It is estimated that about 60 million people in the world play golf regularly on approximately 31,000 golf courses. Currently only 10 percent of people with disabilities play golf, while another 35 percent would like to play.
The inclusion of people with disabilities in the sport was hampered for many years for several reasons. Primarily, there needed to be advocates and associations to promote the issue, adapted golf equipment was required for a variety of physical limitations and the USGA had to rethink how to adapt rules that were unequivocally fair to all players.
A small group of amputee golfers actually formed in 1954 just to play the game together. Today the American Amputee Golf Association has about 2500 members throughout the world. Eventually the association grew into regional branches: Midwest Amputee Golf Association, Eastern Amputee Golf Association, Southern Amputee Golf Association, Southwest Amputee Golf Association and Western Amputee Golf Association.
The American Disabled Golfers Association enveloped a greater portion of the disabled population and began programs specifically focused on teaching the blind, deaf, paraplegic and mentally challenged. In addition, they formed partnerships with golf courses around the country and invited sponsors to help finance the endeavor.
Then there was the matter of developing equipment that could be personally fit for specific needs. For example, golf carts needed to be adapted for paraplegic and wheelchair users, clubs and shafts would have to be individually designed, there would need to be golf grips for prosthetic devices and golf instructions would need to be developed, just for starters.
The USGA found it necessary to amend the Rules of Golf for disabled golfers. The first unsolved hurdle has been “handicapping”. It has not been possible to set criteria upon which calculations can be based to set handicap indices. Discussions are now underway with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews, Scotland, the USGA Handicap Research Team and the USGA Handicap Committee.
In the meantime, there have been rules established for blind golfers, amputee golfers, golfers requiring canes or crutches, golfers requiring wheelchairs, mentally handicapped golfers and equipment permitted conditionally for medical reasons. It basically means that golfers who are disabled have been fully validated into the game.
Many more associations have formed worldwide. Those include the Canadian Amputee Golf Association, Disabled Golf Association-Japan, South African Disabled Golf Association, Australian Amputee Golf, Queensland Amputee Golf Association, South Australian Amputee Golf Association, Ontario Amputee & Les Autres Sports Association, Physically Challenged Golfers Association, Inc., Physically Limited Golfers Association, United States Blind Golf Association and Walking Impaired Golfers of America.
The European Disabled Golf Association is represented by Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Some European countries have their own associations: Behinderten Golf Club Deutschland e.V., Scottish Disability Golf Partnership, Nederland Gehandicapten Golf, International Blind Golf Association, Swedish Golf for Disabled,
The Danish Sports Organization for the Disabled and Danish Golf Union and the Finnish Golf Union.
Considering the increasing population of golfers with disabilities taking up the game, the potential revenue to golf courses has not been lost on them. Many have made their courses more accessible as research shows that the investment is a winning combination for everyone. The National Center on Accessibility (NCA) has been working diligently with the golf industry about options and modifications.
Contact the NCA for more information on organizations, rehabilitation and recreational programs, golf instruction and US and internationally scheduled tournaments. Golfers with disabilities can relax while getting in some exercise, take in opportunities to be socially active and now enjoy their sport.