Golf included in the program of 2018 Special Olympics Summer Games

14.11.2017

The Polish Golf Union signed a cooperation agreement with the Special Olympics Poland Association, and golf was included in the program of this event addressed to sportsmen with intellectual disabilities for the first time in history of the Special Olympics Summer Games. As part of these Games, the golf course in Mikołów will host a two-day Special Olympics Golf Tournament. 

“Golf is one of 35 official sports disciplines played at the Special Olympics around the world. Golf tournaments are included in the most important Special Olympics, such as the World Summer Games or Polish Games. Golf will also be one of the disciplines at the next year’s Polish Olympic Games in Katowice, Chorzów, and Mikołów,” said Joanna Styczeń-Lasocka, general director of the Special Olympics Poland.

Golf is a magnificent discipline of sport – it develops both physical abilities of competitors and it is a great intellectual training, i.e. it develops cognitive skills and strategic thinking. Also, it is one of the most approachable disciplines of sport. Provided that the difficulty level is determined correctly, practically everybody can have fun playing golf. That is why, in my opinion, the myth about inaccessibility of golf, which is believed to be a hermetic, elitist discipline of sport, is completely unjustifiable,“ emphasized Marek Michałowski, the president of the PGU.

Pursuant to the signed agreement, the PGU shall help with the organization of all-Poland golf tournaments for competitors with intellectual disabilities, support training of coaches and instructors, and provide referees for golf tournaments included in the Special Olympics Poland. The PGU shall also help with drawing terms and conditions of using Polish golf courses by competitors of the Special Olympics and shall participate in promotional campaigns popularizing golf among people with intellectual disabilities.

The 9th Special Olympics Summer Games begin on 9 June 2018 in “Spodek” in Katowice. Till 12 June, over a thousand competitors supported by over 800 coaches, doctors, referees, and volunteers will compete for medals in 11 disciplines. Competitions will be held at the Silesian Stadium (6 disciplines: football, athletics, cycling, tennis, triathlon, boules), facilities belonging to the Academy of Physical Education in Katowice (swimming, badminton, table tennis), the bowling alley “Galaktyka” in Katowice (bowling), and at Golf Park Mikołów in Mikołów.

The propagator of golf among people with intellectual disabilities, Marek Jelonek, explained that 30 competitors – gold medalists of regional tournaments – will qualify to this tournament. In the Special Olympics Summer Games, they will compete according to rules determined in the terms and conditions of the Special Olympics. The golf tournament will involve the Individual Skills Contest (five strokes giving points at each position: Short Putt, Long Putt, Chip Shot, Pitch Shot, Iron Shot, and Wood Shoot), and those who score the highest number of points will advance to the second stage – a 9-hole tournament – playing with a fully-abled partner, i.e. unified partner in a foursome format. Tournaments of the Special Olympics are played in skill groups created on the basis of results achieved in pre-qualifiers, which is undoubtedly influenced by a diverse level of disability.
Two lucky golfers will be selected from among winners of each group of the National Games, and they will be granted the right to participate in the World Special Olympics Summer Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019.

“Currently, a few hundred golfers with intellectual disabilities across Poland are competing in regional tournaments for the right to participate in this event. Together with the PGU, we want to show that – just like Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth – golfers with intellectual disabilities can enjoy golf and succeed in this sport to the extent of their own capabilities,” emphasized Joanna Styczeń-Lasocka.

As Marek Jelonek adds, when golf came back to the Olympic Games, it also became an important sport in the Special Olympics movement. In Poland, 8 Regional Centers offer golf classes to children and teenagers with intellectual disabilities. It started in Silesia, where – as an instructor of the occupational therapy in the Centre for Disabled People of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Ruda Śląska-Halemba – he gave classes at driving ranges of the golf course in Siemianowice.

“After the training courses for coaches of the Special Olympics, organized by the Silesian Centre in cooperation with the National Bureau of the Special Olympics Poland, the number of places where people with disabilities can practice golf increased significantly. Professional coaches are also involved in training sessions, e.g. Peter Bronson trains golfers from the Centre in Opole,” described Jelonek.

The Special Olympics movement was initiated in 1968 in the USA. It stemmed from the conviction that people with intellectual abilities can – following proper incentive and training – practice sport, have fun, and profit from their participation in a sports event. One of the missions of the Special Olympics is to raise awareness and prove that including this group in every day functioning of the society is very profitable for both sides.

The first all-Poland tournament included in the Special Olympics was held in 1987. Currently, recognized by the International Olympic Committee, the Special Olympics Movement has 5 million members from over 180 countries, who practice 32 disciplines of sport.

In Poland, there are approx. 1.2 million people with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics Poland Association has 18 centers and 507 clubs. All year classes and competitions are attended by over 17 thousand sportsmen, supported by 1,500 coaches and 7,500 volunteers.