Golf made a triumphant, largely-lauded return to the Olympic program in 2016. The men's and women's tournaments were compelling, and the Gil Hanse-designed venue for Rio showcased modern course design and that golf can be challenging and beautiful while also delivering a breathtaking look that didn't have to be lush.
However, when the Paralympics took place in Brazil in September after the Olympians left town, golf wasn't part of the program. Golf's governing bodies didn't make much of an effort to get para-golf into the Paralympic program even though, arguably, it would have been way easier than it was to get golf into the Olympics after a 112-year absence. They were more worried about regular ole golf, looking to 2024 for para-golf. There was no para-golf bid submitted for Tokyo in 2020.
The International Paralympic Committee, which governs the Paralympics, wanted to see more of a foundation for the sport and a more formal competitive structure than what the sport had. Yes, the European Disabled Golf Association runs competitions and led the plea to the International Golf Federation, the International Olympic Committee-recognized governing body for Olympic golf, to help para-golf get in the games. And there are disabled golf organizations from the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Africa all organizing. However, the IPC indicated para-golf really lacked an organized ranking structure and a competitive landscape which could identify the best para-golfers from around the world.
That's changing. There was no world championship for para-golf, but the second-ever world championship was held at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon during the Rio Games, building on the first championship in 2014. The IPC requires at least 32 nations to compete in the world championship structure, and the world championship could reach that level in 2018.
Part of building a broader international base for para-golf participation is having home-nation championships. The United States Disabled Golf Association is doing just that, presenting its first United States Disabled Open in Orlando from May 8-10. It's a 36-hole affair at Eagle Creek Golf Club, inviting all players with physical or intellectual impairments to compete. There are about 30 golfers in the field right now, and the first time for any championship will come with some challenges on a variety of front. This is a key start to building para-golf in the United States, adding to some of the success seen in para-long drive.
A number of golf organizations have gotten behind the championship. EZ Links, which runs TeeOff.com, provided the website. PGA Tour Superstore and Greg Norman's fashion line are donating items. The University of Central Florida's golf program has organized volunteers. Martini Tees and Planeswing have offered support.
Smaller adapative/disabled golf organizations are rallying around the tournament, including the Amputee Golf Association, the US Adaptive Golf Alliance, the One-Arm Golf Association, the Adaptive Golf Association and others.
This is a wonderful opportunity for para-golf to welcome more players and show the growing community for the sport. It is a move toward getting golf in the Paralympics in 2024 or beyond. However, political issues remain. The International Golf Federation named USA Golf as the formal American disabled golf representative organization instead of the United States Disabled Golf Association. That should change, with the USDGA at least getting welcomed into the push. The events need more coverage and attention. These competitors deserve acknowledgement of their talent, effort and what they overcome to enjoy this game.
For now, though, it's best to focus on the good that will be happening in Orlando in a few weeks.