Pinehurst Was Poppin’!

I’ve been to Pinehurst a few times and never have I headed home disappointed … especially this time.
In past experiences, I have gone to play golf. This time, I went to watch golf; more specifically, the inaugural USGA U.S. Adaptive Open. This, however, does not mean I did not sneak into town a day or so early to remind myself how badly I need to practice. I was swiftly reminded.

For those of you who occasionally catch my ramblings, I am approaching six months with the National Alliance for Accessible Golf. In Navy terms, we’d be on our way home after a deployment, likely approaching Hawaii from the west, thinking about seeing our families again, thinking about what we had accomplished from a mission standpoint and, quite honestly, looking for some serious R&R. This has been a different kind of six months and the last thing I am seeking right now is R&R! Let’s go!

Notwithstanding the small, yet efficient firehose (aka an influential board comprised of representatives from the leading associations in golf) pointed at me to ramp me up and kick me out of the nest, I have been amazed at the sheer volume, passion, and sincerity of effort surrounding access and inclusion for individuals with disabilities in the game of golf.

Golfers with disabilities, better known as “golfers” …

Industry associations that have the ability to lead and truly create positive change …

Manufacturers whose creativity and ability to deliver solutions that allow individuals with a range of disabilities to swing a golf club and maneuver around the course is simply inspiring …

And now, a National Championship that, in a 3-day competitive experience with a significant level of media coverage, seems to have opened a lot more eyes and interest beyond those who have been putting in the work for many years and helped make this event not only possible, but highly successful. So, what’s next?

Well, there is going to be another U.S. Adaptive Open championship in 2023 in Pinehurst, that’s for sure. I’m making reservations now! There’s going to be serious multi-organizational involvement with the USGA to create a qualification process as the Adaptive Open evolves and golf is potentially on the horizon for the Paralympics. These are big things.

Now, what about the smaller things that have led to this – the grassroots programs. As is the case with any sport, adaptive or not, there are those who aspire to compete at a high level, and there are those who want to play for other reasons.

Regardless of whether golfers go down the path of competition, most golfers find their first experiences near their homes, at a club, in a park, as part of therapy, or more.

As all in the world of golf rightfully applaud, the downstream energy, exposure and momentum generated by the USGA U.S. Adaptive Open, let us work with renewed vigor on expanding and developing programs around the country with dedicated golf professionals, local and regional support, therapeutic organizations and others who wake up every morning committed to making a difference.

Dave Barton, PGA with Alliance Advisory Board Member Gianna Rojas and Board Member, Dana Dempsey

A certain byproduct of inclusive golf programming is golfers who will aspire to play at highly competitive levels and that is fantastic! However, the biggest winners will always be the individuals who thought they themselves could not play golf at all, or families who thought it was impossible for their spouses, sons, or daughters to play.

The larger the body of water, the more and bigger the fish and that results in competitors.

I like competition, and I can’t wait to see it grow even more in this space, but I’d also think in terms of, “What can we do next to stock the ocean with more fish?”

Dave Barton, PGA – Executive Director

Let’s Influence Beyond Inclusion

As I publish this note for April 2022, program registration has opened for the much anticipated Make Golf Your Thing Directory HERE and MGYT is also receiving grant applications as we speak. Click HERE to apply for a grant, but ensure you review the Eligibility and Guidelines.  The clock is ticking for grassroots programs to apply for Phase III funding to be distributed in the early summer.  

Please note, per MGYT, “The American Development Model is a movement in sport to increase participation by delivering the right experience at the right stage of one’s sport journey. With the right experience, retention in our sport is more likely and our sport grows…If you would like to be included or have your program included in the ADM program directory – as a first step – a coach or candidate program must showcase a commitment to operating programs and services in alignment with the Principles of ADM.

The World Golf Foundation and American Golf Industry Coalition (formerly We Are Golf) have created a registration process that will require programs to be very clear in their program description with “keywords” that will facilitate better search engine results when individuals are seeking programs of interest.

The National Alliance for Accessible Golf recommends all programs offering inclusive opportunities for individuals to learn and participate in golf to register and use the following descriptors for your specific program.  

First, we recommend you use the words “disability and/or disabilities” in program descriptions and additionally use “impairment” as an added qualifier as applicable. 

Second, we suggest that you specifically describe/categorize your program with one, two, or all of the following (verbatim) as this will help lend to ease of search for individuals with disabilities and better identification of the types of programs that are available.  

  1. Physical Disability and/or Mobility Impairment, 
  2. Developmental/Cognitive Disability and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder, and 
  3. Vision and/or Hearing Impairment  

The MGYT Directory is a truly inclusive effort and the opportunity to register programs serving new and existing golfers with disabilities is definitely something those of you offering these types of programs should do! Given that approximately 14 million individuals with disabilities are interested in golf, 6 million report they had played in the past but no longer do, and more than 600,000 golfers with disabilities are currently engaged in golf (Source: NGF, 2018), it is safe to say the disabled golf community is positioned to influence the game of golf, not just be included.  

That begins with telling everyone where you are and who you serve.

Dave Barton, PGA – Executive Director

From the Executive Director – Spring is Here!

As the winds from the Player’s Championship die down, and the azaleas are about to be popping in Augusta, spring brings the new golf season upon us (for those that endure winter), and ushers in new opportunities to increase participation in the game of golf, aka “grow the game”. So what’s hot?

The Alliance has been working with the American Golf Industry Coalition (AGIC), a division of the World Golf Foundation (WGF), to ensure programs that offer inclusive golf opportunities for individuals with disabilities, and the golfers who can benefit from these programs are part of the national Make Golf Your Thing (MGYT) initiative. As the MGYT website states, “Make Golf Your Thing is a collaborative effort across the golf industry to ensure the future of golf is open to everyone. This multi-faceted, multi-year campaign will work to invite more people to the sport from all backgrounds to enjoy the game of a lifetime – their way.” The WGF and AGIC have simply been incredible with the Alliance in recognizing and understanding the contributions of the segment of programs and golfers we serve. Thank you.

In the very near future, MGYT will launch a comprehensive directory of player development programs, playing opportunities and coaches to enable individuals to access opportunities most aligned with their location, skill level, disability, age and gender.  The directory will be launched through the MGYT website and the Alliance strongly encourages disability inclusive programs and coaches to register as soon as the opportunity presents itself. 

Additionally, as the MGYT March Newsletter reports, they are launching Phase III of their Grassroots Grants Program and will award $750,000 in grants “.. to support groups dedicated to increasing participation among underrepresented populations in the sport.” The Alliance recommends you review program eligibility requirements from the MGYT newsletter and consider applying should your program meet the established criteria, as the application process will begin around April 1, 2022.

As to “big events” coming up, the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games will be held in Orlando, FL, June 5-12, 2022 with golf being played at the Orange County National Golf Center. The USGA will be conducting their inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open Championship July 18-20 at Pinehurst, NC, #6.

As I close my first note on behalf of the Alliance, a thank you to former Executive Director, Steve Jubb, PGA/LM. His efforts over the past seven years to position the Alliance as the industry leader in the inclusion of golfers with disabilities in the game of golf are beyond noteworthy, recently being recognized as the 2022 Champion Award recipient by the National Golf Course Owners Association. Steve, congratulations on a great run with the Alliance and a personal thanks for bringing me up to speed so that I may continue the initiatives you have established to advance our mission and contributions to the game.

It takes a village … and golf has a lot of villages doing some amazing things these days.

Dave Barton, PGA – Executive Director