The R&A - Working for Golf

Open memories helping fight dementia

Wonderful memories will be created by the victor in The 147th Open at Carnoustie next month – but it’s stirring memories that is helping improve people’s lives in the Angus town.

On the first Thursday of every month, a group of around 15 individuals meet in the new Carnoustie Links Golf Centre. With an average age of 78, they go down memory lane, looking at photos of past Open champions at Carnoustie such as Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Tom Watson, as well as sharing stories of their own golfing achievements.

They also strike a ball in the new simulator bays, play ‘The Nestie’ short six-hole par-3 course or try the public putting green, all this is in competition for their own ‘Claret Jug’ monthly award.

Reminiscence therapy

This is the Carnoustie Golf Memories Group, one of what is hoped will be a growing number that will spring up at golf facilities across the country, with others at Noah’s Ark in Perth and in Dumfries. They are part of the overall Golf Memories Project, which in turn is part of the wider Sports Heritage Scotland network helping those living with dementia and memory loss.

Scotland currently leads the world in reminiscence therapy. Football, cricket, curling, rugby and shinty are among the sports also involved, a collaborative effort of reminiscence groups to stir memories, fulfil lives and also encourage participants back into the sports they love.

“Through reminisce, we are reconnecting the members with their passion for golf through spending meaningful time with other golfers and enjoying the friendly banter”, says Lorraine Young, a key driving force for the golf group in Carnoustie. “After a diagnosis, it can very much feel like a loss of life, however this programme is helping people change their attitudes by demonstrating that you can live well with dementia or memory loss.

The Carnoustie Golf Memories Group are seeking to encourage participants back into the sports they love.
The Carnoustie Golf Memories Group are seeking to encourage participants back into the sport they love.

Dementia friendly

“Staff working at Carnoustie Golf Links have also participated in Dementia Friends Awareness Sessions, as have a number of other businesses throughout the town. Ultimately the aim is to make Carnoustie a truly Dementia Friendly Community. In support of this many of the shops in the town have dressed their windows to reflect our work linked to The Open of yesteryear.”

 A former Chief Social Work Officer for Angus and a Rotarian, Lorraine chose to commit her free time to creating and supporting the development of Golf Memories. Launched in June 2015, the group has been meeting monthly ever since. The group is ably supported by a committed and dedicated team of local volunteers, such as David Taylor, Trevor Williamson and Margaret Muir.

“As well as reminisce, they are also getting back into the physical act of playing golf,” explains Lorraine. “For many, when they have a diagnosis of dementia, they believe they can’t play golf anymore or have a place in clubs. What we’re trying to do is show that physical activity and social interaction are very important by supporting members to reconnect with what for many has been a lifelong passion.

Open history

“What better setting for golf than here at Carnoustie which is steeped in history. We’re trying to get people back into playing the game as much as is physically possible.”

Gary Player’s famous victory at Carnoustie 50 years ago is celebrated in an exhibition on the bottom floor of the clubhouse, with The Open stands also creating a great buzz among the group as the world’s greatest golfers prepare to descend on the famous links.

Lorraine adds: “There has been amazing excitement. The stories that have been coming out from the group have been beyond our hopes and dreams about previous Open Championships, things that as organisers even we didn’t know about. They have also been bringing in photos from home that we’ve never seen and that has stimulated amazing conversations. We believe the work we are doing is having a significant impact.” 

Bernie Mortimer, 78, is a member of the group, who used to live in Carnoustie but now stays further up the coast in Arbroath. “I’ve met people I used to know and all the work is helping jog my memory,” he says. “I enjoy the groups, seeing people on a regular basis and reconnecting with them. I’ve seen a few Opens in my day and I look forward to next month.”

Community engagement

Michael Wells, Chief Executive at Carnoustie Golf Links, is a great supporter of the work and said: “The Golf Memories Group in Carnoustie is close to our hearts. Partnering with people like Golf Memories helps us to engage with the community and it’s really nice to be able to give something back, giving them access to the clubhouse and looking after them.

“We really enjoy the association with Golf Memories and this is a genuine, good cause. What we’re trying to do here at Carnoustie is to be accessible for everybody.”

Kevin Barker, Director – Golf Development at The R&A, kindly handed over tickets to The Open for the Memories Group earlier this week as excitement builds. Members and their carers will now be enabled to attend The 147th Open here at Carnoustie.