By Mathilda Andersson
Parkwood International is the latest golf club to form a partnership with Empower Golf Australia that aims to facilitate golf for Australians of all abilities around the country.
On February 5, about half a dozen golfers gathered at Parkwood International Golf & Function Complex on the Gold Coast to participate in the club’s Inaugural Empower Golf clinic.
The supervised clinic intended for less abled golfers to come and try the $35,000 German-designed electric cart, the ParaGolfer, which enables individuals to swing a golf club from an upright position, replicating the full golfing experience.
“Our aim at Empower Golf is to get more golf clubs in Australia to commit to becoming more disability-friendly,” said the charity’s founder James Gribble.
“We wish to establish 30 golf courses around the country to work as hubs for monthly come & try clinics for people with all kinds of disabilities, providing them with the latest technology within disability golf.”
The organisation held its first come & try clinic at Noosa Springs Golf Resort on the Sunshine Coast mid last year, and has since successfully held over 20 similar clinics around the country.
Six golf courses are also currently established as Empower Golf hubs around Australia, including clubs in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and the Gold Coast, and soon to come to Adelaide.
37-year-old initiator James Gribble has experienced first-hand how golf can change someone’s life as both an able-bodied and disabled individual after breaking his neck in a freak accident in Africa in 2008, rendering him a quadriplegic.
Prior to his accident, Gribble was a successful investment banker and obsessive golfer with a single-digit handicap, and is now arguably one of the only quadriplegic golfers in the country.
“I started playing golf in my head already at the hospital after being told I would never walk again,” he said.
“I guess you make a decision very early on whether you’re going to lie there and take what you’ve got, or if you’re going to sit up and have a fight.”
Following several months in hospital, the former athlete embarked on a long and intensive rehabilitation journey, and was after four years of hard work, able to get back into the swing of things.
His condition, however, made playing golf a tedious process when having to swing from a seated position in a conventional wheelchair.
That’s when he discovered the ParaGolfer.
After having experienced the benefits of the all-terrain mobility device, Gribble aspired to make golf become more accessible to all individuals. He was able to combine playing the sport he loves and helping other disabled people when founding the Empower Golf Foundation in 2014.
“Golf is truly a unique sport due to its handicap system, which allows for individuals of any ability to compete on a levelled playing field,” he said, “that’s what makes the sports so great,”
“We even had a 100-year-old gentleman come to Moore Park down in Sydney to try the ParaGolfer,”
“It amazes me every time what people can achieve with the right equipment and adequate support,” he added.
Another individual who can vouch for the many benefits of golf associated with ones recovery is former furniture exporter and avid golfer Ben Tullipan, 40, who tragically lost both his legs in the Bali bombings in 2002.
Tullipan, who was given a five per cent chance of survival at the time, was the most critically injured of all Australian survivors from the horrific terrorist attack at a Bali nightclub almost 14 years ago.
Apart from losing his legs, Tullipan also lost most of his stomach muscles, suffered more than 63 per cent burns to his body, lost hearing in one ear and spent months in a coma.
“I had never played golf prior to the accident,” he said, “but golf really became an integral part of my recovery, it particularly helped with my balance.”
In 2007, only eight weeks after teeing off for the first time, he competed in the Australian Amputee Golf Championships and finished third in the bi-lateral amputee division.
Tullipan, who is also the former President for the Queensland Amputee Golf Association, got involved with Empower Golf Australia last year when co-spearheading the Queensland first golf clinic at Noosa Springs.
“We had a good turnout of about eight people on that first day, and I said to James,
‘Wow, this is what I want to do, this is helping everybody,’ ” he said.
“Everyone there was, you know, so happy and one of the guys had never stood up before and the ParaGolfer enabled him to do so and he started tearing-up. It was, you know, it was pretty moving,”
“I thought ‘yeah this is cool. ’ ”
Tullipan said the majority of people turning up for the monthly clinics have never played before, and believes the attraction for most people lays in doing something different, and to “push their limits.”
“It will be great to see as many people out there enjoying the game as possible, so we are calling for people to register or come on the day and participate,” he said about the clinics.
“We just want everyone to play golf; beginners, professionals, it doesn’t matter. We just want you to play.”
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