It was a golf tournament much like any other.
At the same time, it was a golf tournament unlike just about any other.
There was the usual assortment of right-handed and left-handed golfers.
And there was a one-handed golfer.
Like most tournaments, there was applause from the other players, their caddies and the gallery when someone hit a good tee shot.
Not so typically, there was the same sincere, supportive applause when someone hit a not-so-good one.
Like I said, not your average golf tournament.
On Wednesday, I was privileged to act as the starter for two dozen Special Olympics athletes who competed at my home course, Midland Golf and Country Club in central Ontario.
No. “Competed” does neither the event nor the participants justice.
Watching them try their best, relishing the opportunity, just immersing themselves in the experience, put a lot of things in perspective for those fortunate enough to interact with them that day.
“They experience the same frustrations as any golfer but it seems to me they recover from them more quickly and just enjoy the overall experience,” says Serge Boulianne, Sport Manager for Special Olympics Canada.
Lorinne Russell (2nd from the left) / (SpecialOCanada)
Boulianne, who organized Wednesday’s event, said the partnership between Special Olympics Canada and Golf Canada is “huge” from a number of perspectives. Half a dozen years ago, he says, there were between 300 and 400 Special Olympic athletes across Canada who golfed. Now there are almost 1,700. To support them, the PGA of Canada has developed a dedicated course for coaching Special Olympics athletes.
“Integration is a big part of Special Olympics and there is no better place than a golf course to accomplish that. Golf also has brought us many athletes who might not have been part of our movement before but have been golfing with their parents since they were young. “
Mike Trojan can relate to that. Along with his wife and another couple in St. Catharines, Ont., they conduct a Special Olympics golf program at Chippawa, the executive-length course at Legends on the Niagara. Thanks to their dedication and the support of the Niagara Parks Commission, 22 athletes get to enjoy this experience.
Trojan’s daughter, Tess, is a Special Olympics golf success story. “We always golfed as a family and that’s how she got the bug.”
Strong play at the provincial and national levels earned Tess a spot on Team Canada which participated in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles.
“Golf Canada and the PGA of Canada really stepped up,” says Trojan. An instructor was assigned to each of the five Team Canada members for the six months leading up to the event in Los Angeles, with impressive results. Among other Canadian medallists, Tess came home with a gold.
“Golf is wonderful,” says Trojan, “because it not only gives them confidence to participate in a sport but confidence in other things—jobs, being productive members of their community, and so on.”
Ian Kirkpatrick, General Manager of Midland G&CC, was beaming Wednesday as he watched the athletes and their coaches participate in skills clinics conducted by two PGA of Canada professionals: Midland head pro Brian Urbach and Jason Bennett, head pro at nearby Oak Bay G&CC.
Kyle Koopman (SpecialOCanada)
“Golf has to change in its approach to many things in the future,” Kirkpatrick said. “We, as a sport, have to be more inclusive, more community-oriented. We have to provide opportunities for anyone who wants to participate.”
The partnership between Golf Canada and Special Olympics Canada is a giant step forward in accomplishing that challenging goal.
While Wednesday’s results show that Lorinne Russell of Milton, Ont., and Kyle Koopman of Hamilton had the lowest scores, it must be said that anyone who met these very special athletes also came out a winner.
“It just feels good to be around them,” says Bouilanne.
From my experience on Wednesday, I couldn’t agree more.