A unique partnership has helped support the growth of the Special Olympics golf programme in Australia.
Highlighting a strong relationship between a national federation and a disability golf organisation, Golf Australia and Special Olympics Australia have worked together to increase the number of athletes participating in their golf programme and strengthen their personal wellbeing.
Through the power of sports, Special Olympics strives to empower people with intellectual disabilities (ID) to discover new strengths and abilities.
Sports programme vital
“People with intellectual disabilities can face many barriers to finding employment and education which is why our sports programme is absolutely vital,” explains Colin Kenny, Senior Manager – Sports Partnerships and Development at Special Olympics. “The benefits of participation in our golf programme are proven, as concentration and co-ordination levels improve for our athletes and it provides a vital social outlet.”
At the start of the partnership in 2017, Special Olympics Australia had 107 athletes participating in their golf programme – with that number growing threefold to 335 in 2019. From a very low base of coaches, Special Olympics Australia can also now call on 164 coaches through the PGA All Abilities Coach programme to help recruit more people to their activities.
“Golf has provided me the opportunity to make many friends within Special Olympics and in my own golf club, Wynnum in Queensland, where I play every week in their club competitions,” outlines golfer Brendan Borger. “I’ve also made many friends playing with PGA golf professionals at Palm Meadows in Queensland. For this, I thank my All Abilities PGA professional coach, Lee Harrington, who has helped me massively improve my golf.”
Given its successes, the overall golf programme has seen increased demand in the past few years and Special Olympics rely heavily on the kindness of the wider golfing community for support.
Global ambassador Padraig Harrington, a two-time Champion Golfer of the Year, has been among those to support activity, hosting clinics for golfers at a number of tournaments across the globe. With COVID-19 curtailing events in 2020, the Irishman has instead hosted an online masterclass for athletes/coaches.
Given the challenges of the global pandemic to sustain the golf programme, a new three-year agreement with Golf Australia will help build partnerships at a key time.
Colin Kenny added, “Special Olympics Australia already developed an excellent best practice model with Golf Australia, who have just re-signed their memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Special Olympics Australia.
“The partnership shows the role national golf federations can play in providing genuinely inclusive programming through strategically aligned partnerships. In this case, as Special Olympics Australia wanted to grow the numbers of people with ID participating in their golf programme, the partnership aligns with Golf Australia’s objectives to be fully inclusive with their programming.”
Outlined below are the key points of the partnership with Golf Australia:
- Promotion of SOA Learn – Special Olympics Australia’s online learning platform
- Accredited course provided to professional golf coaches across Australia on how to include golfers with a disability
- An affordable accreditation that enables participants to run junior, school and modified golf programmes
- Providing accredited officials at Special Olympics golf tournaments
- Providing Special Olympics volunteers with access to online training
- Golf Australia have also developed a new online platform for their participation programmes – MyGolf (children) and Get Into Golf (adults), with both having All Abilities offerings
- The identification of key ‘hubs’ of activity – golf courses located around Australia that will host training and competition
- Golf Australia providing FREE access to all Special Olympics members to MyGolf Online Activities – an online games-based programme
- Co-branding of events to ensure participants can continue in both the Golf Australia and Special Olympics pathways
World Ranking for Golfers with Disability (WR4GD)
- Golf Australia are committed to complementary pathways that support more Special Olympics Australia golfers reaching their best through athletes being able to earn ranking points for the WR4GD
Christian Hamilton, Inclusion Senior Manager at Golf Australia, said, “Our approach has always been to provide national programmes and coach education that everyone can use. We give Special Olympics Australia the support they need to develop – such as coach education, equipment / kits, national programmes / curriculum and access to our events team for Rules, scoring and event management.
Story of inclusion
“We have also found some athletes have moved through the Special Olympics Australia participation pathway starting to get involved with our Inclusive Championships, gaining access to the World Ranking for Golfers with Disability.
“These supports are also driven by our wider teams – MyGolf, events, rules, handicapping and championships – to provide another great story of inclusion across the wider business.”
Golf Australia will also be one of six sport partners for Special Olympics Australia’s ‘Inclusive Sport In Schools’ programme. Golf Australia will support the programme through sourcing trained coaches to deliver programmes in schools; equipment provision; use of delivery resources (My Golf Schools delivery manual) and state-based Golf Australia staff to work with schools and Special Olympics staff to promote links to golf clubs.“We know there is still a lot of work to do as we need to increase capacity at local and international level to facilitate more people with ID into the game,” concludes Colin Kenny. “We would encourage as many national golf federations to engage with their national Special Olympics programme and look at how they can increase participation levels for people with ID.”