Golfers defy disability to enjoy the game

Jim Gales

Jim Gales

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If I thought playing golf was hard, then can you imagine how difficult it could be if you have a disability as well?

Until I met Jim Gales MBE, founder member of the Scottish Disability Golf Partnership, I couldn’t imagine how someone who is blind or partially sighted could play the game at all.

Scottish Disability Golf Partnership at Wellsgreen, Fife

Scottish Disability Golf Partnership at Wellsgreen, Fife

However, after meeting up with members of the SDGP during their golf clinic at Wellsgreen last week, it was evident that whatever a person’s ability they can play golf and even compete at a 
high level.

Members, who come from across Scotland and the north of England, have a range of physical disabilities including injuries from accidents, heart conditions and people with amputations. Members may also have learning difficulties.

When the group gets together however, none of this matters - what’s important is their golf.

The Scottish Disability Golf Partnership was founded in 2004 and became a Registered charity in 2009.

Initially, it comprised a small group who played friendly games at various venues across Scotland.

Jim, who lives in Springfield near Cupar, said the SDGP soon got involved in regional, national and international tournaments and today the SDGP has 175 active members of all ages and over 750 associates in over a dozen countries.

Governed and operated by disabled people, he said it was the first golfing organisation in the world to incorporate anyone of any age, with a physical, sensory or learning disability, that interferes with the playing or learning about the game of golf. The SDGP is also actively involved in providing golf training for the carers, guides, coaches and supporters of disabled participants.

It hosts golf events across most of Scotland, reaching from the Highlands to the Scottish Borders and into England.

Jim, explained that he had never played golf until his eyesight worsened. He first took up a club in 1992 and with some help from Donald McKay, who was at Ladybank GC then, he slowly improved.

He said: “It was at least three years before I was able to compete properly at the game and this only came good with the assistance of regular and dedicated sighted guides.

“Over the last 15 years or so, several regular guides have been “saddled” with the responsibility of coaching me! Thanks to them I have had the chance to compete around the world, with visits to Japan and the US and Canada and numerous other golfing trips to Australia and several venues in Europe.

“I am very proud to have represented Scotland in over seventy Open, World and International Team events but, as anyone who plays golf knows, it can be the best and the worst sport in the world. From putting together a nice round one day and thinking you have cracked it, to the game biting back and producing your worst eighteen holes for many months!

“However, I have brought home nine major disabled titles, the most recent of which was in 
Germany, at the Conrad Open, Schwanhof Golf Club, Weiden.

“I have also had the honour of captaining and winning, three international Ryder Cup events the biggest of which was in Canada, where the Rest of the World squad, were victorious against the North Americans.

At home the charity relies on the financial support of sponsors including Kettle Produce as well as grants from Fife Council, golfing bodies, Scottish Trusts and other 
organisations.

However, finding funding can prove difficult, said Jim who is currently club secretary, as its not only the player who needs to have his/her expenses covered but also that of their guide and perhaps also their carer.

“We are constantly applying for funding and it can be a struggle he said, but seeing the players take part makes it all worth it. We are especially grateful to clubs like Wellsgreen who provide us with lessons at an 
affordable rate.”

The group also has 120 children, aged five to 21, who are members and they hope to build on these numbers over the next few years.

For more information visit the website http://www.sdgp.org.uk.

A word from the Professional

Working with the SDGP is both challenging and rewarding. I have been lucky enough to have worked with these players for a number of years and I keep learning from them all the time. Every single session is completely different and I have to learned how to adapt each individuals’ swings as I learn the movements that the pupil can manage. It’s not really any different from any other lessons that I do although some players have much more restricted movement than others. We then have to work together to get the club into positions that they can repeat to produce the best shots that they can manage. Sometimes have some swings that may look different from the expected textbook swings, but are repeatable so therefore are the best swings for the individual concerned.

Great for self-confidence

Kirkcaldy man Trevor Crombie has seen his golf go from strength to strength after becoming a member of the SDGP.

Trevor (36) who helps run the family business, the St Clair Tavern, said he had played golf when he was a teenager but had let it slide due to work commitments. 
However, when he heard about the SDGP getting together at Wellsgreen, just a short distance from his home, he went along to find out more. Three seasons later and Trevor’s golf has improved immensely and he even won the Order of Merit last year.
His disability, cerebral palsy, causes him to have some difficulties with balance but he said his coach, Calum Lawson, tries different techniques to build on his upper body strength.
“I have loved being involved with the SFGP. It’s really sociable and everyone’s disability is forgotten about. Calum has been great and always offers encouragement and it has been great for my self confidence.
“The SDGP has given me so many opportunties I’d never have had. I’ve now played at Dalmahoy, and the Duke’s and the Kittocks Course in St Andrews. I have also been able to get my handicap down a lot and am really enjoying being part of this group.”

Trevor, who is also a member at Balbirnie Golf Club, said he’d encourage anyone - even if they haven’t played golf before - to get involved.
He said: “I have had such a great time and met so many new people, it’s great. I also had to chance to play in the Phoenix Cup - the North America v the Rest of the World Ryder Cup which is being held in Nevada in October.

“Unfortunately I can’t go due to work commitments but I hope to get another opportunity to travel again soon.”