Golf Games For ALL
(A news article published by The Courier, Findlay Ohio)
By MARIAH MERCER
Countless friendships are made and many a business deal hashed out on the golf course. Between the clubhouse and the 18th hole, bonds are forged and, depending on how many sand traps one hits, fun is had.
In May, the University of Findlay and the Ability Center of Toledo hope to extend that experience to disabled people in the Findlay area. They have joined forces to present Project GAIN (Golf: Accessible and Inclusive Networks).
A project of the National Alliance for Accessible Golf, the program is designed to introduce people with disabilities to the game of golf. It pairs people with disabilities and able-bodied volunteer mentors.
Findlay's inaugural run is funded by a grant from the United States Golf Association Foundation and the Professional Golfers of America (PGA) Tour, and the PGA of America Foundation.
"The program will have 25 participants and mentors go through six to eight weeks of lessons with the Hillcrest Golf Club pro, Ed (Kotlarczyk)," explained Lori Colchagoff, Director of Disability Services at the University of Findlay and local coordinator for the program. "Each week will focus on a goal or lesson -- how to hold a club, etiquette, putting and so on."
Kotlarczyk, a PGA golf professional and owner of Findlay Hillcrest Golf Club, will teach stance, putting, wedge, mid-iron, and full swing. Budding players will also receive the opportunity to learn about, and try out, golf equipment such as adaptive clubs, single-rider carts, and adaptive accessories.
The program will also include pre- and post-program testing to assess skill levels, interests, feelings of self-efficacy and a variety of social skills.
One of the goals of the project is to determine how effective golf can be as a way to enhance the inclusion of people with disabilities into the social fabric of the community. "We're hoping the disabled participants feel comfortable on the golf course," said Rick St. Johns, president of the Toledo Area Wheelchair Athletic Association and coordinator of Project GAIN in Toledo. "This is a vehicle for community involvement."
Project GAIN is one of the first national level projects that uses golf to promote social inclusion through instruction and social activities.
The program coordinators believe golfing can be an activity entire families can participate in.
"Both Rick (St. Johns) and I golfed before our disabilities," said Mike Miles, coordinator for recreation inclusion for the Ability Center. "Golf is unique because it's a game that disabled people can easily play with an able bodied golfer."
Thanks to advances in equipment technologies and amendments to U.S. Golf Association rules, disabled golfers face less practical barriers to becoming the next Tiger Woods.
Such equipment includes specially designed golf clubs, mobility devices like single seat golf carts, automated ball teeing devices and ball retrieval aides.
A 2003 study by the National Alliance for Accessible Golf concluded that of the estimated 54 million Americans with disabilities, with a disposable income at $214 billion, only 10 percent play golf, while another 35 percent would like to play.
Course owners who do not make provisions to include disabled golfers may be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A ruling is pending with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding whether special golf carts to accommodate the disabled should be furnished to the public at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama.
Jerry Pope, a former businessman who was disabled after a 1981 car accident, filed a civil rights complaint with the federal agency in November 2004 after several years of failing to get a satisfactory response from the CEO of the firm that manages the golf course.
According to Miles, the single seat carts are both convenient to the disabled golfer and do not damage the greens.
The complaint is under consideration by the Department of Justice and a ruling is expected later this summer.
"Programs like ours would not be possible without the cooperation of open-minded people like Ed (Kotlarczyk) and Joe (Kotlarczyk)," noted Colchagoff.
Project GAIN was offered in Toledo last winter when 38 people completed the program. One participant now works for a golf course in the Toledo area. Last year's
Toledo sessions were so successful that the coordinators had to create a waiting list that included several Findlay residents.
The program also has sites in Maryland, California and Utah.
Participation is not limited to those in wheelchairs.
"We're looking for participants with a variety of disabilities," explained Miles. "We've had people with traumatic brain injuries, amputees, heart and lung transplants -- not just wheelchairs."
Project GAIN will begin on May 10 from 3-6 p.m. at Hillcrest Golf Course. Registration is required and must be completed by May 6. Space is limited.
For more information or to register, contact Colchagoff at (419) 434-5532.
Contact staff writer Mariah Mercer at: (419) 427-8494 firstname.lastname@example.org