Ladies European Tour professional Holly Aitchison had a glimpse at the progress being made by the ISPS HANDA PGA Academy Programme as golfers with a range of disabilities took part in a special clinic at Buckinghamshire Golf Club on Wednesday, 11 June.
Ahead of the ISPS HANDA Ladies European Masters, taking place on July 3-6 at the same venue, golfers with disabilities benefited from the help and advice of PGA Professionals Craig Thomas and Sarah Bennett, an associate member of the Ladies European Tour and the Essex Girls and England U18 East Region Lead Coach.
The ground-breaking initiative backed by ISPS Chairman and leading Japanese philanthropist Dr Haruhisa Handa, whose support for golf is founded in a belief in the “power of sport”, aims to help more blind and disabled golfers receive tailored lessons and coaching by registered PGA Professionals in the UK.
Tom Beard, Warren Clark, Bobby David, Chris Foster, Richard Foster, Hannah Harris, Nathan Hill, Richard Saunders, Ron Schwartz and Mark Smith were the benefactors of the clinic, organised with the help of the Ladies European Tour at their headquarters.
Short armed golfer Richard Saunders, the Chairman of The British Amputee & Les Autres Sports Association (BALASA), added: “I think it sends a message to everybody with a disability that you can play golf and everything is achievable. I think there needs to be more awareness and more of these golfing sessions. I think there will be local and regional events and the partners like the PGA and home unions will grasp the mettle and the message will get out there.”
LET professional Holly Aitchison said: “It has been great to come and do the clinic and see how well these guys hit the ball and putt. I’ve got a lot of respect for these guys and it makes you realise how lucky we are on tour being able to hit balls and I definitely found the blind putting a big challenge. There is a lot of respect and these guys are awesome. They hit it absolutely miles.”
PGA tutor Craig Thomas commented: “We are most grateful for the LET hosting the event, bringing together nine disabled golfers with a range of impairments from blind golfers to those with physical impairments and two with autism. We are very pleased to have been able to create some opportunities for those who are new to the clinics from all over the country.”
PGA Head Coach Sarah Bennett added: “You just have to look around today to see how everyone is interacting and enjoying the experience. It’s massively inclusive for everybody and I’m seeing plenty of smiling faces which is what it’s all about. It’s about promoting ladies’ golf and assisting golfers with disabilities.”
Next month’s ISPS HANDA Ladies European Masters is not only a wonderful opportunity to see some world glass golfers like Charley Hull, Cheyenne Woods and Karrie Webb, it’s also ideal platform for disabled people to come along with their families and have a go themselves. There will be a special PING Swing Zone behind the clubhouse next to the tented village where Craig Thomas will be giving people with disabilities the chance to try golf and anyone with a disability who fancies a crack is encouraged to come along.
Hannah Harris, who has restricted movement in her left side, heaped praise on the clinic and the work being done. “It’s been really good and I’ve learned how to putt, how to chip and how to get out of a bunker. I learned how to splash the ball out and take my time. I guess it’s a lot of practice. I would definitely like to repeat the experience,” she said.
Nathan Hill, who is blind and autistic, feels that the coaching and support has improved his life. He said: “The LET is the best tour of the year. I really love playing golf. The fact that you get to socialise with people more than normal is great and the best part is going in the bunkers!”
Chris Foster, a left leg amputee, was also impressed with the coaching. He said: “I absolutely loved it. The work that ISPS has been doing for us is absolutely brilliant and the work that Craig has put in has pushed forward the PGA programme and will only help disability golf. Hopefully in the next few years we’ll push forward with the Paralympics and we’ll go from strength to strength.”
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