Two pioneering clubs and their journeys to becoming fully inclusive.
Picturesque Bingley St Ives golf club in West Yorkshire overlooks the Aire Valley, a route to the beautiful Yorkshire dales. The club has come together with International Mixed Ability Sports (IMAS) and recruited new members who traditionally have faced barriers to joining community golf clubs. Mixed Ability involves participants with and without disabilities coming together to participate, compete and socialise.
Mark Goodwin co-founder of IMAS gave some perspective on the growth of Mixed Ability activities. “Twelve years ago, we had one person with a learning disability and cerebral palsy who wanted to play rugby, his dream was facilitated by a local club and the community who played there. Just two months ago he took part in an IMAS led tournament with over 1,000 players coming together in Ireland, from countries as diverse as Canada and Argentina. I can see this growth being repeated in golf, and the growth is led by individuals in St Ives and Saltford golf clubs”.
Saltford, sited mid-way between Bath and Bristol, is another club with a rugby connection offering Mixed Ability golf. Bath Rugby Foundation first launched as a disability golf club in partnership with Saltford in 2018 with most of the participants being aged 17 – 25. As several parents and volunteers began to play the similarity to the Mixed Ability model became obvious.
Support from PGA Head Coach, Chris Coles and the development of the new 6-hole academy course has meant that around 15 players have developed their skills to be able to access a driving range for additional sessions outside of the once-a-week club.
IMAS Development Manager Dan Hine said, “these sessions are a great opportunity to be involved in a calm and enjoyable environment, whilst having social opportunities with players from all backgrounds.
One of our younger players Morgan, began his golf journey in 2018, he was attending a mainstream school but found it difficult to interact with highly competitive classmates. This impacted on Morgan’s self-esteem and left him feeling isolated, now we see his confidence has grown in his golfing ability and he has also encouraged his dad to take up the sport. Both Morgan and dad have bought their own clubs and taken out a social membership at their local club where they continue to hone their skills alongside the weekly Mixed Ability sessions at Saltford Golf Club.
For the club, it’s meant many members who wouldn’t ordinarily interact with disabled people have developed positive relationships and become champions and drivers of Mixed Ability golf”.
Dads and Lads
Alan Thornber, co-founder of Mixed Ability Golf at Bingley St Ives explained what motivated him. “My son played in this year’s IMAS organised Mixed Ability Rugby World Cup and I was discussing this with my pal Meg, we thought ‘Why can’t we do something, with the support of IMAS, at our golf club?
We wanted to offer an activity that would enable anyone, who for whatever reason, would normally not have had the opportunity to ‘have a go’ at golf. Fortunately, the club got on board, specifically Carole our Chairperson, and Adam the Greenkeeper and here we are, playing golf on what was the old practice area. It is now a 5 hole ‘pitch and putt’ course, not only enjoyed by our Mixed Ability group but a facility used by all our members”.
Carole Barrott – Chair of Bingley St Ives added, “Two of our members Alan and Meg approached me and asked about hosting a Mixed Ability taster session at the club. We are a Community Amateur Sports Club (CASC) and so were delighted to get the opportunity to show that we are fully representative and welcome a diverse membership. What stands out to me since we began these sessions, is that the disabled participants have not only become better at golf but have moved on to enjoy the social interaction at the club in the 19th!”
Graham ‘Meg’ Buttrick– Co-Founder of the MA group at Bingley St Ives
“My nephew Gareth has learning and physical disabilities, and I wanted him to have the same opportunities as me to enjoy golf in these beautiful surroundings. I can’t believe how quickly the numbers have grown; people must have been waiting years for this chance to play.”
“After the first two or three sessions Gareth complained that the bending over to take the shots was hurting his back, this is linked to his physical disability and limited movement. I’m a former engineer and I began to think about how I could build him some clubs where he could keep his posture upright. I cut two of my old clubs in half and tig welded the handle of one into the shaft of another to the correct length for Gareth’s height. He’s now got his own personalised 7 iron and putter.”
Disabled participants new to golf
“I started playing golf because my brother Wayne plays, I’m getting better every week. The staff and members are lovely, and I like the bar lady who is very kind and friendly. It’s a really great way to socialise and make new friends”.
“The first time I went I thought it was just seeing how far you could hit the ball, now I’ve learned to slow down my swing and stop rushing. I’m keen to learn and get better at the game. Because we go out 3 or 4 at a time, every time I’ve gone on the course I have met and chatted with someone new.”
Both April and Rupert play alongside members of the club, and their residential staff team at Ambler Way are committed to supporting them on and off the course.
How to get involved
Mixed Ability Golf runs on a Thursday evening, 4.30pm – 6pm at Saltford Golf for people of all abilities aged 17+. To find out more, email inclusion officer email@example.com
At Bingley St Ives the adult Mixed Ability sessions run fortnightly on Mondays between 4 and 6pm. To join or find out more email Alan firstname.lastname@example.org
To start your club’s journey into Mixed Ability email@example.com
Thanks to Rupert Spode for the pictures!