Richmond, British Columbia (British Columbia Golf)–In the last three years, golf as a Special Olympics BC (SOBC) sport offering has grown exponentially.

In 2009, when the sport was part of the Special Olympics BC Summer Games for the first time, there were a modest 12 registered golfers in three SOBC community programs. In 2012, just a year away from the sport’s second appearance at the SOBC Summer Games and two years from its Special Olympics Canada Games debut, there are 293 registered golfers with 23 SOBC community programs.

The enthusiasm with which SOBC athletes have taken to golf has been exciting to see, and there are many equally enthusiastic volunteer coaches helping them develop their skills and fall in love with the game. British Columbia Golf and the Professional Golfers’ Association of Canada (PGA of Canada) have played an important part in helping SOBC expand and deepen the support, resources and training it is able to offer its coaches.

British Columbia Golf, the Provincial Sport Organization for golf in British Columbia, has helped provide foundation blocks on which SOBC could build its golf programming. In 2009, British Columbia Golf provincial coach Matt Palsenbarg assisted at the 2009 Special Olympics BC Summer Games, providing a valuable source of guidance to the athletes and volunteers taking part in the inaugural golf competitions at the Provincial Games level.

Continuing with their progressive approach of making golf an inclusive sport, British Columbia Golf has opened its doors to SOBC coaches to strengthen their resources of knowledge to meet the needs of the growing number of SOBC golfers. This growing relationship means teaching volunteer coaches how to teach a technical sport in a manner their athletes can appreciate and understand.

Steve Nielsen, an SOBC – Victoria golf and speed skating coach, recently attended the British Columbia Golf Regional Camp at Highland Pacific Golf Club at the end of April, where he soaked up golf coaching guidance from BC Golf Coach Jody Jackson and PGA of BC professional Matt Diederichs.

“I am extremely happy and optimistic about the partnership that has been created between British Columbia Golf and Special Olympics BC. I was able to see firsthand how golf is taught to aspiring elite-level athletes in this province,” Steve wrote after his experience.

“Our athletes learn in a different capacity than do mainstream athletes. The support of British Columbia Golf and PGA of Canada members in developing the necessary knowledge and coaching skills among volunteers such as me is critical to the growth of the sport within the Special Olympics community.”

Steve feels energized and “ecstatic” about the relationship and resource-sharing that is developing between SOBC and British Columbia Golf.

“Currently, there is a shortage of courses that adapt to welcoming athletes with intellectual disabilities. Without the infrastructure of both course participation and qualified coaches to manage the projected growth of golf interest among our athletes, we may not be able to handle the influx,” Steve wrote. “I think these initial steps in developing and sharing of resources between the two organizations has the opportunity to diversify the sport of golf to a level it has never seen before.”

Future projections put the number of SOBC golfers in the province around 600 by the time the sport makes its Special Olympics National Games debut in 2014.

Steve also noted that participating in the British Columbia Golf camp was “a perfectly timed follow-up” to the Special Olympics Canada/PGA of Canada Coach Certification Workshop he attended the day before in Nanaimo.

The PGA of Canada has worked with Special Olympics Canada to develop a workshop specifically designed to help Special Olympics coaches in their efforts to teach Special Olympics athletes the sport of golf.

The workshop covers coaching philosophy, long-term athlete development, basic rules, instruction of basic technical skills and other elements important to the Special Olympics golf coaches across Canada.

“To see the principles and process explained in the workshop in action, and witness the coaching skills Jody and Matt demonstrated with the junior players, was a treat and a real learning experience,” Steve said.

SOBC and British Columbia Golf are looking forward to offering opportunities to coaches in the growing golf programs around the province.

Individuals looking for the inspiring, joyful and life-changing experience of working with Special Olympics athletes are always welcome to join SOBC as volunteers. Contact Shawn Fevens at [email protected] or 604.737.3055 for further information.