Not so long ago, kids searching for televised sports events to watch on a lazy weekend might have skipped right over a golf tournament. Not anymore!

Ever since Tiger Woods won the Masters tournament in 1997, young people have been getting excited about golf. The number of young golfers tripled in the year after Woods's win, to a new high of 905,000 golfers aged 5 to 11, according to the National Golf Foundation. In addition to those kids, some 2.4 million 12- to 17-year-olds played golf in 1997.

Are you interested in getting into the swing? Several professional golfers who belong to the Middle Atlantic section of the Professional Golfers Association (MAPGA) have some advice to share.

For one thing, you can start early. Robert Dolan, head professional at Columbia Country Club in Bethesda, says that children as young as 7 or 8 can benefit from a program targeted at young golfers.

What should the class be like?

Nate Burdick, junior golf director for MAPGA, says a good junior golf program should have a student-teacher ratio of between 5-to-1 and 10-to-1. The class should combine practice and time on the course. You should be able to borrow or rent clubs. The instruction should include putting and chipping, and graduate to hitting golf balls on a driving range; then the students should play a few holes at a time on a course. Instruction should include friendly competition and fun.

"If you're having fun, then it's a great start!" says George Danielson, director of Everybody Golf School in Vienna.

Curt Schnell, golf teacher of the year in the PGA's Iowa section, says young golfers should focus on fundamentals. "In our junior golf program we stress grip, setup, posture and alignment," he says. "These are the foundations to a great golf swing." Young golfers should also spend as much time as possible on putting, chipping and pitching. "This is where they learn to score," Schnell says.

Putting is a skill used to knock the ball into the cup, or hole. Putting is done with a special stroke, using a special club called a putter. Practicing putting, whether on a rug in your basement or in your back yard, is fun and can really improve your score when you're out on a golf course. (In golf--unlike on a math test--the lower your score is, the better.)

The First Tee program, launched in 1997 by the National Golf Foundation, aims to make it easier for kids to get out on golf courses. The program's goal is to create 100 special golf courses for kids by the year 2000 and 1,000 facilities within 10 years. Fees will be affordable, and each course will include practice space and a putting green.

Until a First Tee site is built in your area, you can try out a public course or sign up for a class at a private club. But once you get on the golf course, you need to know that good manners are an important part of the game. Here are some basic rules of golf etiquette from the PGA:

* If someone else is preparing to tee off, do not tee your ball until he or she has finished.

* Always stand still and to the side of rather than behind another player when he or she is getting ready to hit the ball. Do not talk.

* Be ready to play when it is your turn.

* If you are playing slowly or looking for a lost ball, offer to let the group behind you to "play through," or pass you.

* Write down your score on the way to the next hole, not on the green you are preparing to leave.

* Never take more than one practice swing.

Just as it is in other sports, safety is a major concern on the golf course. That's why the PGA recommends that you always make sure that:

* No one is near you when you swing.

* No one is in front of you where your shot might hit them.Tips for Parents

The LPGA Girls Golf Club, introduced in 1989 in Phoenix, encourages girls ages 7 to 17 to learn to play golf and sample competition. The club is a cooperative project of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, the United States Golf Association and the Girl Scouts. The program offers a progressive learning system, starting on the putting green and moving back to the tee. The club has expanded to more than 80 sites across the country. For information on the club in the Washington area, contact Ramona Merriwether at P.O. Box 4611, Silver Spring, MD 20914 or at 301-445-4653. To find out more about local programs of the Middle Atlantic section of the PGA, including golf camps, clinics and teaching facilities, contact Nate Burdick by e-mail at, or call the MAPGA office in Stafford, Va., at 540-710-7420.

For You to Do

You can have fun, and work on your putting, by setting up a do-it-yourself miniature golf course in your back yard or in your basement--but please ask for permission before you do! Borrow a putter or pick up an inexpensive used one at a golf shop, secondhand store or yard sale. Use your imagination to invent obstacles for your course. For example, a piece of plastic plumbing tubing could make a great tunnel. Create some score cards and get your family together for a tournament.