The G4D Open

The G4D Open | Meet Gordon McLay and Richard Kluwen

The R&A
15 May 24
4 mins

Gordon McLay savoured several major moments inside the ropes as a caddie on the over-50s golf circuit. 

Now, the 61-year-old Scotsman is hoping those experiences will stand him in good stead at another showpiece occasion as he makes his second appearance in The G4D Open at Woburn. Before having his right leg amputated below the knee in 2022, the result of shattering injuries sustained when a car smashed into his motorbike some 15 years earlier, McLay was a bagman for Senior Tour stalwarts, Steen Tinning and Roger Chapman.

Caddie experience

“I loved it,” reflected the Prestonpans man of his campaigns as a caddie on the circuit. “I was regularly over in America at US Senior Opens and US Senior PGAs. I feel at home on the big stage and The G4D Open is another one to look forward to.  “Being a caddie at big events has given me lots of experience and the bigger the occasion the better. It doesn’t faze me. I loved The G4D Open last year and can’t wait to get back to Woburn.” Towards the end of his caddying career, the pain caused by the damage to his ankle was beginning to take a debilitating toll. “I’d had fusion surgery on my ankle but over time it was getting very, very sore and I was coming off courses in agony,” added the Royal Musselburgh member. “I then twisted it at an event at London Golf Club, and actually broke a bone in it, and that finished me. I developed arthritis after that.  "I couldn’t play golf and I was in a pretty dark place. I pleaded with the surgeon to give me an amputation. It took me a couple of years of persuasion, but they eventually agreed to it.”

EDGA debut

McLay’s life-changing operation took place in September 2022. A few months later, in January 2023, he won on his debut appearance in an EDGA (formerly the European Disabled Golf Association) event in Portugal.  That success provided a silver lining for McLay, but the dark clouds were building. “Not long after that win, I began struggling a lot with anxiety,” he admitted as the enormity of what he had been through both physically and mentally finally came home to roost. “There were a few tournaments that I managed just five or six holes because of this anxiety. I couldn’t see the ball for tears. I asked if my wife could sit with me in the golf buggy and be with me as something of a comfort caddie. That really helped.  “But all those issues stemmed from what had happened. I was riding the wave so to speak after my operation and went on to win that first event. Two or three months later, though, the reality of what I had been through really kicked in.  “This year has been a bit of a struggle too for other reasons. I’d developed a neuroma (growth of nerve tissue) on my stump and had to get that removed. Then I had a spur of bone on the bottom of my leg and that had to be removed too. But I’m back on track now and all is good.”

Gordon McLay - Scotland

“I can play a lot of golf in my head. I don’t practice a lot, but I work a lot on the visualisation side of it. You need mental strength in golf, more so when you have a disability. You must believe it to achieve it.”

Mental strength key

Golf has always been a game that demands a considerable degree of mental fortitude. For McLay, and all the other golfers with a disability, it is very much a case of mind over matter.  “When I was really struggling, I did a lot of sports psychology,” said McLay, who remains eternally grateful to the golfing support and assistance he has had from the Royal Musselburgh PGA professional, Calum Smith.  “I can play a lot of golf in my head. I don’t practice a lot, but I work a lot on the visualisation side of it. You need mental strength in golf, more so when you have a disability. You must believe it to achieve it.” The G4D Open, held in partnership between The R&A and the DP World Tour and supported by EDGA, is one of the most inclusive ever staged, featuring nine sport classes across multiple impairment groups, with players representing 19 countries. A field of 80 male and female amateur and professional golfers will compete over 54 holes at the Duchess Course at Woburn across sport classes which cover various categories in Standing, Intellectual, Visual and Sitting. Spectators are welcome to attend at Woburn this week, with attendance and car parking free of charge.

Kluwen hopes

When Richard Kluwen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 25 years ago, his plan to deal with the disease included taking up a sport. After some deliberation, he chose golf, and has never looked back. The way he sees it, the game didn’t just help him, mentally as well as physically. It saved his life. At first, the Dutchman struggled to stay on his feet as he swung the club, but a move into seated golf has been transformational, on and off the course. He has become fitter, more flexible and, perhaps most significantly, able to approach the rest of his day-to-day challenges with a positive mindset. He has also become quite the competitor. The 52-year-old winner of several national and international prizes retained his European title last year and will be among a talented field teeing it up at Woburn. Kluwen has come a long way, with a little help from the sport he loves. “At first, I was a standing golfer,” he says. “I stopped counting how many times I was falling on the golf course. That’s no fun. So I changed to using a Paragolfer. It’s a different game, but I’m not falling and I’m having fun.  “You know the game — it’s addictive. And your mindset must be OK. That is my biggest win — not prizes or scores, but the mindset, which I take into the rest of my life. Just relax and take one thing at a time.”

Golf saved his life

A former machinist, Kluwen gradually learned to leave his career behind, make the most of passions such as golf and enjoy the life he has with his wife and three children. “It’s no exaggeration to say that golf saved my life,” he continues. “It’s because of golf that I learned the difference between the important things and  the non-important things. In the beginning of my illness, I wanted to work and provide for my family, but now I know that, if you can’t do that, it’s OK.  “It took a couple of years to get my mindset from the technician always working and helping other people to being a happy house dad. Just enjoy life.” Mentally, he felt much better, but physically it was still a struggle for Kluwen, who decided three years ago, with the support of a crowd-funding campaign, to undergo a stem cell transplant in Moscow. It took a full year to recover from the chemotherapy, but it has been worth it for the Tillborg man, who can now walk short distances and no longer needs to use a wheelchair at home. He said, “The damage to my nervous system is still there, but my energy level is much higher. I can be busy the whole day now. It’s such a big difference.”

Richard Kluwen - Netherlands

“I stopped counting how many times I was falling on the golf course. That’s no fun. So I changed to using a Paragolfer. It’s a different game, but I’m not falling and I’m having fun."

Eagerness for Woburn

Together with a series of development actions during the week, The G4D Open showcases all three stages of the player pathway from sampler, to participant, to competitor. The G4D Tour, launched in February of 2022, is part of the DP World Tour’s commitment to inclusivity in golf and aimed at the leading ranked players from the World Ranking for Golfers with Disability (WR4GD). It has a schedule of nine tournaments played on the same course, the same week, as DP World Tour events. Woburn staged the inaugural G4D Open, won last year by Ireland’s Brendan Lawlor. While Kluwen did not play 12 months ago, he knows all about the Duchess Course and is looking forward to taking part, albeit after a period in which the poor weather in Holland has limited his practice.   “I have heard all the stories about Woburn last year — a beautiful course and everything around it was perfect,” he said. “So I was a little bit jealous. This year, I haven’t played many rounds, but I’m ready. The course will be narrow so that’s good for me. I’m not long, but I’m straight. I’m excited to take part.” Woburn continues its rich history of hosting amateur and professional championships with Final Qualifying for The Open from 2014 to 2017 and most recently the AIG Women's Open in 2019, both played on the Marquess Course.