Inclusion in Golf—what is it really?

By Gary Robb, Grants Coordinator

A lot of folks that I speak with, talk about their inclusive golf program, but I find that in many cases the program that they are describing falls short of real inclusion.  So, we thought we would try to help readers understand what a fully inclusive golf program looks like.

First, merely having a golf program that involves people with disabilities, does not necessarily make it an inclusive program.  It probably is a really good start and programs that include people with disabilities in golf should be applauded for their efforts.  The long term vision, however, of any golf program that includes people with disabilities should be one that in no way distinguishes or separates people with disabilities with those without disabilities.

Inclusion can be described as “a relation between two classes that exists when all members of the first are also members of the second”. In other words, all people should be freely and openly accommodated without restrictions or limitations of any kind. To be fully inclusive the golf program and its staff will need to make systematic changes in attitudes and perceptions about whom people with disabilities are. Inclusion means change!  For example, inclusion means much more than just having people with disabilities involved in the program. It means much more than insuring that the physical environment is accessible.  It really means that those with disabilities are seamlessly involved in an ongoing program that includes people without disabilities.  That is not to say that those with disabilities will not require some modifications and/or accommodations, but that the accommodations simply become part of the program to facilitate success for all.

We recognize that full inclusion is a process and that it may not always be able to be achieved immediately.  However, the goal should always be full inclusion. You may not reach that goal quickly or perhaps ever, but without that as your ultimate objective, your program will never be as inclusive as it can be.

In thinking about advancing your inclusive golf program, you will really need to think out of the box and cast away old methods and perceptions that you may have that will limit your ability to create an inclusive golf program.  It is of utmost importance that you focus on the individual abilities and NOT on the disability. People with disabilities are far more like people without apparent disabilities than they are different.

The goals of the program really need to be individualized to maximize the potential of all participants.  If two individuals are hitting seven irons on the practice range, (one with and one without disabilities) the goals for distance, direction and proficiency may be quite different.  However, the key to inclusion relies on none of these metrics. The key is that they are participating side by side and individually encouraged to reach their potential.  More importantly, facilitating interaction and mutual encouragement between the two participants will be what makes this an inclusive activity.  This approach should be carried over to all aspects of the program.  The social aspects and relationships of the program are critical to success of an inclusive golf program.  If participants without disabilities are encouraged to try new equipment, so should the participant with a disability.  If the participant with a disability is offered more breaks or refreshments because of their ability, so should the participant without a disability. The Instructional staff should always include participants with disabilities in their interactions.  If an instructor invites a participant without a disability to go to the snack bar for a drink, the participant with a disability should also be invited. Sometimes these types of interaction are more important than the actual instruction. There should be no difference in how participants with disabilities and those without move through the program.

There may need to be a few considerations that will enhance your success in implementing an inclusive golf program.  These considerations might include:

  1. Adjustment of the pace of the program. People with disabilities could sometimes require extra time to complete some tasks.
  2. The ultimate skill goals will vary from participant to participant. This is no different for people with and without disabilities.  Be careful to not underestimate potential or to measure success of the program by reaching for unrealistic goals.
  3. In some cases, additional personnel and equipment modifications will enhance the program and make it easier to achieve success.  The more the staff understands participant needs and abilities prior to initiating a program, the more likely they will be in having a successful program.

Building an inclusive golf program is not complicated and should not be difficult to achieve with the proper planning, and most importantly, the right attitude.  There are many resources available to assist you in developing an inclusive golf program.  Contact the National Alliance for Accessible Golf for more information or assistance.