One Member’s Perspective
It all began one evening in 1991 with a telephone solicitation call. Little did I know at the time that this phone call would literally change my life over the next 20 years. The person on the other end of the line asked if I would donate money to an organization called Special Olympics. I was familiar with Special Olympics, but I steadfastly refused to donate money on the telephone to anyone. I explained that although I would not provide funds, I would gladly volunteer to teach/coach Special Olympics golfers. At the time, I was half-way through my apprenticeship in the PGA of America and was working as a non-member Director of Golf at a public golf course in Phoenix, AZ. Taken aback, the telephone solicitor said that he was unaware of any Special Olympics Golf Program and referred me to Troy Greisen, the Executive Director of Arizona Special Olympics. I set up an appointment to talk with Troy the following week, and we both came away from the meeting with a plan to start a Special Olympics Golf Program in Arizona. Unknown to me, this same scenario was taking place in four other states throughout the country at the same time.
In September 1991, I hosted a Special Olympics golf clinic at my course and persuaded a few local professionals to help. I was fortunate to have Wedgy Winchester, world famous trick shot artist and long drive champion, donate his time to conduct a demonstration before the clinic started. Over a dozen Special Olympics athletes attended this first clinic, and the Arizona Special Olympics Golf Program was officially established. Within the next month, I contacted golf courses throughout the Phoenix area and asked the professional staffs to donate an hour or two of their time each week to provide instruction for interested Special Olympians. The Directors of Golf/Head Professionals went above and beyond and not only donated lessons, but opened their driving ranges at no charge during specified hours each week and provided free golf to Special Olympians and their families when there were openings on the tee sheet.
In January 1992, the PGA of America convened the first Special Olympics Golf Committee meeting, and I was fortunate to be selected as a member of that committee. The initial goals established by the committee were to grow the Special Olympics Golf Program within each state in the U. S. and to have Special Olympics Golf included as part of the 1995 Special Olympics International World Games Competition in New Haven, Connecticut. The 1995 World Games Golf Tournament was held at Yale Golf Course, where Andrew White won the Male Division I title with rounds of 81,81 and 80. Michele Mouier captured the Female Division I title with rounds of 99, 107 and 95. Golf had been established as a Medal Sport in Special Olympics International World Games Competitions.
For me, the last 20 years have been full of heart-warming, emotional and gratifying events revolving around Special Olympics. I have been the Chairman of the Special Olympics Golf Committee since 1990 and have enjoyed every moment. My wife and I served as Organizers and Rules Officials at Special Olympics golf tournaments in Arizona, California and South Carolina, and at the 1999 World Games Golf Tournament in Raleigh, NC and the 2003 World Games Golf Tournament in Ireland. We traveled to South Africa for a week to train Special Olympics Athletes and Coaches. We have conducted numerous clinics, tournaments and coaches’ training sessions throughout the country. We have luckily built lasting relationships with some of the finest people you could ever hope to meet.
Everyone from the newest entry-level PGA Apprentice to the most experienced PGA Director of Golf can make a difference in a Special Olympian’s life or that of his/her family. I strongly encourage every PGA member and apprentice to take that first step and get involved with Special Olympics Golf by contacting your local state Special Olympics Executive Director. If you would like more information about Special Olympics Golf, please feel free to contact me at 843-997-8318 or by email at TGACERIC@aol.com.
In summary, the heart of the Special Olympics program is captured by the Special Olympics oath, which is recited by the athletes before every competition: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Eric C. Wilson, Ph.D., PGA Master Professional
Chairman, Special Olympics Golf Committee
Executive Director Golf Operations
Keiser University College of Golf
Port St. Lucie, FL 34986
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