In 2021 I had the privilege of being in the Covid-19 ‘bubble’ at the Tokyo Paralympics, less than a fortnight after spending three weeks inside that same 4km perimeter zone for the Tokyo Olympics.
I had come back to South Africa for a week and then went back to Japan as Team South Africa’s writer. At first, I didn’t know what I had returned to.
It was my first Paralympics and of the many tours and sports trips I have done over the years, this was the most inspirational. By far. Getting used to the visual element took me a couple of days. The same ‘bubble’ that had been home to the best Olympic athletes now featured Paralympians. It was jolting to see para-athletes walking the same village roads, dining in the same canteens and sleeping in the same beds.
It took a few days to get used to seeing Paralympians without limbs, walking with prosthetics, stunted growth development, being visually impaired and more wheelchairs than I could ever count. It felt as though I had been dropped into the middle of a war zone.
Then I closed my eyes and listened. I sat on my balcony and listened for a good hour with my eyes closed. What I heard was something completely different to the able-bodied Games of a few weeks earlier. I heard laughter. It was everywhere. These Paralympians were living their best lives. They weren’t complaining about the rooms, the daily Covid testing or being segregated from the city of Tokyo which was within touching distance. It changed my perspective on sport.
At the Olympics, both men and women played for medals in golf. However, the sport isn’t on the Paralympic roster. I’m wondering why it is not.
I was pleased to see that the G4D Tour (Golf For Disabled) is now in its second season and it is closely linked to DP World Tour events. There are eight tournaments scheduled for 2023 and the stopovers have already been in Abu Dhabi and Singapore. Still to come are events at Ullna Golf in Stockholm, the Belfry and Wentworth in England, Galgorm Castle in Northern Ireland and the Jumeira Estates in Dubai.
Each golfer who tees up has a life story to tell – and I can assure you that it would help grow the game if there were more disabled events. By all accounts, the re-introduction to golf at the Olympics (2016 and 2020), has been a resounding success. Sure, some of the pampered pros who qualified to represent their country found reasons to withdraw. The most common reasons were the Zika virus (2016) and Covid-19 (2020). Perhaps the main reason, though, was money; specifically that there is no prize money at the Olympics.
Disabled golfers would be far more appreciative of playing in the Paralympics and it would provide further inspiration for disabled players to take up the sport. It’s never too late to open the doors.
How many times have you heard a moderate golfer saying, ‘my handicap is golf’? Take a dose of perspective and watch some disabled golfers play. I’m certain it will inspire you to be a better golfer.
– This column first appeared in the March 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.