What are golfers with disabilities talking about right now? Ben Evans explains...
10 Things Golfers With Disabilities Are Talking About Right Now
With growing awareness across the media and support from governing bodies and the European Tour, more people with a disability are learning how valuable golf can be for them.
The challenges are still there but when we spoke to a range of players there is plenty of excitement around for a more inclusive future.
An inclusive, healthy, vital game
Think about it, and golf offers a unique, absorbing challenge which can be a great thing for those in recovery, or living with a health condition.
It gets people out of isolation too, so the benefits are clear, physical and mental.
From, say, leg amputees to those with neurological diseases or movement disorders such as Cerebral palsy (CP), we hear it’s “the more exercise the better”.
One CP player says: “It is imperative for me to stay active. My doctor told me to live like an athlete. I need golf.”
For those who have battled back after facing trauma, “Golf saved my life,” has become a much-heard phrase.
Covid-19 has removed this lifeline for many at times; golfing friends in Melbourne were in yet another lockdown last weekend, while desperate to be out on the course again.
Many players are finding communities of friends
The European Disabled Golf Association is a not-for-profit international body, supporting 34 national federations to offer a start in golf at any level (even having a putt can be “gold” for people recovering from a stroke for example).
“We feel we are part of a real community,” says leg amputee Mark from near London.
“We don’t want to be labelled by our disability, we call ourselves ‘Golfers First’.” See www.edgagolf.com
Normally, EDGA supervises 60-plus international tournaments for different competitive levels.
Players with limb differences or amputation, or orthopedic, spinal, neurological or intellectual conditions, can all play, and then enjoy a beer together on club terraces around the world.
If around 15% of the world has a disability…
The golf market is starting to realise the potential.
Players tell us they are not faced with such a ‘mixed-bag’ now, as the major brands are helping custom-fit in both clubs and shoes to help various impairments.
It’s harder for wheelchair users as specialist golf chairs are expensive.
Importantly, more PGA Professional coaches in the UK and internationally are developing knowledge in working with clients with a disability, which is genuine progress.
Our clubhouses do reflect wider society.
One teenage player says she hates it when she hears “ignorance and sneering from adults”, but says most golfers are friendly and she hopes to work in this industry after college.
“Better access” at facilities is the regular call.
Players want to see budget for improvements and be seen as valued long-term customers, not an inconvenience.
A friendly clubhouse is a haven
Gavin from Salisbury has 75% sight loss and thrives on the banter from the mates he plays with. He is in a supportive community and loves it.
Many golfers have a disability that isn’t visible of course, and any golfer doing the judgemental ‘tea-pot’ stance when waiting for a green to clear should consider this.
Brendan Lawlor and friends raising the profile
We are seeing more golfers with disability on TV.
This season the European Tour presents the 2021 EDGA European Tour: five tournaments for golfers with disability alongside Tour events.
Up to 20 golfers will tackle the same course set-ups as the world’s biggest names.
One such is the ISPS Handa World Disability Invitational presented by Brendan Lawlor, in Northern Ireland (July 31-August 1).
Brendan has Ellis-Van Creveld syndrome (often a shorter stature and shorter limbs) and his consistent fine scoring and high standards on and off the course are an inspiration.
The evolution of the World Ranking
The World Ranking for Golfers with Disability (WR4GD) was created by EDGA and two years ago was taken on by the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
World number nine Chris Biggins says: “Playing golf for fun is great, but when meaningful competition is on the horizon, it gives us a reason to train hard towards a goal.”
World number six Tomasso Perrino says: “We train with tenacity as athletes to climb the WR4GD.”
Many want to play in the Paralympics, and golf is bidding to be accepted into the Games in 2028.
Far more women required
All agree we need to see far more girls and women on the course.
The Rose Ladies Series has been highly supportive this year and last, offering competitive places to players with impairment in four Series events, sharing the fairways with the likes of Laura Davies and Meghan MacLaren.
Meanwhile, EDGA ‘Advocate’ Alessandra was invited to play in the LET Ladies Italian Open and said: “Our purpose was to encourage girls and women with disabilities to get out there, build courage and have fun playing golf.”
The English Open a great opportunity
A mixed field of men and women are poised to enjoy the English Open for Golfers with a Disability, at Whittlebury Park, Northamptonshire (June 23-24), organised by England Golf.
This should be an excellent event for all taking part after this last difficult year.
MULLIGAN, a second chance
The spirit, generosity and sportsmanship of these ‘Golfers First’, many who have found a second chance through golf, is summed up in the powerful documentary MULLIGAN, which has so far reached 138 million homes worldwide.
Watch this short clip and I guarantee you will want to see more of this film!