PGA Professionals are playing key roles in helping people with disabilities that prevent or stop them from taking part in sports they love keep active by playing golf. For some, as Steven Carpenter reports, the results have been life-changing.
Cornelia Oosthuizen (right) made the headlines in September when she won gold for Great Britain in the women’s golf at the Invictus Games in Canada.
The former army major has functional impairment illness and reduced mobility, but what makes her success in Toronto even more noteworthy is that she only took up golf six months ago with the help of PGA Professional Mark Boscott.
“She was a non-golfer,” recalled Boscott, who is based at Tidworth Garrison Golf Club in Wiltshire. “Golf was identified as a good sport to aid her rehabilitation so she contacted the club and we went from there.”
Before her injury Oosthuizen had played many sports to a high standard but she had to learn everything about golf. She was a complete novice.
“We agreed to go on the journey together,” Boscott added. “So I set out from the start the challenge she faced, not only to learn the techniques and how to play the game, but also to a get a handicap and to understand the rules and constraints.”
Oosthuizen, who also won gold for Great Britain in the wheelchair tennis, finished ahead of Canadians Karyne Gelinas, who won silver, and Sandy Bate, who went home with bronze.
“On the putting green especially I watched her using the same techniques that I had shown her and I knew she was working through her methods,” Boscot continued.
“It was fascinating to watch and support someone who had spent years progressing through the army putting the same passion and mindset into learning the greatest game in the world.”
Before Oosthuizen met Boscott, she had been introduced to golf through the On Course Foundation.
Founded in 2009 by John Simpson following a visit to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court, Surrey, the Foundation uses golf to help rehabilitate wounded and injured service people.
Former European Tour player and PGA Professional David Llewellyn has been involved with the Foundation for six years and recalls Oosthuizen’s early drive to succeed.
“There’s no such thing as natural talent, it’s down to hard work,” said Llewellyn, who captained Great Britain & Ireland at the 2000 PGA Cup at Celtic Manor. “I don’t think anyone could have predicted Cornelia would win gold.
“Cornelia certainly picked up what we were doing very quickly. She played all sorts of ball sports so she had a great ability with the ball.
“When I saw her about two months later she’d improved a lot. She told me she wanted to get a handicap so she could play in the Invictus Games. We explained to her it was going
to be pretty tough but she went ahead and did, which demonstrates a great determination.”
The On Course Foundation has helped more than 700 ex-service personnel, with 76 of those finding meaningful employment in the golf industry. It has delivered around 130 events since 2010, which is how Llewellyn, pictured below, is involved by providing 25 days of coaching.
“It’s very humbling because you’re dealing with guys and girls with physical and mental injuries. All of them have their own stories and it’s very humbling.
“I’m delighted we can help rehabilitate them a little bit through golf and I get more from it than I put in.”
What helped Oosthuizen on her journey to gold in Canada was Tidworth Garrison Golf Club. Their members made her feel welcome and comfortable and other clubs across the UK and Ireland are also providing a similar setting to people with disabilities.
Mark Gibson is the current British and European Wheelchair Golf Champion. He is coached by head PGA Professional Gary Wardlow at the Spa Golf Club near Ballynahinch in Northern Ireland, where extra facilities have been made available.
“People assume if you’ve got a disability it’s impossible to play golf, but from watching Mark it’s very possible for the majority of people,” said Wardlow, who graduated as a PGA Professional from Birmingham University in 2015.
“It would be easy for Mark to stay at home on his own and not play, but he drags himself out of bed every day and has adapted his way of life around golf.
“Mark is the only player with a disability at the club but we’ve got fantastic practice facilities for him which are easily accessible. We’re also looking to secure a grant to make it possible for more people with a disability to take up the sport.”
Gibson, who also won Paralympic snooker gold in 1984, was injured in a motorbike accident near Spa Golf Club when he was 17 but that did not put him off continuing his development.
The 56-year-old spends hundreds and thousands of pounds on equipment and entering competitions each year and Wardlow is very proud of his achievements.
“He won lots of things before I began coaching him but it’s nice to see him using some of our methods and advice to win again.
“I think it’s very important PGA Professionals across the UK and the world make themselves available to coach people with a disability. I think it’s important we help promote the game and make sure people like Mark are made aware they are more than welcome here and at other clubs.”
PGA Professionals play a key role in helping people with a disability but the Association itself also provides a platform for players and Members to achieve their dreams too.
Aaron Moon (pictured below with European Tour star Tommy Fleetwood) had his lower right leg amputated after being involved in a car explosion while serving with the Royal Marines in Afghanistan more than seven years ago.
But that did not deter the 30-year-old whose ambition is to become a PGA Professional and the first PGA registered amputee on the Tour.
“The PGA has provided me with a focus for my future and they have been extremely helpful every step of the way,” said Moon, who is currently an Assistant at Bolton Golf Club. “I am 100 per cent dedicated and it will mean the world to me when I qualify.
“I have come from what is seen as one the best branches of the military, the Royal Marine Commandos, which is one big family and that is exactly what The PGA is to me - it's one big family.
"Every PGA Member I have come across treats you with the utmost respect and like a friend. The PGA is the most highly regarded institution in golf and I am proud to say I am a Member.”
Moon had enjoyed golf as a youngster but playing it again after having his leg amputated appeared an impossible dream.
However, a conversation with John Simpson changed his attitude. Golf enthusiast Simpson was the first person in the UK to be fitted with a C-Brace exoskeleton – a revolutionary bionic leg. He also used to work for IMG where he managed Sir Nick Faldo in his prime.
“John (Simpson) himself suffered polio as a child and had limited use of his leg,” Moon explained. ”He showed me I could still play the game and that, due to the handicap system, no matter your ability or disability the game is played as equals.
“My dream is to play full-time and represent The PGA with pride. I want to be able to test myself against the best but at the same time inspire others to try the game I love, no matter if they are disabled or not.
“If they can see what I have and will go on to achieve then it may just light a spark and encourage others to follow their dreams.”