Sports has an extraordinary ability to seemingly transcend cultural, economic, and language barriers, which makes it one of the best strategies for inclusion and transformation. The global popularity of sports and its health and economic benefits make it the perfect tool for facilitating the inclusion of people with disabilities.
It’s important to recognize that athletes with disabilities can face certain social and discriminatory barriers, and unfortunately, many people still hold negative perceptions about disabled athletes. Because of the stigma, many athletes with disabilities are excluded from everyday activities that many of us take for granted, such as education, employment, social networks, and sport.
In some cultures, disabled people are still officially recognized as “dependant” and viewed as “incapable.” which further promotes inactivity and, in many cases, it can lead to individuals experiencing problems with mobility beyond their original disability.
Sport plays a significant role in lessening the stigma and prejudice often linked with disabled athletes. Sport can quite literally transform social attitudes concerning athletes with disabilities and can help to highlight their skills rather than just viewing them as “disabled.”
As a former head advisor to two international sporting governing bodies, I’ve been lucky enough to play and interact with disabled athletes. The experience of interacting with and coaching disabled athletes completely reshaped how I viewed athletes with disabilities; I was amazed at what they could do and the incredibly high level at which they could do it.
On the other hand, athletes with disabilities are also equally profoundly changed through sport as it empowers them to reach and discover their true potential. Sport gives athletes with disabilities the chance to acquire critical social skills and to become independent leaders in the broader community.
Playing sports teaches able and disabled athletes the importance of effective communication and the value of teamwork and showing respect for others.
American Disabled Golfers Association
The American Disabled Golfers Association (ADGA) operates as a non-profit 501c organization with the primary goal to give every disabled person the best chance possible to play the game of golf.
The ADGA mission statement is
“The American Disabled Golfers Association helps create handicapped accessibility to golf courses for disabled golfers. Furthermore, we provide a variety of golf-related benefits which help improve the quality of life and well-being of the disabled.”
Those of us able-bodied players who love the game of golf know just what a great sport it is; the sporting and life experiences that golf provides should also be made accessible to golfers with disabilities. The ADGA is not only involved in educating golfers in general on the importance of including disabled golfers but is also actively meeting with golf course owners, golf association members, the PGA, the LPGA, and numerous other organizations such as media outlets and the government.
The ADGA has built partnerships with numerous golf courses, country clubs, and resorts throughout the United States. With the cooperation of golf course owners and board members, the ADGA is continuing its quest to provide all disabled people with the chance to play the wonderful game of golf.
Additionally, the American Disabled Golfers Association strives to give opportunities to disabled golfers both on and off the golf course. Sponsors play a significant role in providing these opportunities, and the ADGA conducts fundraising events around the nation to help raise money for these causes.
Many golf courses run annual events that have proven to be incredibly popular with the local golfing community. Golfers have come out in droves to these fundraising events and shown their support for the advancement of opportunities for disabled golfers.
The man behind the mission
In 2011, American golfer Jason Faircloth became the first American-born player to tee it up at the Disabled British Open. Remarkably, Jason and two other golfers were the only three players in the event with Cerebral Palsy. SKY Sports televised the event internationally, which bought disabled golf into the homes of most people for the very first time
Jason finished 34th in 2011 and in 2012 placed six spots higher, finishing 28th. Apart from his love for the game, Jason has also worked extensively in the golf industry, finding employment at Lakewood Country Club, Timberlake Country Club, and Coharie Country Club, all located in North Carolina.
Jason’s love for the game has led him to volunteer for the 2001, 05, and 07 US Open. In 2002 he graduated from Sampson Community College, earning a degree in Business Administration. As a youngster, Jason was a member of the Lakewood High School Golf Team and, in 1999, was awarded with Player of the Year honors.
The United Nations and disabled sport
The influence of sport doesn’t stop there, though, as women with disabilities still face double discrimination in some cultures based on both their disability and sex.
The United Nations reports that roughly 93% of disabled women do not partake in any sporting activity. Remarkably, women only make up one-third of the total number of athletes that compete in international events. Providing disabled female athletes with the opportunity to participate in sports helps reduce negative stereotypes and unfavorable perceptions associated with disabled women.
By improving the opportunity given to disabled athletes through sports, it can also help advance programs designed to assist persons with disabilities. Programs like the United Nations, Millenium Development Goals (MDG) continue to gain traction, and the goal of introducing sports to every disabled person is closer and closer to becoming a reality. The program focuses on disabled people, particularly children and women, who historically are the two most discriminated groups.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was the first legally binding document introduced to uphold the rights of disabled people and sports. Specifically, article 30 of the convention states that “States Parties shall take appropriate measures to encourage and promote the participation, to the fullest extent possible, of persons with disabilities in mainstream sporting activities at all levels.”
The convention also requires governments and states to ensure people with disabilities have the ability to access sporting venues and stadiums either as a participant or as spectators. The convention also requires governments to ensure disabled children are given access to physical education during school hours “to the fullest possible extent.”
European Golf Association brings light to the cause
In 2018 the European Tour, together with support from the EDGA and the R&A, produced a short documentary that, in their words, “will open the eyes” of golfers globally to just how high the standard of play is amongst golfers with disabilities.
The goal of the short film was to bring a greater understanding of the game of disabled golf to all people, including fellow non-disabled golfers.
The film aimed to inspire and show others what the game of golf means to disabled golfers and how the game has brought joy to those with debilitating conditions or impairments. Disabled golfers play in high-level tournaments throughout Europe and travel as far as Australia to compete. The European Tour Production team wanted to capture the incredible level of play and beam it into the homes of millions globally.
Astonishingly, most of the golfers featured in the inspirational documentary play off single-digit handicaps. To the non-disabled golfer, it’s awe-inspiring to watch these players bomb drives, hit lazer-like long irons, and chip and putt with the skill and finesse of their able-bodied counterparts.
The European Golf Association provided full access to the Tour Production Team during the European Championship for Golfers with Disability. The Championship was held at the magnificent Troia Resort in Portugal, with a total of 75 golfers competing from 13 different nations. Golfers compete in three categories: men, women, and wheelchair.
Disabled golfer Richard Kluwen, who captured the wheelchair title, says, “People look at disabled sport: it’s important to open the eyes, and you can show them, it’s different, yes, but we can play golf like anybody else.” Belgium golfer Adem Wahbi who plays off a two handicap, said, “When I’m on the golf course, I don’t feel disabled. I just see in front of me, I don’t see down, I don’t see behind me, I just see the hole, and that’s it.”
How’s this for a story; Golfer Monique Kalkman has also won a gold medal at the Paralympic Games playing tennis and was formerly ranked number 1 in the world. Monika loves to golf, saying, “Golf is like therapy, but it doesn’t feel like therapy because you’re playing a game. You find yourself confronting this piece of nature and trying to get the best out of yourself. The level of play has grown big time over the last couple of years.”
I encourage all golfers to take the time to watch this inspirational documentary that highlights the struggles, achievements, and extraordinarily high level of play these golfers display. Watching these golfers smash drives and chip and putt while dealing with disabilities and impairments is simply awesome, and I’m confident you’ll be just as amazed as I was.
The Inspirational Stories of 5 Disabled Golfers
Up until 1983, Australian golfer, Jack Newton was one of the best golfers in the world and finished runner-up to Tom Watson in the 1975 British Open. Tragically in July of 1983, Jack lost his right arm and sustained life-threatening injuries after walking into the propeller of a small airplane. At the time of the accident, a heavy thunderstorm was underway, making conditions and visibility nearly zero.
Doctors rushed to the scene and gave Jack little to no chance of surviving the accident. However, Newton pulled through after a week in a coma and eight weeks spent in the intensive care unit.
After undergoing a long and exhaustive rehabilitation program, Jack returned to the game of golf as a commentator. Newton also turned to sports journalism, public speaking and became an accomplished golf course designer. He’s also the chairman of the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation and, in a remarkable accomplishment, taught himself to play again one-handed, getting back down to single digits.
At the young age of five, Chris foster was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy to cure his bone cancer. However, the tumor returned, which led doctors to make the decision to amputate his right leg; Chris was only nine years old at the time.
It was a devastating blow to a boy of such a young age and changed his life forever. But Chris showed incredible courage, positivity, and resolve and immediately embraced his disability, becoming one of the most inspirational golfers in the world. Not only is Foster inspirational, but he’s also the Assistant Professional at Hanbury Manor and hopes one day to become Head Pro.
Chris has the ultimate goal of being one of the leading coaches globally when it comes to disabled golf. Although Chris understands it’s going to take quite a while, he’s well and truly up for the challenge. After overcoming the devastating loss of his leg, I genuinely believe Chris will achieve his goal of becoming one of the most recognized coaches in all of golf.
Ken Green, like Jack Newton, was at the top of the golfing world and captured five titles on the PGA Tour, but that all changed one day when the motorhome he was driving careered off the road and over a cliff. Green lost part of his right leg, and tragically, his brother and girlfriend were killed in the crash.
Ken had a troubled career on the PGA Tour and was handed down a hefty fine by the officials at Augusta National for sneaking his friends into the tournament in the trunk of his car. Green was also fined for drinking beer during the 1997 Masters Tournament in which he was paired with none other than the legendary Arnold Palmer. He also battled with depression, alcoholism, and gambling and, at one stage, was close to financial ruin.
Green’s story is quite tragic as his son committed suicide, and Green himself was the victim of years of sexual abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father. Amazingly Green turned his life around and returned to play golf on the PGA Champions Tour.
Ernest Jones was a professional golfer from Manchester, England. During World War I, Ernest lost his right leg, and although you would think that would’ve ended his career, it didn’t. After returning from the war, Jones started to play again using a prosthetic leg, and unbelievably, in his first round posted 83 at the Royal Norwich Golf Club.
In 1923 Jones moved to the United States after accepting a position as head pro at the prestigious Women’s National Golf and Tennis Club in New York. Jones went on to have a celebrated career authoring two books on coaching. Ernest was awarded with the Ben Hogan Award in 1965 and, in 1977, was inducted into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame.
Manuel De Los Santos
At one point in his early years, Manuel De Los Santos was one of the most promising baseball players to come out of the Dominican Republic; however, after losing his leg in a car accident, his dreams of becoming a pro baseballer were dashed.
Manuel took up the game back in 2004, and in 2010, at the Dunhill Links Championship played off a three handicap. Manuel uses a prosthetic limb in his daily life but remarkably doesn’t use one while playing golf. Manuel’s athletic ability is still very much apparent as he displays incredible balance hitting shots off one leg. He still has his tremendous power from his baseball days and can bomb the ball a mile.