Golf and Health Week has shone a light on inspirational stories about how the game has helped overcome physical challenges.
At Douglas Park Golf Club on the outskirts of Glasgow, one such story can be found. Having joined the club in 2006, Vivien Hamilton is a popular member of the women’s section, which boasts an impressive 235 members, and enjoys the camaraderie and the competition.
In recent times, Vivien has suffered from two serious health issues – cancer and a stroke – yet credits the sport and the club in helping her meet her ongoing challenges. Here is her story…
When did golf become a passion?
It wasn’t until my early 40s, I wish I had started earlier! I’m 62 now and remain busy in my role as Research Manager for Art at Glasgow Museums. I guess I was looking for an activity outside of work and in the early 2000s myself and my partner, Raymond, joined Esporta Dougalston. One of Raymond’s pals said we could do golf, swimming, tennis and more, so we joined it together. I had no idea about playing golf, none.
Yet, one day, Raymond took me down to the wee driving range at Bearsden. I thought ‘I won’t play this game’ but he gave me a 7 iron and I hit this beautiful shot and thought ‘ok, that’s nice’. I got my first handicap, 31, but within a few weeks it was down to 23.
I then joined Douglas Park and the ladies were just so welcoming, there is a real buzz around the club. I love the friendship, the fresh air, the nature and being away from work. Robert Irvine, the professional, gave me lessons. I often think: ‘Why did it take me such a long time to get into golf?’ I just love it here.
In 2009, you were diagnosed with cancer. How tough a period was that and how did golf help?
I went through chemotherapy and was very sick, it was a tough time. I remember being in my bed, looking out to the sky and always thinking ‘I wonder what it would be like to get out there again.’ I came down to the course after the treatment was over and heard one of the ladies coming off the course grumbling and I thought about what is important in life. I was thinking ‘I’ve been living in a bedroom’. It was so amazing when I eventually played again, just wonderful. The trees, the sky, the course, I felt there was still a life.
I started back playing 9-hole medals and kept my handicap going. That was really special, the 9-hole medals at the club really helped me get back into the game and build up my strength again. The first two holes at Douglas Park are just so gorgeous, so looking up and feeling that sense of achievement was fantastic. It was huge to have golf, as well as my art, back in my life. Everyone was so welcoming, so supportive, so fabulous. I have friends at the club I totally adore.
Illness struck again in 2012 (a stroke). How difficult was that?
It was really awful. It’s affected my lifestyle, not just my golf. I hate how tired I am, I still have challenges from it, but you keep going. It is a tiredness thing and a speaking thing. I used to love talking in public, but I can’t think about doing that any more. I was in hospital for a week and remember asking the consultant if I could go home for The Masters over the weekend! It was just amazing to come out of a ward and see it at home.
Again, how did golf help?
Initially, just getting me out of the house. I have a stroke on the right side of my body, but one of the things the consultant said to me was to get back out there on the golf course when I could. The stroke affected my speech and spatial awareness, so for the consultant the idea of having to concentrate and hit a ball was fabulous. It took me a few months though, as the reality of the tiredness hit me hard.
Sum up golf for your health?
That first hit of the ball after my health problems felt so good. It is just a beautiful feeling of achievement. Golf, physically, has been good for me, as well as the fresh air, with some nice company who share your values. On the whole, most of the golfers I’ve ever met have the same principles and are kindred spirits. Golf is a game that is so good for your soul. During my illnesses, the girls were so supportive. I thought I would get better at the sport, but never have! I’m now off a 32 handicap, but I’m just delighted to be enjoying and playing golf. I love it.”