Imagine what it would feel like for an avid golfer to wake up and realize they likely would never be able to play golf again.
That extremely depressing feeling is, unfortunately, the harsh reality for many golfers each year.
One of the feature exhibit areas at this year’s PGA Merchandise Show is devoted to adaptive golf – using equipment and techniques to overcome physical and mental injuries that would keep a golfer from the course.
Anyone that plays golf knows the therapeutic benefits that are inherent in the game, such as the camaraderie of spending time with family and friends; seeing the spectacular views available at many golf courses; and the exercise.
Golf therapy offers individuals with disabilities these benefits and so much more. It offers them the opportunity to improve the quality of their lives by providing them renewed hope, a feeling of normalcy, and improved self-confidence.
MORE: How adaptive golf unlocks the game for many with disabilities
After my own accident, I received a glimpse of the unique challenges that disabled golfers face while I was on my own long road to recovery. That experience left an indelible mark and also filled me with compassion to help individuals with injuries, illnesses, and challenges by being an adaptive golf instructor and mentor to them.
According to US Census Bureau, approximately 57 million Americans (19%) suffer from some form of disability. Of that total, an estimated 18 million of them played golf before suffering their disability.
A study by the National Center on Accessibility, in conjunction with Clemson University, revealed some eye-opening statistics that suggests that there is a strong desire to play golf among the disabled population. Here are some of the highlights from the study:
The study suggests that there is the opportunity to substantially grow the game of golf by working with individuals with injuries, illnesses, and challenges and helping them stay in the game or by giving them back the gift of golf.
It also suggests that millions of new players may enjoy the benefits of the game if we give them the gift of adaptive/accessible golf. In that way, adaptive golf is on the threshold of being the next great growth segment in the game of golf.
Joe Grohman, Head PGA Professional at Navy Golf Course in Cypress, Calif. has seen the benefits first-hand golf has had on Wounded Warriors, disabled veterans and disabled non-veterans over the past 20 years.
“In my experience, there is no greater rehabilitative therapy than the game of golf,” Grohman said. “But don't take my word for it. Go to an adaptive golf clinic and see for yourself. As golf professionals, it is our call to duty to make a difference in their lives the best we can with camaraderie, support, and encouragement through golf."
In addition to being the next great growth segment in the game of golf, adaptive golf also has the potential to connect communities through golf like never seen before in the game’s history.
MORE: For stroke survivor golf provides normalcy and therapy
The Golf Therapy Movement
Over the past few years, a growing number of PGA Professionals have joined the “Golf Therapy” movement and have received special training in adaptive golf instruction and various adaptive devices.
The training covers a wide variety of disabilities and enables the instructor to be able to provide the individual with the disability the help they need to play the game. The goal is for them to reintegrate back into society and improve the quality of their life. Golf truly has the power to change people’s lives.
I believe that it is critical for every PGA Professional to receive this critical training as it will provide access to the game of golf for millions of potential golfers that previously did not believe that they could play the game of golf. I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish in Charleston, S.C. and the impact our team has been able to have in the Lowcountry improving the quality of life of veterans and others with injuries, illnesses, or challenges. One of our goals while filming the segment about PGA HOPE Charleston was to challenge PGA Professionals and other communities to follow our lead and strive to have a similar program in their area.
Personally, I cannot think of a more worthy cause than that to lend my time, talent or treasure to than to help people get back in the game.
Rich O’Brien is the Program Director for the groundbreaking PGA HOPE Charleston Program. A former college golf coach he utilized his training in sport psychology and exercise science to help him recover from a catastrophic injury while using golf as therapy. He currently also serves as a member of the Advisory Board for the National Alliance of Accessible Golf.