October 13, 2016 Leave a comment
Special to the Alliance, Dennis Walters
Photos courtesy of the USGA
When I was eight years old, I fell head over heels in love with the game of golf. This love, which encompassed every fiber of my being from the beginning, continues to fascinate me 58 years later.
I always wanted to see how good I could get at golf and spent all my time doing so. My big dream was to play successfully on the PGA TOUR and I was well on my way as I won three state championships in New Jersey and finished tied for 11th in the 1971 U.S. Amateur. I played college golf at The University of North Texas and competed against many of those who would become some of the best players in the history of the game.
In 1974 when I was 24 years old, I was riding in a golf cart going down a steep hill. I wasn’t going fast and honestly don’t what happened, but I was thrown from the cart and dislocated a vertebrae which pinched my spinal cord rendering me a T-12 paraplegic. I have no movement or feeling below the waist. Everyone, including me, thought my golf days were over. The one thing I dearly loved to do so much was taken away from me.
Or was it?
I desperately wanted to play the game again but wondered, “how on earth would I ever be able to do this?” I had no blueprint or guidelines to follow. With the help of my family and a few close friends, I set out on an incredible journey trying to find answers to questions that had never before been asked. I started by hitting golf balls from my wheelchair, then helped invent a swivel seat on the passenger side of a golf cart. This was the breakthrough I needed to get back on the golf course. I wanted to see how good I could get at golf for the second time, this time playing sitting down. I still wanted to fulfill my dream of becoming a professional golfer.
Unfortunately, that was not meant to be. But in losing that dream, I found another one when I developed a golf show called “Golf Lessons and Life Lessons,” which are clinics and trick shot exhibitions. In 39 years, I have spoken to more than 3,000 audiences around the country, telling my story and demonstrating with each shot I hit what is possible if you are willing to work hard and persevere. And most importantly, it shows that golf can truly be a game for all. I encourage all who attend my shows to reach for their dreams, strive for excellence and to do something in their life that they thought was impossible.
In order to convince a disabled person that golf can be a part of their life, you have to first show them that it is even possible. It is also important to highlight the benefits the game has to offer. Just being in the fresh air and sunshine, spending time with your friends and making new friends, and enjoying the challenge is more than ample reason to give golf a try. It’s also something disabled persons can do with able-bodied family and friends.
But how do we share this story with the thousands of disabled persons who have yet to experience the thrill and joy of the game? By creating a campaign that shows people with various disabilities how others in similar situations are able to participate, and developing teaching techniques for the various disabilities. We should also emphasize the importance of a variety of golf experiences. It does not have to be 18 holes to be considered playing golf. Putting, chipping or hitting balls on the range, or even just playing a few holes is all part of the golf experience.
At each of my shows, I always stress the important of perseverance. If for some reason your dream doesn’t work out, get a new dream! Golf has given me dreams I never could have imagined. I believe if we all find ways to share the message of what is possible with others, we could inspire so many people to reach for their dreams.
Photos courtesy of the USGA.