GameOn for young golfers with autism at Castlegregory GC

John Craven
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GameOn for young golfers with autism at Castlegregory GC

GameOn for Autism at Castlegregory

A big team effort from members and volunteers at Castlegregory Golf Club has seen the club’s GameON Autism Golf programme go from strength to strength since it first teed off in 2016.

The initiative was introduced to Ireland by PGA professional Liam Duggan (R.I.P.) following a trip to Florida where he visited the Ernie Els for Autism Foundation, an educational facility for autistic young people that’s created an environment in which kids living with ASD can thrive.

Inspired by what he saw in America, Duggan brought the idea home to the UNESCO Chair in the Institute of Technology Tralee, now the Munster Technological University, before the UNESCO/ITT team ran the first #GameON programme outside of the U.S.

The initial staging was so successful that the kids being introduced to the game were soon bitten by the golfing bug. It became obvious that the characteristics of the game naturally lent themselves to children with autism, from the repetition of the golf swing to the autonomy of an individual pursuit, played in the great outdoors without the need for verbal communication, while still being engaging, competitive and above all else, fun.

What began as a research project with 10 kids taking part has evolved into a year-round developmental programme, from weekly winter training exercises indoors at the Kerry Sports Academy to weekly outdoor sessions teeing off in Easter where participants graduate to test themselves against the fine 9-hole links layout at Castlegregory. Four new kids under the age of eight have joined the programme ahead of the new season with players of all-abilities encouraged to try their hand at what might just become their game for life.

This year, Castlegregory’s drive for inclusion was recognised by the Texaco Support for Sport initiative, with the club one of 26 sporting institutions around Ireland receiving €5,000 in funding. The money is a huge boost to the programme, enabling it to expand its PGA coaching programme to more beginners, led by the fine work of pro Adrian Whitehead who has been with the initiative since the start. The funding will also go towards purchasing equipment for a planned driving bay, and acquiring club shirts for both the golfers and volunteers alike in a bid to further promote the collective team spirit for all those taking part.

This financial backing, combined with the tireless volunteerism of the club’s members, has propelled GameON Autism Golf to new heights with programme co-ordinator, Edel Randles hopeful that the success of the initiative could inspire other clubs in Ireland to get involved too.

“I really believe golf is in such a great position to evolve and develop in this country,” said Randles.

“Our own members have been fantastic. We have so many people coming out to volunteer. We couldn’t run it without their commitment.

“I think there are a lot of really good people involved in golf and they’re not used to having a pathway like this that enables them to contribute back to the game. For that alone, it’s been very healthy for the club in the sense that we’re doing something outside of ourselves.

“As golfers, we can be quite selfish, it can be all about our own game, so I think it’s nice just to meet your members in a different place and the impact for everybody has been a very healthy one.”

Indeed, the programme has been embraced by everyone at Castlegregory who recognise its value and significance in the lives of the young golfers taking part, and their families. The GameON Autism Golf programme has brought everyone at this picturesque Co. Kerry golf club closer together.

The renowned championship links courses may hog the spotlight in the Kingdom, but the work being done at Castlegregory glowingly highlights the power of sport and provides a blueprint for other clubs to follow. Golf is a game for everyone, and the GameON Autism Golf programme proves it.

For more information or to access the GameON Programme, CLICK HERE 

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