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Courtney Cooper

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Going For The Green

Reprinted from SNS May 2018

Specially designed carts and a handful of organizations make it easy for people with disabilities to get into the swing of adaptive golf

Up until five years ago, 53-year-old Roger Sack had never played golf. 

Then, on a road trip, friends asked if Sack, who has a C3-C7 incomplete spinal-cord injury, wanted to ride along in a golf cart with them to join in on the fun. He told them, “No way.” The Lake Mary, Fla., resident and Army veteran was going to play, too. 

However, a golf course that wasn’t accessible pitted him with some frustrating problems and made for a challenging day. 

Sack had to drag his wheelchair beside the golf cart, transferring in and out of his chair to hit the ball. He couldn’t roll his chair onto the green to putt. So, when he putted he had two choices — if his shot was within 3 feet of the pin, he got a one-putt shot or he could putt from the edge of the green or the fringe. Sack played 18 holes, finishing 11-over par. 

“I’d have a 30- to 40-foot putt just for the sake of putting,” Sack says.

Going Solo

Sack wanted to continue playing, so he looked into adaptive golf. He started researching devices to help him play and found two carts: the SoloRider (solorider.com) and the ParaGolfer (professionals.ottobockus.com/Paragolfer). He bought two SoloRiders, or single-rider golf carts designed for wheelchair users, right away. That’s how he first learned more about how to play the sport. 

The SoloRider’s weight is evenly distributed on all four tires with a 250-pound weight limit and a 50-pound golf bag on the front. It also features a 230-degree swivel seat with an electric stand-up mechanism and seat and chest belts to keep the golfer strapped into the cart. 


A director of operations at Solo-Rider, Eric Hatch has sold the carts since 2009 and says the seat and chest belts function like a seat belt in a vehicle. The SoloRider runs on three 12-volt batteries and also has a state-of-the-art four-quadrant braking system. Instead of a steering wheel, it has a handlebar setup. 

You can also drive the cart on and off the green because of its low weight, and you can take it up to a 32-degree slope before a visual warning appears to tell you you’re approaching danger. 

“There isn’t anything else that can actually get you around the course, in and out of bunkers and get you able to drive it on the green,” Hatch says. “Most golfers, as they get older, realize there are more benefits of the game of golf, not so much competitive play but camaraderie that you get to [experience] and when you meet new people. It’s probably better than any medicine.”

Hatch had dealt with a handful of injuries from motorcycle racing over the years. He’d broken his back twice, his left leg twice and his left arm once, all of which stopped him from playing golf for eight years. But he loved golf. And as luck would have it, a local golf pro stepped in and helped him learn how to swing again without so much pain. People are just as important to him.

“When I get a phone call from somebody, it might be that they’re ordering a five-dollar part. But it might be an hour-and-a-half, two-hour story of their life and how they came to the point of their injury and hadn’t used such a device. That story is important to me,” Hatch says. “And I’ll definitely be here to always hear that story.”

Sack’s story didn’t just stop at the SoloRider, though. 

Standing Cart

After a few years, Sack tried out a ParaGolfer, an all-terrain wheelchair that lifted him from a seated position to a standing position. That really made a difference for him, especially with the ability to stand up and have unrestricted shoulder movement. 

“The ParaGolfer just changed my life as far as golf because I was able to hit the ball standing up,” says the 53-year-old Sack, who was injured in 1990 during a training accident in the Army when he wrestled a guy twice his weight. “It was the first time I stood up since I had been hurt in '90, so it was a big difference to me. But being able to use the club properly, I finally got proper instruction and played at least five to six days a week.”

Sack says other athletes interested in using a
ParaGolfer should monitor their blood pressure if they use the cart. He acknowledged although he had fun, it was challenging because of his autonomic dysreflexia, and the change in elevation made his blood pressure drop. 

“It’s one of those things, you want to jump in the chair, you want to stand up and you want to hit a ball. It’s that exciting. It’s like riding a roller coaster. You want to get in that seat and go for a ride,” Sack says. “It’s simpler on the shoulders because you don’t have to push, simpler that you don’t have to carry a bag. It’s easier to operate. Your clubs are right there beside you. You can choose and [think], ‘Is this your pick?’ It’s also golf-course friendly, and it’s small enough that you can put it into some vans, some trucks and small utility trailers, so it’s easier to take with you versus a golf cart.”

Organizations Chip In, Too

Besides the two carts, there are also a handful of organizations, including the United States Adaptive Golf Alliance, the Adaptive Golf Association, Disabled Sports USA, Stand Up And Play Foundation and the Adaptive Golf Academy, which all help interested adaptive golfers get started and provide help and information. 

David Windsor runs the Adaptive Golf Academy in Kennesaw, Ga. A PGA of America Class A member and former PGA club pro at Foxfire Golf Club in Sarasota, Fla., the full-time teaching pro is considered one of the country’s top experts in teaching adaptive golf and has instructed lessons and coordinated golf clinics on a weekly basis since 2000.

At a March adaptive golf program event at Top Golf in Atlanta, Windsor met a new golfer who wanted to learn more about the sport. So, Windsor pulled up a chair and started talking to him about the sport, along with his interests and his life. Then, they went to work.

Windsor shook both the new golfer’s hands and determined his grip pressure, figuring out what type of grip and glove — loop or Velcro strap — he should use. 

Windsor had him swing a club without hitting a ball to check his range of motion. They cracked some jokes and kept his mindset upbeat. 

“I let them have a chance to figure things out themselves. I don’t hover. I let them hit. I don’t try to overteach,” Windsor says. “It’s a pretty good recipe. You get people really excited about the next time, looking at the possibilities.”

Then, the clinic group eats lunch together, and the players talk to their instructors about what they’d like to work on during their playing day. If they need assistance to get on the course, they can work with a physical therapist at no cost. 

“What we’re building here in this whole program is a model program for other states and other communities to adopt. You need a leader to help coach it. You need a golf facility to get behind it. You need local sponsors to help cover the fees, simple stuff. Some equipment, some lunches,” Windsor says. “We just want to start making our mark and replicating these things consistently, and we’re starting to do that.”

 

To read more about this, order May 2018 SPORTS 'N SPOKES, Click Here.
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Going For The Green

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