Golf as a Rehabilitative Tool for Amputees

The National Amputee Golf Association announced this year that it was opening its national championships to men and women with disabilities other than a major joint amputation. Blind golfers and golfers with various physical challenges or mobility limitations can now compete as associate members of the amputee association.

The national championship and senior championship are Sept. 7-10 in Nashville.

“An able-bodied golfer can enter, too,” said Bob Wilson, the executive director of the N.A.G.A.

You had better bring a good short game.

The amputee association, founded in 1954, sponsors dozens of tournaments around the country and works to take the game to disabled players across the country. Its First Swing program, operated with the Disabled American Veterans and the P.G.A. of America, provides one- and two-day seminars and clinics to train health-care and golf professionals on how to use adaptive golf as a rehabilitative tool for people with a range of disabilities.

Wilson, who developed the First Swing program in 1988, said the association conducted about 30 clinics yearly.

“There is so much that golf can do as rehabilitative therapy,” he said. “For one, if you can walk, it’s aerobic and nonimpact. It gets you outside in a beautiful setting instead of just rolling an exercise ball around in a rehab gym. In four hours on the course, you’ll use every muscle group. It engages your brain. There is the camaraderie of other players. And maybe most of all, you can develop a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Who does not benefit from that?”

Wilson, who lost his legs in an aircraft carrier accident as a Navy officer in 1974, added, “Our association is actually an amputee support group that meets on the golf course.”

Which is not to say that there aren’t some mighty impressive golfers at the gatherings. Wilson recalled how years ago, he received a call from a trick-shot artist who wanted to perform for a fee at the association’s next national championship.

“Will you hit balls with one arm?” Wilson asked.

“You bet,” the trick-shot artist replied.

“Will you hit balls standing on one leg?”


Wilson said, “We will have plenty of those folks performing already.”

The amputee association is also active in the effort to improve access to golf courses for disabled golfers. It’s a cause often met with resistance because courses frequently have to allow the use of specially equipped single-rider carts ‚ or, even better, have single-rider carts included in the cart fleet available for rent. But some notables are aligning themselves with the movement. Jack Nicklaus has donated his time to redesign and expand the American Lake Veterans Golf Course outside Tacoma, Wash. The 18-hole layout will accommodate disabled golfers.

The N.A.G.A. presses on, sponsoring the Eastern Regional Amputee Golf Championship this Friday through Sunday near Philadelphia. There are tournaments around the nation; for a schedule, go to

I asked Wilson last week if an amputee tournament was much different from the average club championship.

“Well, there’s probably a lot more talk about prosthetics,” he said. “But otherwise, maybe not. I have had a lot of people tell me they are better golfers now than before they lost a leg or an arm.

“We do have a lot of people who know how to recover from tough situations.”

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