USGA Grant, Golf Help Small Program Blossom
January 5, 2007
By Kristin Lynch, USGA
It was hardly a scene. Just about 20 kids practicing golf on the grounds of the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children (TSRHC). A handful of instructors and volunteers were on hand, but for the most part, there was little fanfare. From the looks of it, no one would have expected this small gathering to become a nationally recognized golf program for individuals with disabilities.
That was six years ago -
to be exact. It was the first clinic of what would soon become the Learn to Golf program. It started with a handful of participants and instructors working on their games at the
- the two-acre sports park located on hospital grounds. Relying solely on the help of a few staff and community members and few resources (wiffle balls, driving nets and used adult golf clubs were the few luxuries available) the program managed without much money.
|Participants gather at a Learn to Golf clinic in Dallas in 2005.|
Since that humble beginning in 1998, however, the Learn to Golf program has served nearly 500 individuals with disabilities. It has emerged as one of the leading golf programs for this population in the nation.
Of course, as any non-profit manager knows, achieving this sort of excellence is no easy task. Were it not for the dedication and commitment of TSRHC leaders, the golf program would likely still be lingering on hospital grounds.
Dempsey The Dedicated
, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist, joined the hospital in 1997 and directs its therapeutic recreation programs and services. Although it's very much a team effort, Dempsey has been pivotal in expanding the Learn to Golf program and turning it into the exemplary program it is today.
Dempsey attended the
, where she received her bachelor's and master's degrees in therapeutic recreation.
After arriving at TSRHC in 1997, Dempsey was charged with coordinating the recreation activities for its patients that would take place at the recently developed
. To Dempsey, golf seemed like a logical offering.
"Golf is a great activity because it can be easily adapted for people with disabilities," she said. "It does well for a wide range of abilities, so it made sense to offer it as a recreational opportunity to our patients."
After the first few clinics in 1998,
, then a USGA Executive Committee member from the
area and friend of the Hospital, informed the development staff about the opportunities available for funding from the USGA. The hospital was awarded its first USGA grant in 2000 and the two organizations have collaborated on the Learn to Golf program ever since. The USGA has awarded three multi-year grants to the hospital, totaling $350,000.
"Without USGA funding and the USGA name to help back the program, we couldn't have grown as large as we have," said Dempsey. "It has been a great partnership as we continue the trend of opening the game to children who have a disability."
Similarly, the USGA is happy to support the efforts of the Hospital's Learn to Golf program, because it exemplifies the core mission of the USGA Grants Initiative - making golf more affordable and accessible for those who would not otherwise have the opportunity to play.
|From left to right: Kelly Hosch, TSRHC, former TSRHC patient Isabel Shelton, 18, of Austin, Texas, 17-year-old TSRHC patient Andrea Tharp of Cedar Park, Texas, and PGA Tour player Justin Leonard took time for a photo during at the Circle C Golf Club (Austin, Texas) during a Learn to Golf session on Nov. 5, 2004.|
"I have seen first-hand the wonderful opportunities that the Learn to Golf program is creating for children with disabilities," said
, Consulting Director of the USGA Grants Initiative and Fellowship Program. "Texas Scottish Rite does a great job in making a real difference in the lives of hundreds of kids and we are happy to be a part of such a wonderful endeavor. It is the most outstanding effort in the country to introduce kids who have a disability to the game."
The Road To Success
Armed with the funds needed to expand, Dempsey and staff relentlessly worked to create a program that would be nationally recognized for helping individuals with disabilities play golf. The results have been impressive.
To date, the Learn to Golf program has served 475 distinct children with physical challenges. It now annually operates nine Learn to Golf clinics throughout
. Players who excel in the Learn to Golf clinics are invited to participate in "Spend a Day with a Pro" clinics, which provide accelerated one-on-one training by golf professionals. To ensure continued access to the sport, the hospital generously supplies all program participants with the necessary adaptive equipment, as well as $500 scholarships to cover private lessons in their hometowns.
The hospital also works to combat golf accessibility issues by providing the necessary training and information to potential instructors. While most programs focus solely on supplying access and instruction to its participants, the Learn to Golf program also serves the recreational therapist and golf communities. Through four "Tee up for Teaching" seminars conducted each year, golf and allied health care professionals learn the proper methods for teaching golf to individuals with disabilities.
"When you look at the barriers of inclusion for individuals with disabilities, often times it's the social attitudes about including people with disabilities that is the biggest barrier," said Dempsey. "Having [golf and allied health care professionals] connected with our program and involved the way they are makes them come away with a different attitude. They have learned a little more about what these kids are capable of. Most of them walk away saying, 'Wow, these kids are doing more than I ever thought was possible.' "
More than just numbers and statistics, however, the anecdotal stories of the program are heartwarming and demonstrate the significant impact the Learn to Golf program has had on the lives of hundreds of patients.
, 17, of
, found her passion for golf when she was first introduced through a Learn to Golf clinic in 2002.
had severe scoliosis and had to wear a back brace for 22 hours a day for a year and a half. The Learn to Golf clinic was part of her physical therapy through the hospital.
With the lesson scholarship provided as a clinic participant, she enrolled in The First Tee of Greater Austin to advance her skills. She also made the varsity golf team at her high school as a freshman; she is now a senior. This past summer, she was selected as one of two 2006 RBS Achievers of the Year and awarded a $10,000 college scholarship. The RBS Achievers of the Year Awards recognize outstanding participants for succeeding in school and their daily lives as a result of their experience with The First Tee.
|Kids work on golf fundamentals at the James F. Chambers Jr. Youth Fitness Park at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children during a Learn to Golf clinic.|
, a 17-year-old TSRHC scoliosis patient, received her introduction in 2003. The program motivated her to try out, and make, the golf team at her high school, becoming the first girl to do so. This year as a senior, Tharp was selected captain of the team and will continue to play golf next year at
"I think very highly of Texas Scottish Rite," said Tharp. "It still amazes me that I started playing the sport all because of that one clinic." Tharp hopes to give back to the Learn to Golf program by volunteering at a clinic when the program expands to
Stories like these are Dempsey's rewards for her tireless efforts at making the game of golf more accessible to people with disabilities.
"Oftentimes, when you become a parent you have these visions of what your kid will do: '[Parents think] maybe they'll play sports like I did.' Sometimes, because of the disability, it causes parents to pause and say 'Oh my - now what?' Through therapeutic recreation, it's rewarding to help start that possibility-thinking again, to get parents to start dreaming again and say, 'Hey, my kid can have a social life because they'll be involved in a leisure activity; they'll be included.' The social component of inclusion in a recreational activity is just as important and meaningful."
In just six years, the Learn to Golf program has established itself as one of the most outstanding golf programs for children with physical challenges in the nation. Dempsey has been instrumental in this growth.
"The success of Learn to Golf should come as a surprise to no one who knows
," says Trey Holland, President of the
and a member of the USGA
. "She thinks of the children in this program as 'her kids.' That perspective, coupled with her total commitment to inclusion for children with disabilities is an unbeatable combination."
So what's next for this advocate for accessible golf? The National
for Accessible Golf? Nope - she already serves on their Board of Directors. The American Therapeutic Recreation Association? Not that either - she is a team leader on the organization's Accessible Golf Team.
But there is still plenty to achieve and even more strides to make in the accessible golf world.
"I want to see the state of
be the most inclusive state when it comes to recreation and leisure activities, especially golf," said Dempsey. "When people think 'accessible golf inclusion,' I want
to be the forerunner in their minds. That thinking, in turn, will hopefully flow over to other sports and activities in society as a whole. The Learn to Golf program, of course, is a big factor in making that happen."
is a second year Fellow with the USGA Grants and Fellowship Department. E-mail her with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.