Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Active Lifestyles Are Fore Everyone: Fairfax County Park Authority's Adapted Golf Program Brings Access to the Links

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Active Lifestyles Are Fore Everyone: Fairfax County Park Authority's Adapted Golf Program Brings Access to the Links

Article excerpt

You don't have to be big, strong, fast or a member of a team to be successful in golf," proclaims the Professional Golfers Association. Add to that list "able bodied," and you'll get agreement from Virginia's Fairfax County Park Authority. The Authority's Adapted Golf program--now in its sixth year--includes lessons, workshops, an annual two-day tournament, retrofitted carts at four of the agency's five courses, and a strong commitment to the belief that golf is "fore" everyone.

The tee-off for this whole program came with one telephone call from avid golfer Dale Akridge, who is a member of a golfing family. His father is a card holder with the Senior Professional Golfers Association (SPGA), his sister earned her card from the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), and Dale started playing when he was five. The 44-year old former Virginia resident would surely have a pro card of his own by now if a motorcycle accident hadn't cost him a leg. But the accident that took his leg 17-years ago did not take away his love for the game of golf.

"It was three years and 16 operations before I was healthy enough just to try to play again," said Akridge. "The first time I needed four rounds to do nine holes. And working up to the green--whew!" he added, shaking his head at the memory of those early struggles.

Today, Akridge walks so easily, it's a surprise to see the prosthesis below the cuff of his golfing shorts. And the approach to the green no longer troubles him, judging from an average score in the 80s. But he still requires a cart to get around the links between drives. That prompted the phone call to the Park Authority asking about free or reduced rates for the cart that meant equal access to the agency's five public courses.

"The result was that we started thinking about the needs of golfers with disabilities," said Cindy Walsh, supervisor for the Park Authority's Access Services. "Need--that's the catalyst behind every program we've developed."

The first drive toward accessible golf came in 1990 with the Combo Classic, the Washington metropolitan area's first tournament pairing able-bodied golfers and golfers with disabilities. The two-day event has proven to be a huge success. "We draw participants from up and down the East Coast and as far away as Colorado and Michigan," said Walsh. "We've got people who've played all six years. On our surveys, 100% of the golfers say they will return and 100% of the golfers rate the tournament outstanding.

The Combo even brings families together. "We have Combo teams of fathers and daughters, fathers and sons, grandfathers and grandsons, husbands and wives. But my favorite Combo togetherness story is the two brothers from Florida and New Jersey who hadn't seen each other in awhile. One's able bodied, one's an amputee, both are golfers. They met here to be a team in the Combo!"

Even with the success of this fully integrated tournament, the need for accessible golf wasn't being met on a regular basis. So the Authority's next drive was aimed at retrofitted carts.

John Nicholas was a golfer before his legs were paralyzed in a fall. He was determined to be a golfer again. But his route to the links posed its own traps and hazards. "I have to hit from a sitting position, and I was hitting my own legs!" recalled the 3-year-old resident of Falls Church, Virginia. "I tried a one-handed swing. It solved the leg problem but I didn't have much control or power."

The staff at the Park Authority;s Jefferson Golf Course called other golf courses around the country, gathering information on equipment modifications. The president of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C.--also a paraplegic golfer--donated an old golf cart that had been used for transportation around the hospital. Nicholas mounted a swiveling bar stool seat and Jefferson's maintenance staff rewired the cart, creating a retrofitted vehicle. …

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