Document Publication | Thu October 05, 2017, 09:42 AM EST

When FGA talks about golfers with special needs, what kind of special needs are applicable?

Adaptive golf serves the needs of physically, intellectually, and sensory challenged individuals. Freedom Golf Association helps golfers with all classes of impairments. We are very proud of our contribution to “wounded veterans,” suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or are physically disabled.


What is meant by the term “adaptive golf?”

FGA advocates for changes in the game of golf so that it may be “adapted” for those with disabilities. Examples include special Single Rider carts for the non-ambulatory, adaptive golf clubs, courses made more accessible, and changes in rules as written by the USGA. Golf swings, grips, and prosthetics also are needed to allow the disabled to play the game.


What is FGA’s mission?

Our mission is to bring joy and sense of freedom to the special needs community (wounded veterans, physically, intellectually, and sensory challenged individuals) through their inclusion in the game of golf.


How have FGA’s programs evolved since you founded the organization?

FGA’s programs have become more sophisticated as we have gained more understanding of how disabilities impact special needs golfers’ ability to play. We have become more knowledgeable about the different strategies we can implement to help these golfers. FGA has developed a proprietary and trademarked program Adaptive Golf Enhancement Program™ (AGEP), a six-step professional process to help golf professionals and coaches increase their understanding of the needs of adaptive golfers and the techniques that can help them.

To assist coaches and special needs golfers in determining what adaptive measures would be most beneficial, FGA recently invested in what they call a “personal swing sensors and computerized program” to 1) measure the disabled golfer’s initial swing path and limitations; 2) develop an appropriate exercise program to improve flexibility and range of motion; and 3) to chart the golfer’s progress, using the initial swing measurements as a baseline.


How does FGA mesh with other adaptive golf organizations, regionally and nationally?

FGA is the leading adaptive golf organization in Illinois and a charter member of United States Adaptive Golf Alliance (USAGA)—which FGA founder Edmund “E.Q.” Sylvester formed in 2014. Presently there are 17 chapters across United States, speaking with one voice, and bringing adaptive golf to over 10,000 disabled individuals annually, of which approximately 23% are wounded veterans.


What organizations are leading the adaptive golf movement nationally and what do they do to move adaptive golf forward?

United States Adaptive Golf Alliance is the leading grass roots adaptive golf organization in the United States and leads the adaptive golf movement forward in several ways. Since 2014, USAGA had received the commitment of 17 organizations in the United States to advance human potential and promote equality through the game of golf, and to serve the special needs community through their inclusion in the game of golf, including but not limited to access, instruction, and competition at all levels.


What is FGA’s philosophy?

The FGA follows two basic philosophies:

  • Bring the rehabilitative, social, and life changing benefits of golf to more disabled people. There are 57 million disabled in the USA (source: 2010 Census) and 18 million physically disabled who want to play golf (source: PGA Foundation)
  • Overcome the major constraints preventing the disabled from playing golf, which are the lack of professional golf instructors and access to public courses


What golf-related businesses have supported FGA with services, equipment or donations?

We are grateful for the support of the following golf-related companies: FootJoy, Titleist, Bridgestone, Ahead, Under Armour, BMW Championship, Encompass Champions Tour, and the Tiger Woods Foundation.


What golf facilities have supported FGA and/or adapted their facilities to accommodate special needs golfers?

Golf facilities that partner with FGA include Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, Downers Grove Golf Club, Naperbrook Golf Course, Meadowlark Forest Preserve Golf, Rich Harvest Farms, White Pines Golf Dome, MQ’s Golf Dome, Buffalo Grove Golf & Sports Center, and River Bend Golf Club.

  • 4 PGA professionals, 1 LPGA professional---Honorary Directors


Who among professional golfers and other golf leaders have been involved with and helped FGA?

  • Professional Golfers
    • Steve Elkington, PGA Tour
    • Jan Stephenson, LPGA Tour
  • PGA TOUR, Inc.
    • Tim Finchem, Commissioner
    • Ty Votaw, Chief Operating Officer
    • John Flaschner, Vice President Tournament Activation and Community Outreach
  • Andy Levinson, Executive Director, USA GOLF Federation
  • International Paralympic Committee (IPC)
    • Todd Nicholson, Governing Board Athletes’ Representative
    • Juergan Padberg, Senior Sport Manager
  • USGA
    • Mike Davis, Executive Director
    • Beth Major, Director Community Outreach
  • World Golf Foundation: Steve Mona, Executive Director


How and why does the general Chicagoland and Illinois community support FGA?

FGA has thousands of donors, both large and small, who want to support FGA’s mission. We are connected to major institutions including Easter Seals, Shriners Hospital for Children, Giant Steps, Wintrust, McCormick Foundation, AMVETS, Forest Preserve of Cook County, and Access Living.


What are FGA’s biggest successes?

We are most proud of our growth as an organization. In 2013, our first year, we conducted 178 golf lessons for 178 adaptive golfers. In 2016, we conducted 1338 golf lessons for adaptive golfers. Altogether, since 2013, we have conducted more than 4,000 participant lessons.

We have also gained some very notable recognition from the golf world. We joined the USAGA in 2014 and, in 2015, FGA was one of three entities to receive a PGA Player Development Award. We also have earned recognition from the Shriners national organization.

FGA was actively involved in supporting the 2016 USAGA World Disabled Golf Championship, which was held in the USA for the first time. This tournament brought together 77 disabled golfers from ten countries.


Describe the FGA trainers and coaches. How and why do they become involved? What makes for a successful trainer and coach?

There are three top adaptive golf teachers in the United States. FGA has hired two of the three to professionally lead FGA’s two day Adaptive Golf Workshops. FGA has held 4 workshops training over 42 adaptive golf coaches. Coaches are comprised of PGA professionals, physical therapists, and retired golfers who have a desire to give back.

In addition to having knowledge of the golf swing, rules, and etiquette, a successful coach is one who clearly understands the impairment which the disabled golfer is struggling with. He or she must know how to deal with that impairment—especially the weakness of the physically, intellectually, or sensory challenged golfer. Coaches must have empathy as well as an open personality, showing they truly care about the person they are teaching.


What are FGA’s long term goals?

We strive to become the leading chapter of the USAGA, an innovator and best practices organization which can be emulated on a national basis. From a more tangible standpoint, we hope to design and build the first Adaptive Golf Learning Center in Illinois and be active in the building of five such centers around the country.


How can able-bodied golfers help FGA and the adaptive golf movement?

There are numerous ways in which able-bodied golfers can put action behind their commitment to inclusivity in golf. They can advocate for the disabled, finding ways within their own golf community to make adaptive golf equipment available to disabled golfers and make sure they have access to golfing facilities.

Golf clubs can invite disabled golfers to become members and provide them with the adaptive tools and course availability they need. Able-bodied golfers can ask their “pros” to dedicate 20 hours per season to hold clinics for disabled members or disabled relatives of members. Specifically, they can implement the “Taste of Golf” program which was jointly initiated by the PGA of Illinois and the Western Golf Association.

They can also contribute to “Grow The Game” state initiative rolled out by the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA): “The NGCOA supports the standards set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and works hard to encourage golf course owners and operators to make golf accessible to anyone interested in the game.” 

We also hope that able-bodied golfers will participate in the “Take Your Impaired Child to the Course Week,” which is now under the comprehensive banner of Play Golf America, Take Your Impaired Child to the Course Week.” This program encourages parents to “share your favorite sport with your loved child.”  Participating courses provide free greens fees and clinics for Impaired Children, accompanied by a paying adult.


How can junior golfers help FGA and the adaptive golf movement?

We would like the Illinois Junior Golf Association (ILJG) to integrate adaptive golfers into their organization and their activities. On a more personal note, we would like young golfers who have disabled relatives and friends to invite them to participate in FGA activities and become adaptive golfers so they may enjoy the game of golf and make it a satisfying part of their lives. We believe that making the game of golf available to young persons with disabilities will offer many rewards on many levels.


How can golf equipment manufacturers and retailers help FGA?

Understand the financial benefit of including 18 million physically disabled who want to play golf, as new golfers in the game. As the golf industry is in a consolidation mode due to stagnant growth or perhaps in real decline, an injection of new players would financially benefit those in the golfing industry.

For example:

If only 5% of the 18 million joined the game, this would equate to:

  • 900,000 new players,
  • @ $500 spent only once by these new players,
  • This would bring $450,000,000 in new revenue to the industry.


How can other kinds of programs for special needs individuals, including special needs schools, help FGA?

Collaboration with other special needs programs brings awareness and growth of adaptive golf.

We believe that para-golf will eventually be recognized as a Paralympic sport. Since many paralympic sport programs presently do not include adaptive golf. As an example, there are hundreds of members of the nationwide Paralympic Sport Club network, which currently operates in 48 states and Washington D.C. None of them are currently involved with adaptive golf.

We are confident that once it is recognized, the FGA at the state level, and USAGA at the national level, will be able to play leading roles in developing Paralympic golfers and growing adaptive golf as a sport.


What advice and encouragement would you give to special needs individuals who might be interested in playing golf or being involved with the game of golf?

This is quite simple to answer: Give it a try. You might have fun. Just go to the FGA’s website——and pick out a clinic near where you live and register.


What is the future of adaptive golf as a global movement?

It is already here but miniscule in size. The need is to bring the 29 Disabled Golf Associations located in three continents together, speaking with one voice, and recognized as a paralympic sport.

The FGA is collaborating with the National Governing Bodies of Golf and their paralympic committees, and writing guidelines for the sport (para-golf) for the International Golf Federation to set the international standard for para-golf. Our goal is for this to be approved by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), prior to the September 2018 deadline.

The USGA has now recognized the United States Adaptive Golf Alliance (USAGA) as the national expert in adaptive golf. The USGA also announced on Feb.4, 2017 that they are planning to hold National Championships for Disabled Golfers. USAGA has been invited by the USGA to attend a May 26 meeting of its leadership to talk about the adaptive golf movement and how to move it forward.

The World Disabled Golf Championship hosted by the USAGA in August 2016 brought enormous attention to adaptive golf as a global movement. The next World Para-Golf Championship will be held in Costa Rica in April 2018 at the Los Suenos Golf Club.

We hope that FGA will help lead the first USA Para-Golf Team to the 2024 Paralympic Games. It will be a crowning moment for the “Para-Golf” movement.

Document Publication | Thu October 05, 2017, 09:42 AM EST

Media Contacts

Cindy Kurman
Public Relations
Lee Barrie
Public Relations