DP World Tour And EDGA Set Sights On Making Golf The Most Accessible Sport In The World

The DP World Tour and the European Disabled Golf Association (EDGA) believe they are presiding over a sport that has the potential to be the most accessible on the planet.

Certainly, golf maintains a level of accessibility unseen in other sports, given that it is entirely feasible for golfers with disabilities to compete fairly against both their peers and non-disabled players alike.

There are structural elements within the game that exist to make this possible – namely its pacing and non-contact nature. When the time arrives to take a shot – an individual player controls the situation regardless of the strength, power, speed and accuracy of their opponent.

Even the scoring system lends itself to a level of universal access and meaningful competition, regardless of age and ability, through the aptly named handicap system which makes it far harder for more proficient players to sit back and take it easy against weaker opponents.

“We didn’t sit down with the intention of designing a game that’s inclusive. We just inherited one that happens to be so,” explains EDGA’s President Tony Bennett.

Major events

In the spirit of showing rather than telling, earlier this month, a landmark G4D (Golf For The Disabled) tour event was held at the world-famous Wentworth Golf Club in the United Kingdom.

Crucially, the G4D event took place under the umbrella of the BMW PGA Championship as a curtain raiser. The main event for golf professionals then began on September 6 but was interrupted by the momentous news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

The G4D title was won by Englishman Kipp Popert, who was born with a form of cerebral palsy and edged out World No.1 Brendan Lawlor to capture his third title of the season.

After play resumed following the death of the monarch, Shane Lowry went on to score a narrow one-shot victory over Rory McIlroy at the main event.

This year has witnessed concerted efforts on the part of the European Tour Group to align seven key G4D events with flagship tournaments including the DP World Tour.

These tournaments allow golfers with disabilities to compete on the same course during the same tournament week as their professional peers and is due to culminate in a Grand Finale in Dubai in November at the DP World Tour Championship.

Although still some way off from the dream of a seamlessly mixed ability golfing event – ​​which involves fewer logistical barriers than one might imagine – Bennett explains the value of hitching these G4D events onto the coattails of major golf tournament brands.

“We play around 60 events a year on the circuit but getting the press to see that is almost impossible. When we host an event like this, they see it and because of the worldwide distribution and credibility of the DP World Tour – it reaches an even wider audience,” says Bennett.

He continues, “The first stage for us in a long journey is to create that awareness and visibility. After these events, we know we’ll be inundated with inquiries from golf clubs from all across the UK asking whether they can host disability golf events and what they can do to attract more members with disabilities.”

Returning to golf’s unerring accessibility and inclusivity, the European Tour Group’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility Maria Grandinetti-Milton says a future where there are more mixed-ability events needn’t necessarily be a pipedream:

“Earlier this year, Linn Grant became the first female to win our DP World Tour Scandinavian Mixed,” she explains.

“It’s an amazing experience to look at how men and women can play alongside each other competing for the same prize money. It’s a real privilege to be part of a sport that is so inclusive, and this allows us to do so much more with it.”

Equally effective

Although giving up their amateur status and making the brave decision to go pro involves a big leap of faith for many golfers with disabilities, even those towards the top of the world rankings, those that have made disability golf their life’s passion believe the game’s structure always offers them a genuine sporting chance.

Juan Postigo Arce (pictured above) from Santander in northern Spain and American Chris Biggins from Clarksville, Maryland both competed in the G4D tournament in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

“For me, golf is the only sport where you can fairly compete against anybody in the world,” says Postigo Arce who was born with much of his right leg missing.

“We can be great golfers with our disabilities and with so many other sports it’s just impossible to get there. When I’m playing golf – I don’t feel like I’m playing against my opponent but against the golf course, the conditions and against myself.”

Biggins was born with cerebral palsy and lives with abnormal muscle contractions in his lower limbs on a daily basis. He works full-time as a golf coach at the Country Club of Birmingham located in Alabama.

“In golf, all that matters is the number on the scorecard and there’s no one way to get it done,” says Biggins.

“In many sports, you have to run from point A to point B as fast as possible and you have to be physically gifted. But there are a million different ways to generate club head speed. The gap between performance for the likes of us and the golf Major professionals is actually pretty small when compared to other sports.”

Both players are convinced that, in addition to meshing G4D events, into popular major tours, the singular outcome that could do the most to propel disability golf to higher echelons of exposure and popularity is the sport’s admission to the Paralympic Games due to be staged in Paris in 2024.

Golf itself only made its Olympic bow in Rio in 2016 but Postigo Arce believes Paralympic Golf would be something truly special to behold should its bid for inclusion in the Paris Games be approved.

“It will be so interesting to see how many people with different bodies and different disabilities could end up competing together at the Paralympics. In so many Paralympic sports, you have 15-20 divisions. In golf – it won’t be more than three,” he says.

Biggins agrees: “In the United States, the Paralympics is seen as the pinnacle of competition for disabled athletes. We want golf to be there because that would automatically be seen as the major event everyone wants to win.”

As far as the longer-term goals are concerned, the conversion from an amateur sport to a professional one will require significant prize money pots and everything that accompanies that.

“We don’t have a critical mass of professionals yet where we are ready to do that but we are right on the cusp of that next stage,” says Bennett.

“We now want to increase the number of territories we take G4D to because that will lead to other players being inspired. If you can go along and see it, you can believe it.”

With more exciting events lined up for 2023, the future of G4D looks bright. Yes – the sport harbors an unparalleled spirit of inclusivity and ease of access but for newcomers and the uninitiated – those virtues won’t just sell themselves.

Hopefully, with the DP World Tour and EDGA at the helm, the course should be set fair and, whether more players with disabilities take to the fairways or not, there’ll be more and more opportunities to see what’s possible and be confident they can compete on a level playing field.