26 Oct 2023 | All Abilities |

Record turnout for Special Olympics National Tournament

by Tony Webeck

Special Olympics award winners
Athletes were all smiles at the awards presentation for the Special Olympics National Tournament at Palm Meadows. Credit: Highflyer Images

A record field of 62 athletes took part in either 18-hole, nine-hole or alternate-shot competition in the first Special Olympics Australia national golf tournament to be held outside of Special Olympics qualifying.

The two-day tournament was held this week at Palm Meadows Golf Course on the Gold Coast, athletes and their support travelling from throughout Queensland and from interstate to take part.

Led by Natascha Tennent’s gold medal in the women’s 18-hole division, six Australians attended the Special Olympics in Berlin in June but Special Olympics Australia wanted to broaden each sport’s reach.

Driven by 40-year Special Olympics administrator Rex Langthorne AM with help on the ground from PGA Professionals Geoff Mansfield, Lee Harrington and Scott McDermott, this week’s tournament was as much about skill development and competition as it was camaraderie.

“It’s all about opportunity,” explained Langthorne.

“The opportunity to get out and play golf and to provide more opportunity to get out and interact with people from interstate who they have met, rather than once every four years at our national games.

“The philosophy throughout Special Olympics is to provide opportunity for everyone, irrespective of their ability level. Consequently, we put them into divisions of similar ability and we award medals and ribbons depending on the level of competition for those respective divisions.

“Here at this event we’ve got 17 divisions for the 62 athletes and in every one of those divisions people will receive medals for first, second and third and beyond that they receive ribbons, so everyone gets an award.”

By staging more regular competitions, officials hope to make the athletes feel more confident and comfortable when it comes to travel and playing tournament golf.

Based at Wynnum Golf Club in Brisbane, Brendan Borger travels regularly by train from Brisbane to the Gold Coast for playing lessons with Lee Harrington at Palm Meadows.

His father, Kevin Borger, says playing golf has provided Brendan with a community he may not have connected with otherwise.

“Prior to playing golf Brendan was very isolated,” Kevin explains.

“Golf has taught him to interact with other people. Now he’s confident to talk with other people, confident to get on public transport and come down here by himself.

“Every second week he even brings an even more disabled athlete with him to see Lee.

Special Olympics group-news

“He started off playing in a skills competition and liked it. Developed until he could play nine holes and then went from nine to 18, decided to join a golf club and that changed his life.

“It was a complete change of life because he was no longer socially isolated due to his autism.

“It’s taken a tremendous amount of pressure off us, that he can get out and enjoy himself and be more independent.”

With opportunities for people with a disability to play golf growing by the day, Langthorne encouraged others to explore golf as a way to enrich the lives of everyone.

“Parents love the aspects of golf because it teaches the athletes discipline, it teaches them to follow rules, taking care of the course and respecting the people they’re playing with,” adds Langthorne, who was pivotal in the formation of Special Olympics Australia 40 years ago.

“It gives them a purpose in their life. They look forward so much to the weekly training and then the regular competition.

“I would say to every parent of a child with an intellectual disability, get in contact, come and try because unless you try you don’t know.”

For more information on golf and the Special Olympics, visit specialolympics.com.au.

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