PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (Nov. 8, 2011) -- PGA Master Professional Dr. Eric C. Wilson of Port St. Lucie, Fla., who has coached Special Olympics athletes for more than two decades, has been named the recipient of the Conrad Rehling Award for his contributions to the growth of Special Olympics Golf. Wilson will be honored Nov. 8, at the South Florida PGA Awards and Hall of Fame dinner at Parkland Golf & Country Club in Parkland, Fla.
Wilson, 64, a native of Memphis, Tenn., and who was elected to PGA membership in 1992, is in his second year as executive director of golf operations at the Keiser University College of Golf in Port St. Lucie. He began training and coaching Special Olympics golfers in 1991, the same year that he conducted a clinic in Phoenix, Ariz., and met the late Conrad Rehling.
"To receive this honor is almost beyond words," said Wilson. "Coach Rehling was a dear friend and we are always close in spirit. His reach goes beyond Special Olympics. He was able to interact with athletes from all sports within Special Olympics, and they all loved him."
Due to a scheduling conflict in the selection process, Wilson is the 2010 recipient for an award that originated in 2005, when Memphis' Jesse Weeks garnered the honor. Wilson is a 1968 graduate of Southwestern at Memphis College, and went on to serve 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1991, he originated one of the country's first organized Special Olympics golf programs in Arizona, working alongside Troy Greisen, then the Arizona Special Olympics director of training. Wilson became Arizona's first Special Olympics director of golf in 1992, and served until 1996.
Wilson began his professional golf career in 1989 at Country Meadows Golf Course in Peoria, Ariz., before accepting a position in 1993 as PGA director of golf at Sun Country (Ariz.) Country Club. In 1996, he established the first Arizona campus of the San Diego Golf Academy in Chandler, Ariz., before moving later that year to Carlsbad, Calif., to run the flagship campus of the Academy. In 1997, he moved to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to establish the Myrtle Beach campus of the San Diego Golf Academy, where he remained until 2008. In 2008, Wilson became the president of Golf Learning Systems in Myrtle Beach before moving to his current position in September 2009 at Keiser University College of Golf.
He was an integral part of Special Olympics Golf gaining "medal status" in the 1995 Special Olympics World Games Golf Tournament. Wilson has served as Rules Official at three Special Olympics World Games tournaments in 1995, '99 and 2003.
"Something I tell everyone who wishes to work with Special Olympics golfers is that 'If you can't hug in public or cry in public, don't volunteer for Special Olympics Golf, because, at some point, you will do both."
Wilson and his wife, Marilyn, have traveled throughout the nation and to South Africa to train Special Olympics golf coaches and volunteers, and helped edit and develop the Special Olympics Golf Training program authored by Donna White.
Currently, all 52 U.S. Special Olympic Programs offer golf training and competition, with more than 14,000 athletes in North America. The program also is offered in more than 50 countries worldwide.
About Special Olympics Golf
Special Olympics Golf, part of a worldwide sports program for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, offers five levels of competition for athletes with different ability levels. Ranging from individual skills competition to alternate-shot team play to individual stroke play, Special Olympics Golf allows athletes to grow in the game as they gain experience.
About the Conrad Rehling Award
The Conrad Rehling Award, first presented in 2005, honors the late PGA Master Professional who followed a successful collegiate coaching career at Florida and Alabama by transforming his retirement into inspiring PGA Professionals to give back to the physically challenged. Rehling died in April 2007 at age 87.
The founding father of the Special Olympics Golf movement in 1988, Rehling spearheaded The PGA of America's efforts to introduce golf to Special Olympics. The Association and its 27,000 men and women professionals have dedicated countless hours, services and funding to the growth of Special Olympics Golf.
Conrad Rehling Award Recipients
2005 - Jesse Weeks, Memphis, Tenn.
2006 - Steve Carson, Oklahoma City, Okla.
2007 - Jeff Beaudry, Sandy, Utah
2008 - Tom Addis, Beaumont, Calif.
2009 - Frank Selva, Orange, Conn.
2010 - Dr. Eric Wilson, Port St. Lucie, Fla.
About The PGA of America
Celebrating its 95th year, The PGA of America has maintained a twofold mission of its founders: to establish and elevate the standards of the profession and to grow interest and participation in the game of golf.
By establishing and elevating the standards of the golf profession through world-class education, career services, marketing and research programs, The PGA enables its professionals to maximize their performance in their respective career paths and showcases them as experts in the game and in a multi-billion dollar golf industry.
By creating and delivering dramatic world-class championships and exciting and enjoyable promotions that are viewed as the best of their class in the golf industry, The PGA of America elevates the public's interest in the game, the desire to play more golf, and ensures accessibility to the game for everyone, everywhere. The PGA of America brand represents the very best in golf.