The mission of our "Golf for Life" program is to provide a golf developmental process for individuals with Down Syndrome, to introduce the game of golf at a young age, provide a level of consistency, maintain involvement and participation, provide opportunities for competition regardless of skill level and physical abilities, with support for special assistance that may ultimately lead to employment in the golf industry.
By: Nancy Hennefer, Brad's Mom
It has been seventeen years since our son Brad was born with that extra twenty-first chromosome, and he has led our family on many journeys during that time period and taught us more about life than we ever could have imagined. His latest journey, which we refer to as “Golf for Life,” is by far the most exciting of all.
Our family is excited to be collaborating with the NDSC, The Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA) and The PGA Foundation to offer a pilot golf instruction program in the Philadelphia Section of the PGA called “Golf for Life.” Brad, who has been playing golf for almost his entire life, was the inspiration for the “Golf for Life” program concept. He started playing miniature golf at about three years old under the
close eye of his older brother. Brad’s brother, Bob, started playing in junior tours and Brad was always close by practicing along side his brother, and apparently comprehending far more than we realized. Brad spent countless hours in his brother’s shadow watching him compete in tournaments and trying to imitate his every move at the driving range and on the course. Although Brad is a “lefty” and Bob is right-handed, Brad somehow figured out the complexities of a golf swing.
In October 2000, at age twelve, Brad played in his first Special Olympics of New Jersey golf tournament with his brother as his partner and coach, and they won their first gold medal together. Brad was the youngest golfer in the New Jersey state championship and was generally competing with men between ages twenty-five and forty years old. Our sons were quite the team until 2002 when Bob went off to college. There was
suddenly a void in Brad’s “golf life.” I was surfing the web for local golf programs one day and noticed that the Philadelphia Section of the PGA had a program whereby
individuals with special needs were paired up with a PGA professional who volunteered to provide golf instruction.
In the summer of 2003, Brad first met Rich Smith, Jr. who volunteered to be his “golf buddy.” Rich had never worked with an individual with Down syndrome and had no idea what he was getting into, but fate changed both his life and Brad’s life that day. Rich, who is now President of the Philadelphia Section of the PGA, has provided professional golf instruction to Brad for the past few years. Brad has blossomed under his direction and is now able to independently play eighteen holes of golf. Brad is also participating on his high school golf team, which practices at the course where Rich is the Director of Golf. Brad and Rich have developed a strong bond with each
other over the years, and they seem to truly bring out the best in each other.
Our family’s goal, along with Rich Smith and his family, is to now provide to other individuals who have Down syndrome, the same opportunities to work with a PGA professional that are being provided to Brad. Rich Smith and my husband, Bob, met with the NDSC in Atlanta during January 2006 to formally present the program that will be piloted in the Philadelphia Section of the PGA this summer and hopefully expanded nationally. Through collaboration between The PGA Foundation and the NDSC, our goal is to provide a national golf instruction and development cycle to individuals who have Down Syndrome.
1) Expand Program to Five Additional PGA Sections
Our primary goal for year two is to expand the program to at least five additional PGA Sections. This will be dependent on the commitment of at least five NDSC affiliate parent groups who are willing to take on lead roles with the PGA Section
Professionals in their geographic areas. Both the PGA and NDSC have already pledged their commitment to expand the program. However, we will need committed local NDSC affiliate groups to help make it happen.
2) PGA Sectional Down Syndrome Events
Our goals for year three are to: 1) provide opportunities for competition and advanced skill development such as PGA Sectional tournaments; and 2) expand the program to additional PGA Sections. The program could potentially be offered to as many NDSC parent groups who are willing to make the commitment to help organize the golf events. Ideally, we would like the “Golf for Life” program to be offered across all 41 PGA Sections. However, a very strong local NDSC affiliate group commitment will be extremely critical.
3) NDSC Championship
Our five-year goal is to have a National Down Syndrome Congress golf championship where the PGA Sectional championship winners could compete against each other for the NDSC national title. Consideration could be given to having this one-day tournament coincide with the annual NDSC Teen & Young Adult Annual Convention. The PGA Section winners and the NDSC champion could all be honored each year at the NDSC national convention. The location of the
tournament could rotate each year with the national conference rotation.
4) Employment in the Golf Industry
A dream come true would be if participants who have grown up in the “Golf for Life” program could obtain internships to learn job skills and ultimately be offered employment in the golf industry. There are a number of positions in the industry that we believe individuals who have Down Syndrome are capable of pursuing. We also believe that one of the best ways to train for a job in the golf industry is to grow up being involved in the sport from a very young age, where opportunities are provided to build lasting personal relationships with potential employers including the PGA professionals and golf members, learn the appropriate golf etiquette, practice social interactions, and hopefully learn the necessary job skills. The opportunities are endless!