Golf really can change lives, says Ben Evans.
Until Vincent Helly was six years old, he didn’t speak at all, living in silence. The boy who didn’t talk is now an excellent golfer aged 27. He has trained in accountancy, and puts his achievement down to the loving support of his family and an inspiring teacher. Vincent says: “I think golf is a good sport for autistic people. In golf we can improve focus and can improve social interactions too.”
Despite many people’s perceptions, golf can be the most inclusive of sports—connecting sociability with competition, having fun and playing with friends, learning gradually on your own or with a coach, and all in one of today’s safest places. More help than ever is at hand to assist people with a disability to enjoy these health benefits, in a game you can play from five to whenever and there is evidence that teaching golf can help children with ADHD as a way of developing attention and focus skills.
The starting point for many is likely to involve attending a welcoming group session held by specially trained volunteers or professional golf coaches, where a fun, easy-to-learn ‘D3’ golf format offers immediate encouragement with adapted clubs, colourful targets and games that can be played in any space, including community centres, schools and after-school clubs. This builds confidence during the session, as the safe and soft balls and light clubs can be used for putting, chipping or full shots.
Kipp Popert, from Kent, was born with cerebral palsy (CP), and has achieved Number 1 status in the World Ranking for Golfers with Disability (WR4GD) and turned professional. Karl has won five G4D Tour events, highlights of which are broadcast by Sky Sports Golf all over the world.
Kipp also came second in the first ever ‘G4D Open’ run by The Royal and Ancient (R&A) at St Andrews in May, which stages the famous Open Championship. Fellow CP player Adem Wahbi from Belgium, who also has cerebral palsy, says “When I’m on the course, I don’t feel disabled, I simply see in front of me, and don’t look back.”
Erika Malmberg took part in the G4D Open at Woburn. Her sport class is ‘Intellectual 2’. Erika will tell you about the acute anxiety she feels on the first tee, how noise and visual distractions disturb her; that she will struggle to deal with her high emotions on the course (though each time she plays she is learning to control her reactions to these better). Her thoughts on the course are like walking along in the dark with a flashlight pointing here and there in panic, searching for the right path.
Ben Evans is a freelance writer and editor based in Wiltshire. Ben has written a number of recent articles on people with a disability who have thrived through playing golf.