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A few weeks ago, I watched The Greatest Game Ever Played with my children. I hadn’t seen the movie in a while, and it was a strong reminder that golf was not always a game for everyone.
Most people might not realize how the growth and changes in golf have allowed players of all skill levels and incomes to enjoy the game.
This got me thinking about those who are golfing with a disability and how golf has changed to accommodate everyone from young children to super-senior golfers.
As a teaching professional, I’ve worked through some pretty distinct challenges with golfers with arthritis, a tremor, deaf golfers, players with cerebral palsy, down syndrome, autistic golfers, and more.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover some of the best adaptive golf tips and equipment to improve your golf game.
What is Adaptive Golf?
Adaptive golf is a form of the sport that has been modified to be more accessible and inclusive for individuals with various types of disabilities. It incorporates different techniques, specialized equipment, and certain modifications to allow people with disabilities to play and enjoy their golf game.
The ultimate goal of adaptive golf is to make the sport inclusive, enabling anyone to enjoy the game regardless of physical or cognitive challenges.
Sometimes these changes are as simple as a larger golf grip, and other changes are a bit more involved. The most important factor here is that golf technology and equipment has changed in order to make the sport more inclusive.
Types of Disabilities
Golf requires a lot of skill in a variety of areas. Therefore it’s easy to be impacted by almost any disability or impairment.
Some of the most common disabilities that we see golfers struggle with are:
- Physical impairment
- Balance and coordination
- Multiple disabilities
I would encourage anyone who has a disability or a friend with a disability to be open-minded about golf as a possibility for a sport to play. The game is incredibly more adaptive than other sports explaining why golfers of all ages can enjoy it.
Adaptive Golf Stories for Inspiration
Before I get into my favorite tips for adaptive golf and golfing with a disability, here are a few stories of students and friends that have inspired me through the years.
Deaf or Hard of Hearing
When I was younger, I babysat for a young boy who was deaf. He had cochlear implants that certainly helped him to hear a bit, but communication was still difficult. After getting to know him,
I told the parents I would love to teach him to learn golf.
We worked on a routine to communicate. During a golf lesson, you can easily become focused on what you are doing and want to keep hitting golf shots. He knew that after each shot, he had to stop, look at me for feedback, and then we could make a lot of progress.
He was an incredibly talented golfer and sold me on the idea that golfers with hearing loss can fully enjoy the game.
I worked with a retired doctor who had a tremor in his hands. He was a great player (single-digit handicap), and this tremor made him believe he would never play golf again.
We changed his pre-shot routine, got him fitted for a new set of golf clubs that fit his new strength level, and used jumbo grips on his golf clubs. These adjustments made it easier for him to feel and grip the golf club.
I’m not going to tell you that he had it easy, but he was able to play well and never had to quit the game.
Golfers Recovering From Surgery
If you spend enough time around the game of golf, you will meet people with knee and hip replacements quite often. Helping golfers come back to their game after these life-changing surgeries was always one of my favorite things to do.
We start with chipping and putting and moving to the larger swings while paying close attention to mobility and rotation. Balance is key here, and staying on your feet is so incredibly important.
Goals need to change slightly, distances have to be adjusted, and some positions in the setup (feet turned slightly out to release pressure) also have to be changed. However, golfers recovering from surgery can typically become the player they once were or better!
8 Essential Tips to Improve Golfing with a Disability
The best tips to improve golfing with a disability will depend on the disability you are dealing with. However, here are some things that I have found to be quite helpful and accommodating.
Through the years of working with all different types of players, these tips have helped me to see the most progress.
Adaptive Golf Equipment Testing and Configurations
Custom golf club fitting is an important part of the process for any golfer, disabled or not.
However, golf club fitting professionals have a wealth of information regarding how golf equipment can be configured to help a player with a disability.
Many local club fitters will work with you specifically on what you may need, but as a whole, PING does an incredible job with an adaptive golf fitting. They have made a commitment to this process, and you can read some of their adaptive fitting stories for inspiration.
Technology Can Make All the Difference
Technology is changing every single day for golfers. If you have a disability, don’t be afraid to take a competitive edge regarding golf technology.
Items like golf rangefinders and GPS units can make the game easier; in addition, golf simulators can help players enjoy the game from a stationary location.
Set the Expectations
Stop thinking that the game of golf will look different for you because of your disability. I promise you the game of golf looks different for everyone!
Your expectations should match your ability and what you want to get out of the game. If that means becoming a scratch golfer, that’s great. If it means getting a ball up off the ground, that’s fine too.
Set your goals and reach them, regardless of what golfers around you are doing. This is a very individual sport.
There is More Than One Tee
Most golf courses have at least three tee boxes. However, the course I play has six different tee boxes. Take advantage of these different locations and move to a tee box that is more accommodating for you.
You should be allowing yourself to shoot a good round; that is what those extra tee boxes are for!
Some courses even have US Kids tee boxes with markers or plaques in the fairway to show you where to tee up. These can be used for disabled individuals as well.
Golf Courses Will Make Accommodations
Golf courses are surprisingly inclusive. One of the best ways to get the accommodations you need is to talk to the professionals around you about the disability you are struggling with when playing golf. They have likely seen similar issues in the past and will be happy to accommodate in any way they can.
One of the simplest but most effective accommodations is a handicap flag for your golf cart. This flag allows you to take the cart closer to the green, ensuring you can decrease the number of steps you are taking on the course.
Golf Looks Different to Some
What golf looks like to you is likely not what it looks like to others. I’ve had to learn this myself in teaching my autistic son to learn to play the game.
Whenever I teach young kids to play golf, I focus on hitting great shots, having fun, and ignoring their scores for as long as possible. I tried to do this with my son, but it didn’t work.
He’s high functioning and incredibly smart, and he wants all the numbers and stats. I can’t stand that he’s so focused on the numbers at such a young age (he’s 9), but this is what helps him to LOVE golf.
It’s made me step back and realize that golf looks different to him than it does to me. Of course, I care about numbers, I’m a golf professional, but I see so much more than that. Not for him, not right now.
You Will Have a Strength
Humans are incredible, and I’ve seen firsthand how some golfers who have to make adaptations to certain areas of their game are able to thrive in other areas.
For instance, I once met a young man with one arm. I assumed that he would struggle to get the same distance as other players, and boy, was I wrong. His golf tempo and timing were incredible, and he hit the ball incredibly straight and far.
To this day, I think having one arm helped his golf swing stay more centered and controlled, something we all can learn from.
My son, who I mentioned above, has an incredible ability to read greens. He sees the break and the slope, and one of his favorite things to do is pick the furthest spot on the green from the hole and show us how he can read the green.
I would prefer to be about two feet from the pin with no breaks to read!
Golfers with disabilities will all have hidden strengths; find those and build on them!
Find the Right Foursome
This last tip goes without saying, but always find people that support your golf game.
Sometimes adaptive golf takes a little longer; find a group that supports you and helps keep the pace of play moving.
Disability or not, it’s much more fun to have people rooting for you than against you!
Adaptive Golf Equipment to Improve the Game
Golf equipment that works best for your game is going to vary depending on the disability that you have.
Here are a few of my favorite gadgets for various disabilities when playing golf.
Golf Rangefinder with Stability
Laser rangefinders can be helpful in zeroing in on which club to hit. However, if your hand is in any way shaky, you may want to consider something like the Bushnell V5.
Golf rangefinders help stabilize and zero in on the pin. There are varying price points on rangefinders depending on your must-haves.
In addition, something like a Voice GPS Rangefinder can eliminate the need for a rangefinder and give you an audio output of the distance to the center of the green.
Launch Monitor with Voice
The Voice Caddie Rangefinders are not known for being as accurate as anything like a TrackMan, but for the price, they are very highly regarded.
A voice golf rangefinder will give you the external output of your yardage without stopping, looking at a phone, bending down, or even reading what the launch monitor says.
Teeing the golf ball up can be a difficult challenge for some. Luckily there are automatic dispensers to make driving range practice a little more accessible.
Golf Grips and Gloves
The Bionic golf gloves are a great option for any golfer that has pain in their hands or has trouble with arthritis. The thicker glove makes it much easier for hands to hold on to the club without pain and won’t impact play.
In addition, Jumbo Golf Grips can also help with any type of arthritis or hand pain.
If you have varying needs, you may want to check out our golf grip article and buyer’s guide.
Single Rider Carts
Some people who use wheelchairs have been able to come up with solutions like single-rider golf carts and scooters that make a round of golf possible. I recommend stopping in at your local golf cart dealer to see their ideas and solutions.
With so many communities now allowing golf carts to roam the streets, many more possibilities exist.
Junior Golf Equipment
For junior golfers with disabilities, the equipment is often a bit heavy, and the golf ball is quite small.
Look for options for larger head golf clubs and even play with a tennis ball; transitioning to the real equipment can happen at any point.
How to Be Supportive to Adaptive Golfers
Golf is a challenging game, isn’t it? When you throw in a disability on top of that, it gets even more difficult.
Here are a few ways to be accommodating and helpful to adaptive golfers.
- Be helpful, but not overly helpful; chances are people with disabilities have been dealing with it their entire lives, and they are quite independent.
- If you come across a situation of slow play because of an adaptive golfer, consider going around the player. Yes, you may end up playing 17 holes, but consider what matters here.
- If you have disabled friends that maybe can’t play as part of your regular Saturday game, ask them to play one afternoon or on a Sunday, they may not get as many invitations as you do.
- Finally, you never know if the reason a golfer in front of you is struggling is that they are dealing with a disability; try to have patience; we are all just trying to play our best game.
Adaptive Golf Programs & Tournaments
Here are a few adaptive golf tournaments or programs to consider if you or your friends and family could benefit from them.
Final Thoughts on Adaptive Golf
I’ve always believed that golf is one of the best sports for people with disabilities. So many accommodations can be made since there is no such thing as a perfect golf swing. It’s an individual sport where you can set your own goals.
If you have a disability and are thinking about getting involved in golf, or your child is disabled, and you are looking for a sport, reach out to your local adaptive golf association and professionals; they will be more than willing to help.