a coach, and it’s so cool when I can kind of share my passion with another young person, and if they become a great golfer, that’s terrific.

But even before that, you said that my mantra is I like to teach people, not golf. That’s always on the forefront of my mind. I have this person right here for me in this moment, so how can I create such a unique experience and emotional connection to an outcome that’s not always predicated on results? So I try to really create true play and true games. And I’m celebrating the now. And I try to focus on the means of play, not just the ends of it, or what you can gain from being better at golf. 

S&H: That’s the thing, when you have the kids that are there and it’s one-on-one instruction, but there’s people around. So, it’s this active Environment, but it’s still a solitary sport. So your job is to get these kids to enjoy, not just the game, but people that are around them and the act of and the enjoyment of being at the course, on the green, and being at the range. 

There is a moment where you can see either the kids are in it and it’s going to be their life or they’re like, “Oh, this is fine. I need some more action. I need more activity.” Where do you see that and how do you bring people in? 

Gavin Parker: So the first thing I would just say is that I am literally at war. I am at war for getting kids’ attention in the year 2021.

Everything that I’m seeing (in kids) from ages four to 12, they’re used to some type of screens, some type of immediate dopamine, serotonin drips, something that’s boom- instantaneous. So now I’m trying to get kids off screens, get them outside with a stick in their hand and a ball. But, unless I can create a reason for these kids to actually care where these balls need to go in the first place, no learning can take place. So for the last three years, I’ve been diving into play research and play scholarship, and learning the different rhetorics of play to be able to employ them to these kids right now. Where I think most people in junior golf only celebrate performance, or some result, or some ball flight, and they only use play to grind or progress; where I like to use play to create a community centered around wonderment, first and foremost.

Hey, I’m on this beautiful green grass at Salisbury Country Club, where I can create this environment in this space by creating stories and true games. And when I say games, I mean games that have a series of meaningful choices to an outcome, where there’s different alternative win conditions instead of the basic junior golf- putt to the string, put to this line, or hit the ball the farthest. If you have a daughter or son who’s never played golf a day in their life, how can they win those games? They can’t. So they’re already going to get turned off. So, I like to start off with, what is the true definition of fun? And fun is the anticipation of a reward, and every single human being experiences fun differently. Most kids have two basic core motivators, and that is to avoid pain- they don’t want to look bad, they don’t want to look silly, they don’t want to hit a golf ball and miss in front of their friends- and they want to seek pleasure. Well, those two things are almost at odds with junior golf. In Junior golf, you’re by yourself, it’s kinda tough. So I try to actually create outcomes and scenarios where we leverage environments to increase their win conditions, to make it interesting and compelling enough to get them to want to do it in the first place.

And just because they’re moving the stick, they get more proficient at it. Then they say, “Hey Gavin, you’re kind of good at coaching golf too. Can you help me figure out how to make this ball go airborne?” That’s where I start with my kids. I don’t go, “Hey guys, this is how you hold the club. This is how you stand.”  I’m saying things like, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m in a generous mood today. I went to Crumbl Cookie, and today’s winner of our End of Day Mission is going to get a $50 gift card to Crumbl Cookie. Well, how do you get that? I try to create an outcome. That’s “Hey, all you have to do is hit a 100 foot putt. But if you make ten 10 foot putts, you can move 20 feet closer. If you can hit your driver over a hundred yards, you can move another 20 feet closer. So now that gives kids their own series of choices. You shouldn’t be coerced into playing. So in order to truly be playing something, you need like three to four choices. 

Check out the rest of Gavin’s lively interview to learn more about his mission within junior golf. You can also check out his first Coursework series, which is centered around the short game, here.