Tralee Institute and Castlegregory lead the way for autistic golfers

Ivan Morris


Ivan Morris


Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris

TRAWLING the web, I came across this anonymous, well-worth re-telling, food for thought: “One of my friends asked me: Why do you pay so much money for your kids to do all of their various sports?

“Well, I have a confession to make; I don't pay for my kids to do sports.

“Personally, I couldn't care less about what sport they do. I pay for those moments when my kids become so tired they want to quit but don't.

“I pay for those days when my kids come home from school and are "too tired" to go to training but they go anyway. I pay for my kids to learn discipline, be focused and dedicated.

“I pay for my kids to learn to work with others and be good team mates, gracious in defeat and humble in success. I pay for my kids to learn to deal with disappointment, but still go back next week to give of their best. I pay for my kids to learn to make, and accomplish, goals.

“I pay for my kids to respect, not only themselves, but opponents, officials and coaches. I pay for my kids to learn that it takes hard work and practice to create a champion and that success does not happen overnight.

“I pay for my kids to be proud of small achievements, and to work towards long term goals. I pay for the opportunity my kids will have to make life-long friendships. I pay so that my kids can be out on the playing field instead of in front of a screen.

“I pay for the opportunities that sports provides my kids to develop attributes that will serve them well throughout their lives and also give them the opportunity to bless the lives of others. I think it is a great investment!"

I'll bet it is! What wonderful words but if your child has a disability, golf would not be the first sport to come to mind as the best for them to pursue?

Nor is golf known for its inclusivity or accessibility.

Despite such difficulties, a trailblazing programme that is concentrating on introducing children with autism to golf, organised by Tralee IT and supported by UNESCO and the Ernie Els Foundation, is on-going at Castlegregory Golf Club.

Fourteen young people with autism from all over Kerry and beyond have taken 'to the golf.'

One mother, wishing to remain anonymous, drives for two hours for her son's weekly, one hour lesson with specially trained PGA pro, Adrian Whitehead.

“It does my son so much good, we could not possibly miss it!" She told me. I would never have thought that golf would be suitable for young people with Autism.

“My erroneous impression was that people with Autism would not thrive in unfamiliar surroundings, which is one of the essences of golf. (Golfers are constantly finding themselves in unfamiliar places!)

Because team sports can cause people with autism much anxiety due to complex social situations, spatial awareness difficulties, and having to deal with a lot of stimuli (players/ball moving at speed, instructions from the other players, coaches and parents) a youngster with autism is often left feeling overwhelmed, inept, frustrated and deflated.

In fact, solo pursuits are much better than team situations.

Golf is organised with an ethos of solidarity and quietness; containing natural elements that make it an effective therapy for more than just individuals with autism.

Learning golf builds self-worth and confidence, while providing new opportunities to develop friendships, relationships and deeper ties with the outside world. Golf is rooted in the concept of 'only you and the ball.'

Grooving one's swing by repetition, suits those with autism ideally. Golf courses are usually located in serene, natural environments away from noise and chaos. It would be hard to find a more tranquil and scenic location than Castlegregory Golf Club.

It's one of the courses I love to visit whenever I can.

If a person with autism takes to any sport, it is in their nature to practice meticulously. Constant practice always brings inevitable improvement.

Improvement makes every golfer feel happy. It's not too often that someone with autism feels triumphant but the sound of the ball dropping into the cup or, the satisfaction of smacking a drive down the middle of the fairway, on which all golfers thrive, is theirs to experience and enjoy just like any golfer.

When a shy smile of satisfaction is the result of a good shot, any parent looking on will shed a tear. It's a feeling that every golfer will relate to understand and be happy to share.

If you require further information, please contact: Edel Randles, UNESCO Chair Strand Leader Civic Engagement, Dept. of Health & Leisure Studies, Institute of Technology, Tralee, Co Kerry, V92 CX88. Phone +353 66 7144198. Skype: edel.randles. Twitter: @randles_edel

Marian Riordan, the highly-thought of PGA professional at Ballykisteen Golf Club, is qualified to coach would be golfers with autism.

She does it individually but is willing to hear from schools or organisations interested in sending small groups to her. Contact Ballykisteen GC 062-32117.

Words of the Wise

Why am I not surprised that the Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI), a member of the European Disabled Golf Association, has (so far) failed to offer any initiatives or practical supports for disabled golfers in Ireland that I am aware of such as promoting a National competition for Disabled Golfers organised by their partners, the GUI or ILGU?