Teaching Special Olympics Golf
By: Lee Koukes
USGTF Member, Chatsworth, CA
A few years ago, I became acquainted with a little girl and her grandfather. They had been on the driving range many times and I was aware that the little girl had a handicap. The grandfather was so dedicated and the little girl so determined, that I stopped to see if I could be of any help. Amber had no use of her right hand and arm, and even though she was swinging with her left hand and arm, she was still using a right-handed person’s stance.
We tried a few things, and it soon became apparent that she had pretty good control using her left hand and arm, but using the left-handed person’s stance. Right then, I decided that I wanted to work with this little girl even more. After a couple of weeks, I got her a new set of golf clubs that I had specially made and tailored for her capabilities. I gave her lessons every Monday afternoon for several months and the results and progress were amazing.
Her grandfather and I took her out on the course one day to play a few holes and we couldn’t believe what we were witnessing. While she could only hit the ball 15 to 20 yards or so, she was right in the fairway every time. She was sinking putts that even I had trouble with. What a transformation!
I learned that Amber was involved in Special Olympics Gymnastics. Being a curious person by nature, I decided to inquire around and see if there were any Special Olympics for golf. After several phone calls to various areas, I finally was put in touch with a local chapter in Ventura County, California and called to see how I might get Amber qualified to play in some tournaments in the area or if they even had anything organized.
I was told that there were a number of people with various handicaps who would like to learn to play golf but there just wasn’t anyone who could teach them. I told them what I had been doing with Amber and let them know that I would certainly be interested in working with them to start a golf program locally.
Since they did not have a formal program organized, I spoke with my General Manager, who was very supportive of the idea and offered to give us the use of the driving range, golf carts when we went out to play a few holes, free golf balls, etc. We have a group of 12 athletes who range in age from 11 to 28. We have a tremendous amount of fun and all of this has been observed by others who have generously come forward and volunteered to assist with these fine young athletes. The volunteers are not only former and present students of mine, but golfers who have observed and heard of what we have been doing and wanted to get involved. I am especially proud of the teenagers who have been my students and are on the high school golf team – they have volunteered to give something back to the community and really look forward to coming out on Thursday evenings to help with our Special Olympics Team.
My ultimate goal is to have my Special Olympic Golfers practice at UCLA one day, where a big Special Olympics Event takes place every June.
I cannot begin to tell you what a rewarding experience this has been for me, when I look at the progress that each of the athletes has been able to achieve and I see that look of accomplishment and satisfaction on their faces, along with the joy their parents have voiced. It really makes me feel very fortunate to be a part of this. Maybe in a very small way, I really am making a difference.
Many thanks to the USGTF. Without the excellent training I received, I would not have had the confidence to undertake this task.
If you have any questions and would like to start a program like this in your area, please send me an email or fax so I can get in touch with you. It can be frustrating at times, but the rewards far outweigh the challenges. My fax number is 818-885-6044, or you can e-mail me at CandLinLA@aol.com.