Welsh Paralympic sailor Stephen Thomas cast his eyes over a different type of setting last Friday as the ISPS HANDA PGA Academy Programme delivered its first workshop in Wales at the Celtic Manor Resort, in the City of Newport, the host venue for the ISPS HANDA Wales Open from Aug 29-Sep 1.
Thomas, who has represented the Paralympics GB team at four consecutive Paralympic Games, was present to observe PGA tutors Craig Thomas and Mark Taylor deliver an inclusive coaching workshop to nine local PGA pros at the Celtic Manor Golf Academy, one of the finest-equipped golf academies in Europe.
The ground-breaking initiative, backed by ISPS Chairman and leading Japanese philanthropist Dr Haruhisa Handa, is enabling these newly-trained PGA professionals to provide 1,000 free golf lessons for blind and disabled golfers, equipping them with the skills needed to specialise in giving high quality coaching sessions to golfers with disabilities.
“It’s great to see an initiative that is designed to give more people the chance of taking up sport,” said Thomas, who is a double below the knee amputee as a result of contracting meningococcal septicaemia in 1996.
“Obviously I’m used to being on water, but I also play ice sledge hockey so golf is something I’m keen to get into. Hopefully one day it will be in the Paralympics, it’s a global sport so why shouldn’t it be?
“It’s great to know specialist tuition for blind and disabled golfers is becoming more and more readily available through the ISPS HANDA PGA Academy Programme.”
Since its inception, the ISPS HANDA PGA Academy Programme has hosted 13 workshops and educated 153 coaches, who between them have delivered over 1,300 coaching sessions to blind and disabled golfers within the UK.
Dr Handa, whose 25-year support for blind and disabled golf, is founded in his belief in the power of sport, was delighted to see the first workshop being delivered in Wales and the continued success of the ISPS HANDA PGA Academy Programme.
“Sport has a unique ability to create hope, to breakdown educational and cultural barriers and to inspire people in a way that very little else does,” said Dr Handa.
“It brings people together and unites communities around the world, so we are proud to see our programme facilitating the opportunity for blind and disabled golfers to access specialised coaching.”
Dr. Handa appreciates the support of award-winning PGA tutor Craig Thomas, who as part of the five-hour workshop encouraged the PGA pros to put theory into practice, as ten pupils from the local Maes Ebbw School were given a private lesson. The school offers a well-resourced environment to help young people with special needs, aged from three to 19, develop their learning skills.
For Thomas, the importance of the support from ISPS HANDA is crucial, and it has had a huge impact across the UK at grass roots level.
“As we enter our second year of the ISPS HANDA PGA Academy Programme, we are still raising awareness among blind and disabled golfers and also PGA professionals that there are demands for more coaches to deliver these specialised skills,” said Thomas.
“As we saw at this workshop, golf is for everyone, inclusion is for all and through workshops like ours we are helping to provide new opportunities. Hopefully our model is something we can expand into other territories around the globe, such as the USA.”
The 2013 ISPS HANDA Wales Open kicks off the race for qualification for The 2014 Ryder Cup from Aug 29-Sep 1. Tickets are available here