Paragolfing: it’s not just about sport, but social inclusion for wheelchair users

Scotland’s first golf centre to provide special free devices for wheelchair users is reporting very positive results – in sport, and life.

Mearns Castle Golf Academy on the south side of Glasgow has three Paragolfers, machines which allow people with limited mobility to get on to the course or driving range by raising them to an upright position so they can swing a club easily.

Russell Gray, operations manager at the academy, said the Paragolf idea came from Ryan MacDonald, who works for Housing Options Scotland, and is a keen golfer, but restricted to a wheelchair after a tick bite attacked his central nervous system.

Russell said: “I got a call from Ryan asking if he could store a buggy at the golf academy. I told him it’s not something we really do and asked why he needed a buggy stored and he said: ‘Oh, I’m in a wheelchair.’ I said ‘What?’ ‘You can’t play golf in a wheelchair.’ I’d never heard of that.”

“He said: ‘Oh, I’ve got a new machine called a Paragolfer that helps me play golf.’ I was on the phone to him for two hours speaking to him and going through how it works and how good an invention it was.

ryan

“The first time I saw the machine, I thought, ‘Wow, we have to be so involved in this, it’s unbelievable’. And then he worked with Charlie Barker-Gavigan from the Social Care Ideas Factory and Charlie was the same way, she was like ‘Wow, we should be involved in this as well.’ She then set up a funding subgroup called Paragolf Scotland which is where the money that’s raised goes to.”

Although the machines are designed for the golf course, they’ve ended up meaning a lot more than that to the people that use them.

Russell said: “Our original aim was to try and get as many people on to the golf course as possible…what we’ve learned is that it’s not actually about playing golf, it’s about social inclusion, it’s about participation.

“The first memory I have of Ryan using it…he brought his son, who’s seven or eight, and Ryan did the transfer from his wheelchair to the machine and went down to the driving range, and then he put himself in the upright position and his son just went: “Daddy, you’re tall.” He’d never seen his Dad stand up.”

Russell added: “There’s a guy called Paul – 90% of his body is paralysed, but he comes up here and he laughs and he smiles. He comes up with his Dad who’s a golfer and his Dad had never seen him play golf before, and suddenly the two of them are going to the range together and hitting some balls. Paul laughed and giggled and cried his eyes out because he was just so happy to be upright.

“It’s about people spending their time with their family and getting out of the house, and have a reason to come to a facility like this and play some golf.”

Although the machines are designed to enable people to play golf, they can help in any situation where users would like to be upright and mobile.

“Ryan took one of the Paragolfers with him to do a presentation. Sitting down, you can feel a bit unempowered, so he thought, ‘I’m going to take the Paragolfer and stand up’ and he did and he said it made him feel so much better.

“I think for some people it’s a huge thing. If you’ve never stood up, if it’s been 10 years, 15 years, it’s a huge thing. That’s sometimes more important than playing golf, that’s life-changing for some people.”

At £10,000 each, Paragolfers don’t come cheap. Russell is hoping to raise funds for another machine, bringing their total to four. Members at the Golf Academy have seen the effect the machines have had and have been pitching in to help fundraise.

“Our members have been phenomenal. We have had our own Paragolf golf days, we’ve had folk nights, charity nights, raffles… Our members alone have raised roughly £6-7000 through their own efforts because they see the Paragolfers out in force and they’re amazed by how awesome that is. Our lady members did a Christmas fundraiser and their chosen charity was Paragolf Scotland and they raised nearly £1000.”

On range

As well as hopefully acquiring another Paragolfer, Russell has hopes for creating a driving range specifically designed for disabled users. This would cost around £50,000, so he’s planning some big things this summer to help raise the funds.

“I’m going do the longest week in golf. I’ll be playing golf from 5am till 10pm, for five days, Monday to Friday. My idea is people will pay to play with me, so a £25 donation per person for a round of golf, and then anybody who wants to fundraise or donate can head to a JustGiving page.

“We’ll have a competition on how many shots I take over the full five days – 20 rounds of golf, so how many shots I’ll hit in 20 rounds of golf. If you make a donation you’ll get to guess and if you win you’ll get a free membership and a year of golf lessons.”

If you or someone you know would be interested in using a Paragolfer, go here for more information  The driving range is open year round and the course is open from March to October.

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