Andrew Gallligan gets some pointers from instructor Dennis Bradley during the weekly session at Copper Point Golf. Photo by Lorene Keitch

Home on the (driving) range

Special Olympics golf program teaches skills with support

The sun is shining hot but a light breeze makes it comfortable on the verdant driving range at Copper Point Golf Club.

Standing behind the yellow-roped line are Travis Ryce and Andrew Galligan. A bucket of balls spills out chance after chance to perfect their skills. Travis focuses, one hit after another after another, driving the ball as far down the line as he can. Andrew takes a couple shots, consults with his coach, adjusts, and shoots again.

That is their personality coming through, comments coach Dennis Bradley. Travis is a doer, his learning skill is to just keep hitting. Andrew is a thinker, talking through most hits then readjusting.

“These two are making my job pretty easy,” remarks Dennis, director of instruction at Copper Point Golf Club. “They are so thankful, always smiling, and happy. They enjoy it.”

He and fellow golf enthusiast Fred Blunden are volunteering an hour and a half every Wednesday afternoon to teach these young men in the Columbia Valley’s Special Olympics team the fine art of golf. Copper Point Golf Club is donating the equipment and space for the program.

Travis focuses on his swing, but pauses for a few short minutes to talk to the Pioneer. He says golf is fun; he likes hitting the balls and says he is learning a lot.

“They’re teaching me how to move my arms. Keep your eye above the golf ball,” says Travis.

He gratefully turns back to the bottomless bucket and focuses on the challenge at hand, to hit far and straight, again and again.

Six weeks into the program and Dennis says it is going well. From not knowing anything about golf to today, Andrew and Travis have learned about grip, stance, swing, range, and more. Each week, they get closer and closer to hitting consistently each time. It’s building up muscle memory, explains Dennis. The more they practice, the more it will come automatically. They also spend time putting each week. Once driving and putting are firm, they will start on a few holes on the course and practice other skills needed for the long and short game.

This is the first full golf program for Special Olympics in the Valley. Dennis and Fred both agree they’d love to continue the program next summer. If all goes well, the athletes might sign up for local tournaments before working their way up towards the Special Olympics. If nothing else, they will take away skills to allow them to continue playing recreationally. Either way, it’s a success, according to Jacques Thibault, a sports expert for Special Olympics BC. He says the idea of programs like this are to develop skills and increase health for people with intellectual disabilities.

“What we have seen is the athletes are so much healthier; (they have) so much more self confidence and independence after going through that and being successful at something,” says Mr. Thibault.

Athletes in the Invermere chapter of the Special Olympics train in swimming, bowling, Club Fit, nordic and alpine skiing, and now golf.

Carolyn Kurtz, local coordinator for Special Olympics BC, Invermere chapter, says they have tried to implement a golf program in the past but the commitment is focused this year and, with willing volunteers to coach, the initiative is off to a great start.

Andrew jabbers as he practices, and gladly stops to talk to the Pioneer. He rolls golf lingo off his tongue like he’s been playing for years, admitting some of the terminology came from playing video games.

“When I started, I was whiffing it pretty bad,” Andrew says. But now, he reports, he can hit steady and far, getting more consistent results from his swing.

Dennis says Andrew’s temperament is good for golfing – even keeled and relaxed. Andrew agrees: “You don’t want to be frustrated on the golf course; I’m just an easy going person.”

Volunteer Fred Blunden says you see a mental battle with all golfers as you play against yourself, not others. Three weeks ago, Fred recalls, Andrew had a terrible day. The next week, he came back and was knocking balls to the Canada flag, 150 yards out.

Andrew confirms he has learned a lot in the short time so far. What have you learned, asks the Pioneer?

“Sweep the grass to get under the ball. And slow down!” he asserts.

Dennis and Andrew look at each other and share a laugh. ‘You’ve been listening’, quips Dennis. Andrew grins and turns back to the task at hand: finding that perfect swing on the pin-striped turf.

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