TEED UP FOR SUCCESS
By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
Richard Franklin remembers teaching golf to kids the old-fashioned way, stressing repetition, repetition, repetition.
And more repetition.
That way was the best way—the only way— to either make young linksters fall in love with the challenging sport or to develop future scratch golfers.
Or so the part-time Lake Forest resident/ part-time Arizona resident thought.
“I was bad at it, and I was miserable,” admits the 39-year-old Franklin, a teaching pro at Deerpath Golf Course in Lake Forest and the founder/international director of DiscoverGolf, a game-play-based coaching philosophy endorsed by some 400 facilities on five continents.
“I promised myself that I’d educate myself on how kids learn, and then discover ways to provide a spark for the game of golf that would lead to their emotional investment. If we treat kids like machines, we’re going to lose them.”
But DiscoverGolf—launched in 2016 and featuring a network of golf coaches that has worked with more than 500,000 juniors between the ages of 4 to12 since 2010—strives to grow winners in the game of life, not just aces in golf, with decision-making opportunities serving as the system’s catalyst to fun and aha moments.
“A study was done in Brazil involving kids playing soccer,” Franklin says. “The kids often had to play with a makeshift soccer ball and compete in pick-up games at places that were much smaller than a typical soccer field. The confined space forced each player to make a decision every 10 seconds or so. Decision-making spurred development.
“Such an environment, so the theory goes, is a reason why soccer players from Brazil and players developing similarly from other countries are superior to soccer players in the United States,” he adds.
Franklin runs the largest junior golf program in the Midwest at Deerpath GC in the spring and summer months and is the director of junior golf development at Desert Mountain Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, during the winter.
DiscoverGolf will be offered for the first time at Winnetka Golf Club this year.
“Golf is usually taught in a linear way: grip, stance, tempo, etc.,” Franklin writes in “About DiscoverGolf,” a link on Deerpath Golf Course’s site (deerpathgolf.com). “I believe in an approach that honors the non-uniform nature of childhood development. Leading young people requires us to adapt with culturally relevant programming that honors a child’s kaleidoscope of prior experiences, unique perspectives, emotions, and personality that is brought to bear on our lesson tee.”
The true essence of DiscoverGolf?
“Recognizing how much more goes into working with kids than just golf,” notes Franklin, named one of Golf Digest’s “Best Young Instructors in America” in 2023. “You can never underestimate the value of getting kids to spend time outdoors, away from the screens. I can’t emphasize enough the value of play, in a learning environment, in kids’ lives. And play gives kids nourishment.”
Franklin battled as the No. 1 varsity golfer at Hinsdale Central High School from the start of his sophomore season until the end of his senior season.
“I was undersized as a kid,” he says. “I loved the short game, spending an inordinate amount of time around the green. I became infatuated with putting and chipping.”
Franklin then discovered the value of fitness.
His distance game didn’t catch up to his short game, but his drives graduated from thwacks to resounding smacks.
He attended Florida Atlantic University (not exactly a basketball school then, compared to what it suddenly became this March Madness) in Boca Raton for a spell before transferring to the University of Arizona, where he majored in City Planning.
‘While falling in love with my major, because I enjoyed systems thinking, I kind of fell out of love with golf,” Franklin recalls, adding he caught the golf bug again near the end of his college days in Tucson.
Stints on the Canadian Tour and Korn Ferry Tour—the developmental tour for the U.S.-based PGA Tour—followed. Franklin, a 2006 University of Arizona graduate, played his last professional round in 2008.
A couple of years later, after having worked with former PGA Tour player Mac O’Grady—an instructor “who knows the geometric laws of the golf swing,” Franklin says—Franklin hosted a golf open house in Lake Forest and gave a demo lesson to Carl Beck, son of former PGA Tour player and current Lake Forest resident Chip Beck.
“As I’m talking with Carl, touting new golf technology like FlightScope radar, in walks in ‘Mr. 59,’” Franklin says, alluding to the round of 59 that Chip Beck had carded in the third round of the Las Vegas Invitational in 1991.
Chip Beck later added a swing coach to his team for Champions Tour events (tournament for elite golfers aged 50 and older).
A man known then as “The High-Tech Swing Whisperer”—Richard Franklin, future expert on childhood play.
They worked together from 2009 to 2010.
Franklin is all about motivating and inspiring children through golf these days, as well as “creating experiences and environments that compel young people to explore and assert their agency over their immediate surroundings, all while feeling connected to a dynamic and accessible community of play.
“What concerns me today,” Franklin adds, “are the levels of anxiety that children are experiencing. It’s frightening, especially among girls in their teens. Most of that falls on social media, which has been shown to be patently bad for children. We have to nudge them away from their devices, get them outdoors, and encourage them to play.”
Franklin and his wife, Karah, a University of Chicago Booth School of Business graduate, have a daughter, Ashtiani, who turns 3 in April.
“I love spending time with my daughter,” Franklin says. “She’s my own little play monster at home. And she’s adaptive and spongelike, soaking up everything.”
For more information about DiscoverGolf, visit discovergolf.co. For information about signing up for DiscoverGolf programs this spring and summer, visit deerpathgolf.com and/or winnetkagolfclub.org. Deerpath Golf Course is located at 500 West Deerpath Road in Lake Forest, 847-810- 3888; Winnetka Golf Club is located at 1300 Oak Street in Winnetka, 847-501-2050.