One in five Americans has a disability. More than almost any other sport, golf provides exceptional recreational, competitive and rehabilitative opportunities for those with disabilities.
With the belief that golf can enrich and empower people of all abilities, the USGA supports programs that serve blind golfers, amputee golfers and individuals with developmental challenges. For some of more than 50 million Americans with disabilities, golf has the power to change lives. The compelling story below represents a larger group of golfers with disabilities who find joy in the game.
Walter Malick thought his life was normal until a 2003 motorcycle accident cost him his left leg and caused a debilitating injury to his left arm.
It took Malick more than three years to find “normal” again. He located it in the most unlikely place – on the golf course.
Malick was looking for something more after his physical therapy sessions ended at the Edwin Shaw Rehabilitation Institute in Akron, Ohio. His search led him no farther than across the street where he was directed to the Challenge Golf Course. There he found a community of golfers playing the game despite their disabilities.
“Some guys in the program didn’t think they would ever play golf again,” said Malick. “I was one of those guys, but the program has brought me back to playing.”
The Challenge Golf Course was built in 1999 and was the first golf facility in the United States designed specifically for individuals with disabilities. Since its inception the Challenge Golf Course has been the site of Edwin Shaw Challenge Golf, a USGA-supported program.
“I was welcomed with open arms into Challenge Golf,” said Malick of his first visit to the program. Since his initial visit, few things have changed; Malick still finds Challenge Golf a welcoming haven for himself and others with disabilities.
“The program is more about encouragement than winning or losing; it’s become a fellowship of people that care about each other, and we have built friendships that go beyond disabilities,” said Malick.
Malick credits the program for much of his rehabilitation and success after the accident. “The program enabled me to do much more physically than I ever would have done. What the program really did was to help me deal with the larger emotional and mental part.”
A key to Malick’s success was his work with Ron Tristano, the director of Challenge Golf. Malick remembers asking Tristano the first time he met him, “Can you do anything with me?” Malick, who now boasts a 5 handicap, started his first lesson hitting the ball 20 yards. But he kept working with Tristano and progressed to a level where he now leads the Challenge Golf League, a group of Challenge Golfers who play regulation courses one day each week.
The Challenge Golf program brought back more than golf to Malick’s life. It brought back “normal.”