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Golf at heart of world-first facility for intellectually disabled golfers on Sunshine Coast

POSTED ON June 1, 2022 @ 7:11 pm

A proposed purpose-built golf facility on the Sunshine Coast is promising to put a golf club into the hands of those with an intellectual disability and deliver independent living opportunities through training and employment.

The brainchild of PGA Professional Darrell Dalton and wife Michelle who established Golf Programs Australia Incorporated in 2014, the facility would feature a gated community with associated support, training programs and employment within a golf complex that encompasses a driving range, golf course and practice area.

Practical life skills such as cooking and cleaning will be interspersed with training in various areas of the golf industry from customer service to hospitality and agronomy, providing purpose for those who can feel isolated and connect them to the broader community.

It is a passion project driven by the Daltons’ strong Christian beliefs and one which Darrell hopes will be rolled out in each state of Australia and ultimately into markets overseas.

After starting his PGA training under Sid Cowling at Lane Cove Country Club in Sydney in 1979, Dalton had to pause his progression to becoming a PGA Professional after his mother suffered a stroke and he returned home to Darwin.

He would finally gain his PGA credentials at Nambour Golf Club in 2009 following a career in nursing, his time working in the acquired brain injury unit revealing the extent of the struggles faced by people with an intellectual disability and their families.

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities in training and employment,” Dalton says.

“The parents that we talked to, their biggest concern was what was going to happen to their son or daughter when they passed.

“What you learn is that if you have someone in your family that’s high-care high needs they’re living, really, the life that you live. Yes, there are things that they can plug into, but at the same time, they become isolated because of the nature of their condition.

“By the very nature of having a daughter or son that has an intellectual disability, families also become isolated.

“The reason that we exist the way we do is because it was really a cry from the parents to say, ‘We’ve done this for years and there are no real outcomes or opportunities for our sons and daughters.’”

It was an approach made through the membership at Nambour on behalf of the Special Olympics in 2014 that provided the Daltons with the impetus to offer a golf program at Tanawha Valley Golf and Tennis.

The expectation was that one or two athletes would come forward to participate but in their first year 18 joined the program, a number that has since grown to 45 who take part on a weekly basis.
But while golf is the conduit, it is the extension into training and employment that is having the greatest impact on those who take part.

“We established retail, business and creativity training through our retail store which also gave us a connection with the community that come through the front door,” Dalton explains.

“By the time they transferred or transitioned from the golf program into our retail store for any sort of training, it was seamless.

“Being a part of our golf program opens up all these other opportunities. So when you’re talking about how much it means to them, it’s life-changing for the parents and it’s life-changing for the athletes.

“Golf is the glue that keeps everything together and we offer so much more beyond that, because we listened to the families.”

The GPAI Golf Classic each December pairs athletes from the program with corporate sponsors in a two-person foursomes format that by its very nature emphasises the charity’s catch cry of ‘Driving Inclusion – Breaking Isolation’.

The next step in that evolution is a purpose-built facility on the Sunshine Coast that will use golf as the grounding to significantly enhance the lives of not only those who will live on-site, but also their friends and family.

“They have special potential, and they have special needs, and special understanding requirements,” says Michelle Dalton, a highly accomplished businesswoman who heads the education and training element of GPAI.

“Now, how does a family deal with all that? Quite often, they’ve got other children. Some of our people are second generation disability. How do they deal with it?

“They’re not looking for hidden potential, they’re looking at what they can get through today. And that’s where we had to learn that there is such potential.

“How do we just leave this untapped? We do this for big corporates and everyone except for the most vulnerable? No.”

Adds Darrell: “There’s so much potential with this concept. It just blows my mind every time. That’s what gets us up in the morning.”

There are numerous ways in which you can support GPAI realise their vision of a purpose-built golf facility for people with an intellectual disability.

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