The Inspiring Story of Beacon College’s Golf Team
By Hayley Wilson
The PGA National Collegiate Club Golf Association (NCCGA) regional tournament at Florida’s Royal St. Cloud Golf Links in late March might have been like any other for participating club teams.
But it was an anything-but-ordinary weekend for the five Beacon College students from nearby Leesburg competing in the event for the first time.
Beacon College is the first accredited college offering four-year degrees specifically designed around students with learning differences like dyslexia, ADHD and other related conditions. Bringing athletics to Beacon was once a vision to level the playing field –– now it’s a reality.
“We wanted to change how our student athletes see themselves by building their confidence and self-esteem and helping them understand they are capable of performing at a collegiate level,” says Beacon golf coach Tony Wrice. “We’re giving them the opportunity to play a sport they love but were never picked or recognized for . . . it’s their moment and chance to shine.”
Wrice got to work. He had his student athletes practicing both indoors and outdoors, with everything from sponge balls to tennis balls. He took them to the driving range, then onto 9-hole courses, and he even developed a strength and conditioning program for them.
“Golf is not an easy sport,” adds Wrice. “It’s peaks and valleys, and it’s waves. I helped create a relaxed setting, because a lot of them already feel anxiety and struggle to control it.”
The PGA NCGGA made competing with other golf teams an achievable goal for Beacon College’s student athletes. The governing body for collegiate club golf, the PGA NCCGA’s inclusive mission is centered on ensuring that every student can play golf in college. It helps colleges start, maintain and facilitate club golf tournaments regionally and nationally, with more than 350 colleges and over 4,000 players competing within its framework nationwide.
When the Beacon team arrived at Royal St. Cloud Golf Links in late March, they were, as Wrice puts it, in total awe of the teams and schools represented. Among the likes were the University of Florida, Florida State, University of Central Florida and more.
“That was our first time going 18 holes in a tournament,” remembers Wrice. “I prepared them with their conditioning, but there’s nothing like it when you’re out there performing — the adrenaline, anxiety, all of those things. They really enjoyed themselves, and at the same time, completed something they knew they could do. They put their minds to it.”
The Beacon College team was paired with the University of Florida Gators (UF), and to call it an extraordinary experience would be an understatement. The sportsmanship and support given by the UF student athletes to their Beacon College competitors was what Wrice describes as “the greatest the experience that could ever be told” for the team’s first tournament.
On the final day, and on the final hole, a Beacon College student sank a 40-foot putt, and pandemonium ensued. A UF student athlete ran and lifted up his competitor, cheering on the Beacon College student’s performance. The stories and pictures captured that day are the highlight of Beacon College’s 2023 season.
“The team won when they showed up,” Wrice says of the experience. “I couldn’t sell them the dream. I can tell the story, but I can’t imagine what they had to deal with growing up with their differences. When they stepped out there, they showed courage. That was showing up. Then the confidence kicked in, and they realized that they belonged.
“I’m so excited that the PGA NCCGA has given us the opportunity to play, and we look forward to next season. We’re not asking for handouts. We are hands up! We understand the challenge, and we’re up for it.”
If there’s one thing that Wrice wants to make clear, it’s that the club golf team at Beacon College is here to stay, and there’s a place for everyone to play.
There are students all over the country and world who have learning differences. They’re going to find a home at Beacon College. And we’re all going to see a change in those students who never thought they’d get a chance.