Adaptive golf continues to make the game more inclusive (2024)

Perhaps the greatest aspect of golf is that anyone can play it. Its physical challenge is not so dependent on age-specific abilities like running speed or jumping height that there is a finite window in life in which it can be played at more than a basic level. In a given day at the vast majority of golf courses, kids as young as 5 years old and men and women as old as 85 or more will be welcome to play.

That physical grace the game grants extends to people with disabilities, too. The more I think back on it, the more I realize a junior golf clinic I attended hosted by Dennis Walters, a teaching pro who is paralyzed from the waist down, had an impact on what is now decades of love for golf.

I had the honor of speaking with Walters in the summer of 2022 in Pinehurst on the final day of the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open, the USGA's first championship for golfers with disabilities. His appreciation for the tournament - the first he had played in in 48 years, he told me - filled me with gratitude for the USGA and other organizations that embrace and support the inclusive possibilities of the game.

Once again, Walters, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame since 2019, will be one of 96 participants in the U.S. Adaptive Open, which for the first time spreads beyond Pinehurst's perfect launchpad to Newton, Kansas' Sand Creek Station. The Jeff Brauer-designed daily-fee course half an hour north of Wichita welcomes its second USGA Championship, having hosted the final playing of the U.S. Public Links Championship a decade ago.

Adaptive golf continues to make the game more inclusive (1)

The U.S. Adaptive Open field is broken down into men's and women's divisions across eight impairment categories: Upper Limb Impairment, Lower Limb Impairment, Multiple Limb Amputee, Vision Impairment, Intellectual Impairment, Neurological Impairment, Seated Players and Short Stature. Competitors range in age from 15-year-old Ryder Barr to 78-year-old Bruce Hooper. They represent a community of some 600,000 adaptive golfers in the United States alone.

The 54-hole event yields in-category as well as overall winners on the men's and women's side. In 2023, Ryanne Jackson (Neurological Impairment) shot a three-day score of 9-over par to win by five strokes over 2022 champion Kim Moore (Lower Limb Impairment). On the men's side, Kipp Popert (Neurological Impairment) shot a score of 2-under par, defeating a pair of players that included 2022 men's champion Simon Lee (Intellectual Impairment) by a single shot.

“This community wants to be like everybody else, just golfers. To give them a national championship and inspire them to compete, they then inspire others in the adaptive community to compete.”

– John Bodenhamer on the goals of the U.S. Adaptive Open to @AndyStevenson81. pic.twitter.com/JRXuAoat9E

— USGA (@USGA) July 9, 2024

All four past U.S. Adaptive Open champions are in the 2024 field, as is 65-year-old Ken Green, who won five times on the PGA Tour during a career that spanned the 1980s and 1990s. In 2009, Green lost his right leg as the result of an automobile accident that claimed the lives of his brother, his girlfriend and his dog. Vowing to return to competitive golf, Green has made 37 PGA Tour Champions starts, 19 of them since the accident. He finished tied for 7th in the 2023 U.S. Adaptive Open.

The USGA will provide live scoring at USGA.org throughout the championship and will publish video highlights on its YouTube channel. Golf Channel is expanding its coverage of the event to include highlights and features during its Golf Today and Golf Central shows. On Wednesday, July 10, the last half hour of Golf Central will cover the conclusion of the 2024 U.S. Adaptive Open and trophy ceremony.

Other competitive opportunities for adaptive golfers

Adaptive golf continues to make the game more inclusive (3)

Various adaptive golf organizations and tournaments have existed for decades. One of the most prominent is the United States Disabled Golf Association. With the USGA spinning up the U.S. Adaptive Open in recent years, the PGA of America is a significant supporter of the USDGA's mission.

In April 2024, at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Ryanne Jackson won the women's overall USDGA Championship title while Chad Pfeifer, one of America's most decorated disabled golfers, won the men's crown.

Adaptive golf continues to make the game more inclusive (4)

Pfeifer, a U.S. Army veteran, lost part of his left leg after an IED explosion while he was deployed to Iraq in 2007. In addition to more than a dozen victories in various tournaments for disabled golfers, Pfeifer competed in the 2015 season of The Big Break: Palm Beaches. He will be featured in an upcoming GolfPass documentary about past Big Break participants and their lives in golf since they appeared on the hit show.

Adaptive golf is far from just an American initiative. In 2023, a consortium that includes the EDGA (formerly the European Disabled Golf Association), the R&A and the DP World Tour, established the G4D Open. Like the U.S. Adaptive Open, the G4D Open includes several different "sport classes" to include golfers with a range of disabilities. In the 2024 edition, contested in May at the duch*ess Course at Woburn Golf Club in Woburn, England, 2023 U.S. Adaptive Open champion Kipp Popert prevailed by a single stroke over Ireland's Brendan Lawlor.

“You get bitter or you get better”

The inspirational story of Kipp Popert, the 2024 G4D Open Champion 👏🏼 pic.twitter.com/p7qyLwos4f

— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) May 17, 2024

More adaptive golf notes

Adaptive golf continues to make the game more inclusive (5)

As events like the U.S. Adaptive Open and the USDGA Championship gain in prominence, so too do various programs and resources aimed at helping grow adaptive golf. Given PING's long history in the custom-fitting realm, it is no surprise that they have pioneered the process of adaptive golf club fitting in recent years. According to the Adaptive Fitting page of their website, they have built drivers as long as 57 inches and irons as short as 22 inches recently. They have been able to put their large-diameter, lightweight putter grips onto other clubs when it has been helpful. PING's adaptive fitting clients include Paul Sturgess, who at 7 foot-6-inches is Britain's tallest man, and Jeff Lewis, who is a quadruple amputee.

If you know a golfer who has a disability and would benefit from becoming part of the growing adaptive golf community, here are some links and resources:

USGA | 2024 U.S. Adaptive Open
R&A | G4D Open
U.S. Disabled Golf Association
AdaptiveGolfers.org

Articles

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Honoring some of the game's most inspiring stories is a Cool Golf Thing

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The inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open was an emotional experience for competitors and fans of the game.

Adaptive golf continues to make the game more inclusive (7)

By Tim Gavrich

Tim Gavrich

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.

Adaptive golf continues to make the game more inclusive (2024)

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