Disability golf feature: ISPS Handa Academy Programme

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James Savage meets golf's real stars

Unfortunately, golf is not one of the easiest sports to get into.

Barriers such as cost, time and accessibility prevent people from taking the game up.

But what about those who also have to overcome physical or mental impairment? Is all being done to make the game accessible to them?

We went to Celtic Manor ahead of the ISPS Handa Wales Open to find out.

There are nearly 10 million disabled people in the UK but only a handful of teaching professionals who specialise in disability coaching.

The ISPS Handa PGA Academy Programme is one organisation giving disabled golfers an opportunity to fulfil their potential and reap the many benefits the sport offers.

We caught up with a number of disabled golfers at an ISPS Handa coaching workshop who all bemoaned the lack of opportunities and limitations of mainstream coaching.

It seems without the work of ISPS – founded by the Japanese philanthropist Dr Haruhisa Handa in 2006 – many diasbled golfers would have struggled to get into the sport seriously.

Dr Handa was inspired to set up ISPS after playing against a blind golfer who was much better than him.

The organisation has a wider aim of getting golf included in the Paralympics.

“Dr Handa realised golf was such a fantastic tool that could change the lives of people with disabilities,” said Midori Miyazaki, executive director of international affairs at ISPS.

“In order to bring back that quality of life for these people he established blind golf – then he thought this could have an even wider impact.

“We are now very excited to be associated with golfing tours around the world.

“We want to see blind and disabled golfers enjoy this experience at the highest level and be able to provide that extra help to further develop their games.

“An we want these golfers to inspire the next generation and that will make the impact even bigger so it really excites us at ISPS.”

The PGA Academy Programme was set up in 2012 and has hosted numerous workshops up and down the country delivering coaching sessions to thousands of disabled golfers.

Another aim of the scheme is to educate PGA professionals into becoming more inclusive with their training methods.
The coaching process doesn’t change whether we are coaching an elite performer or a complete beginner – everything is the same we just look at how we can adapt. “We set out to raise the profile of disability golf across the UK,” said Craig Thomas, lead co-ordinator of the programme.

“The coaching process doesn’t change whether we are coaching an elite performer or a complete beginner – everything is the same we just look at how we can adapt.

“I would encourage more pros to get involved. It’s basically doing what you do on a day-to-day basis and you will find working with disabled golfers hugely rewarding.

“And to those with disabilities, I can’t stress enough how beneficial golf can be.

“From a social aspect with golf groups and societies, there’s the opportunity to meet other like-minded golfers with disabilities.

“You may show talent and go on to play on a world stage – who knows?

“We are striving towards getting golf in the Paralympics – you may end up becoming the next Paralympic athlete.”

So it seems there could be untold numbers of disabled golfers currently missing out but also thousands of golf professionals who could benefit from a bit more diversity in their teaching methods.

Dr Handa has made a start but there’s plenty more work to be done.

Case studies
Mark Smith
Handicap: 5
Club: Littlestone

“I lost my left leg in motorcycle accident in 1992.

“I only used to play golf in societies until I read about an organisation that held tournaments for golfers with disabilities.

“I thought it was amazing that all these people didn’t let their impairments stop them.

“I played my first tournament in 1995, I then found out about other events worldwide and went on to play in places like France, Sweden, Canada and South Africa.

“I have been fortunate to win a few, accumulating over 10 wins  with the pinnacle being victory at the Disabled British Open Championship in 2010.

“I have had great support from two coaches in particular, Tim Milford from Pedham Place GC and Craig Thomas from the ISPS Academy program.

“What makes them so good is the fact they treat you like a golfer who wants to get better and not as a disabled person, making you feel as normal as possible while understanding your physical limitations in the golf swing.”

Jordan Rosser
Handicap: 15
Club: Rhondda

“I have multiple neuro and physical disabilities including autism, tourettes and hypermobility. I can’t learn like others, I need things kept basic and simple so my head isn’t cluttered.

“We tried about four or five different coaches and all of them were great at their jobs but not for my needs.

“I actually met Craig on Twitter and my first lesson with him was in an ISPS Handa session at the 2013 Wales Open.

“It just clicked and he ‘got me’ straight away.

“He has been my coach since and my golf has come on loads. I’ve dropped 10 shots in the last year.

“I play using the R&A adjusted rules for disabled golfers which allow me a supervisor on the course. I’ve written to every club in the UK asking them implement these disabled rules.

“Last year I won the Disabled Golf Association Race to Wales trophy.

“My goal in life is to become an ISPS Handa coach and help other golfers with disabilities.”

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