PGA Professionals throughout Australia are assisting those with vision and hearing impairments to get started and play their very best… and becoming better coaches in the process.
If you do it the way you’ve always done it, why would you consider doing it any differently?
And if you had to, where would you start?
That’s the scenario that PGA Professionals who coach those with vision and hearing impairments must first face in order to help those golfers improve in a way that caters to their specific needs.
A joint initiative between the PGA of Australia and Golf Australia, the PGA All Abilities Coach Accreditation has been developed to give PGA Professionals additional training and resources in providing support for those golfers with physical, sensory or intellectual disability.
The All Abilities Championship held in conjunction with the Australian Open for the last two years to great success further highlights the opportunities afforded by golf.
Championships for those suffering vision and hearing impairments have been conducted in Australia and around the world for decades yet there are many who may be interested in playing golf that the game is yet to reach.
For those who have been active in this space the rewards don’t only come from seeing individual improvement but the professional development often associated with it.
Currently based at North Adelaide Golf Course, PGA Professional Gavin Fontaine first began working with vision-impaired golfers while at Collier Park Golf in Perth and leant on some drills he had conducted with elite junior golfers.
“Working with state junior players, we would hit lots of balls where we would look straight ahead and hit balls to encourage them to maintain their height,” Fontaine explained.
“I’d also get them to close their eyes and get them to hit shots.
“When your eyes are open you don’t have the awareness of what you’re doing as well as when you actually turn the lights out. You pick up more of the awareness of where your club is and how your body is moving.
“Working with vision-impaired golfers has taught me a lot and improved my coaching as well. You can take it for granted working with someone with good vision but when it’s a vision-impaired person you’ve got to be on your toes all the time.
“As long as they are physically flexible and strong you can achieve a lot with them. And if you get that type of person in terms of physical ability they probably learn faster than somebody with good vision.”
PGA Professionals Lee and Peter Harrington at The Golf School at Palm Meadows on the Gold Coast have helped to guide Glen Nicijewski to the title as Blind Golf Australia’s ISPS HANDA Australian Open champion at Collier Park in September 2019.
Not only have they adapted their coaching styles to suit Glen’s needs but also the equipment that he uses.
“We’ve been coaching for a long time and there’s no doubt that you can get a bit stal giving the same fundamentals and the same old drills,” Lee conceded.
“When Glen came along we both realised that we had to look differently at the way we coached because you can’t demonstrate to someone who is vision impaired. You can’t show them and you can’t use video so you gave to adjust the way you coach.
“That not only makes you a better teacher for the average golfer because I can teach three different ways but it also challenges you as to your approach to coaching.”
“It’s about getting the equipment right as well as what you say but you’ve got to adjust both.
“We’ve found one-length clubs for vision-impaired golfers are gold and we advocate that. Even for people who are visually impaired but can see a little bit, that depth perception is really difficult.
“Every coach should get in front of someone who can’t see because it makes you think about how you use your words and what you say.
“It’s evolved us as coaches which has helped us in our teaching.”
Since the introduction of the All Abilities Coach Accreditation the numbers of PGA Professionals to complete the training has skyrocketed, but there is plenty of room for more.
Working in the disability space writing sporting programs for the New South Wales State Government prior to undertaking the PGA Trainee Program at Elanora Country Club, Lachlan Foulsham was one of the first Professionals to sign up for the All Abilities Accreditation seminar conducted in Adelaide three years ago.
His passion for golf and helping those with a disability has led to his current role as Operations Manager for Empower Golf. Foulsham travelled with the Deaf Golf Australia men’s, women’s and senior’s teams to the World Deaf Golf Championships in Ireland in 2018 where the men’s team were crowned world champions.
Like teaching those with vision impairments, communication is key when working with deaf golfers.
“Communication is the big one. In fact, it’s probably the only one,” said Foulsham.
“How do you get around that communication and then apply coaching techniques in a way that are going to be understood?
“As soon as I was asked to coach and manage the Deaf Golf Australia teams I signed up to do a 12-week Auslan sign language course which definitely helped.
“The visual is key with people with hearing impairments.
“With a standard lesson you tend to talk a lot. In a lesson with a deaf golfer you’re showing a lot and explaining through motion rather than words.
“The important thing to acknowledge with hearing-impaired golfers is that the level of hearing impairment can differ and whether or not someone wears a hearing aid that can allow them to pick up sound.
“All these things change the level of communication required and how you’ll apply different techniques.”
Foulsham also accompanied the Australian wheelchair team to the world championships last year and if there’s one area in which he would like to see improvement is the number of PGA Professionals stepping forward to assist these representative teams.
“I’d really like for other golf professionals to see how good the opportunities are and how exciting they can be for the individual PGA Member,” said Foulsham
In addition to more Professionals gaining their accreditation, Lee Harrington highlighted the need for greater education for the people who caddy for All Ability golfers.
“The golfer is only as good as the caddy so it’s an education as much for the caddy as it is for the golfer,” said Peter.
“Golf is the best sport for people with a disability because it’s a stationary ball sport. You’ve got all this time to set up.
“You’re not reacting to something, which is hard for most disabilities to be able to cope with.
“We’re in a unique position in that respect and if we can make that transition for people to come into golf even easier the entire industry will benefit.”