Golfers with a disability from different nations are set to increase the profile of inclusive golf on a global stage when they play in a world-first championship for golfers with impairment within this year’s Emirates Australian Open in Sydney (November 15-18).
The collaboration between Golf Australia and the European Disabled Golf Association (EDGA) means that EDGA players will be playing on the same course, under the same tournament playing conditions, alongside many of the best Tour professional players in the game. Twelve golfers with disability will share the fairways and play in the ‘Australian All Abilities Championship’, while the Tour stars contest the hallowed Stonehaven Cup.
Six of the 12 golfers with disability – ‘Golfers’ First’ – have qualified via the Ranking for Golfers with Disability (R4GD), four have qualified through tournaments, while there are two ‘wildcard’ selections for players who have performed at the highest level in disability golf over the last three years. Australian Shane Luke (currently fourth in the R4GD), and three other home nation players will welcome golfers from seven European nations and one from the Dominican Republic to tee it up among the professionals in Sydney.
The progressive move was borne out of Golf Australia offering to support the long-term vision of EDGA and two of EDGA’s leading supporters, The R&A and the European Tour, in helping the sport to become more inclusive at all levels. The Australian All Abilities Championship is now set to be repeated on an annual basis.
EDGA staff and volunteers have supported players with disability to enjoy high-standard international competition for some time now, backed today by 27 national golf federations. Its annual Tournament Series grew to 14 events in the last year but with recent support by the European Tour, creating an exhibition match at the Portugal Masters between EDGA players and Tour favourites like Thomas Pieters and Marcel Siem, it has helped spread the word that golfers who have suffered injuries, illnesses or have been born with impairment can develop, reach their potential and thrive through playing golf.
The talented 12 EDGA backed players taking part in the Emirates Australian Open are Charles-Henri Quelin of France (currently top of the Ranking for Golfers with Disability), Juan Postigo of Spain (ranked second), Ireland’s Brendan Lawlor (third), Australia’s Shane Luke (fourth), Johan Kammerstad of Sweden (fifth), Ashley Harris of England (seventh), Germany’s Timo Klischan (eighth), Adem Wahbi of Belgium (ninth), Manuel De Los Santos from the Dominican Republic (10th), and Australians Stephen Prior (11th), Mike Rolls (14th) and Geoff Nicholas (16th).
Chief Executive of The R&A, Martin Slumbers, said: “The R&A is delighted to see this initiative from Golf Australia showcase the leading golfers with disability and the use of the Ranking for Golfers with Disability (R4GD) in the qualification process. The Australian All Abilities Championship will do much to promote the inclusive nature of golf to a global audience, and to demonstrate that golf is a game for all, for life.”
Golf Australia National Inclusion Manager Christian Hamilton said he was thrilled that players with a disability would have the opportunity to share the global spotlight. He said: “This is far from an exhibition event. These are some of the world’s best players, as determined by the R4GD, and they’ll face the same test as all the champions who’ll be battling for the Aussie Open.
“It will also complement the work of the International Golf Federation which is poised to promote its case for golf’s inclusion in the 2024 Paralympics in France.
“One of the sport’s great advantages is its capacity to include; these tournaments combined will not only inspire the public to see that, but also encourage other golfing federations to follow Australia’s lead in making the game accessible to all.”
Tony Bennett, Director of Education for the PGAs of Europe and President of EDGA, said: “It has been a pleasure to work with Golf Australia and all those involved in the vision of holding the AAAC within the Emirates Australian Open. The twelve players, who have shown great skill and determination to reach the higher levels of the R4GD over the last two year counting period, are justifiably proud to represent golf for the disabled in this prestigious championship. I am sure that the players will have a memorable experience in this groundbreaking event and help the fans to understand that these individuals truly embody the values of EDGA’s philosophy of ‘Golfers First’ – as they refuse to be defined by their disability.”
Other EDGA supporters include The Ryder Cup Europe Development Trust plus several valued partners including PING, Golfbidder and the Association of Algarve Tourism. Where possible, EDGA is also supporting national federations to promote inclusive golf programmes.
A number of these 12 leading players bound for Australia are among those featured in a specialist new series by EDGA on top players and personalities who have faced the challenge of impairment, injury or illness and come out stronger thanks in no small way to golf. ‘EDGA Profiles supported by PING’ can be found now at www.edgagolf.com
pictured top: Juan Postigo (left) & Mike Roll