Scenic Pacific coast is setting for 2000 Nationals

 Warm sun, a soothing ocean breeze, mountains to one side and water to the other sounds like paradise.

It’s just what participants will enjoy at the 52nd National Amputee Championships to be held Aug. 7-10 and the Robinson Cup International Matches on Aug. 11 at Rancho Cańada Golf Resort in Carmel, Cal.


Nestled between the Carmel River at the mouth of the picturesque Carmel Valley and the Santa Lucia Mountains, a valuable portion of a vast 4,366 acre California ranch known as “Cańada de la Segunda” was developed into the Rancho Cańada in 1970. Over the past 30 years, excellent maintenance of the golf courses and friendly, considerate staff have led Rancho Cańada to host more golf events than any other club in its region.


With two championship 18-hole courses, Rancho Cańada is an ideal setting for the national tournament. On the East Course, competitors will have to navigate over the Carmel River five times. Seven water hazards and many generous bunkers scattered throughout the course add to the challenge. According to Rancho Cańada staff, the West Course fairways range from deceptively broad to needle-narrow and cross the Carmel River three times.


After a day on the links, tournament participants and their friends and family can relax and socialize at the clubhouse. Situated on a hill overlooking the greens, the clubhouse offers guests delicious food and a full-service bar. The facility is also open for breakfast and dinner seven days a week.


Located along the Pacific Ocean in the heart of California’s wine country, nearby Carmel offers a village-like atmosphere. For participants and guests looking for activities outside of golf, Carmel has many attractions, including white sand beaches, parks and recreation trails, and winery tours. Renowned Pebble Beach is just a quick drive north on Big Sur Coast Highway.


For more information about the National Amputee Tournament or to register, call Ada Myers at 805-382-9886.

Getting more gals out on the greens

More and more of those “hands that rock the cradle” are picking up a club — from a nine-iron to a driver!

Although their ranks are still thin, women who have taken up golf are slowly increasing on courses that host local, regional, and national amputee golf tournaments. Their commitment to the game as well as their infectious enthusiasm and genuine pleasure in good-natured competition make newcomers feel welcome. Encouraging more women on the greens is a major goal for most.


A number of today’s players were inspired to try golf by the pioneering participation of such top flight athletes as Patrice Cooper, Brenda Besse, and Donna Marie Garze. How these early fans and their successors on the greens were introduced to golf, and why they feel their numbers are small shed some light on the unique situations facing women amputee golfers.


For starters, overcrowding in the ladies’ locker room is not a problem. The entire female enrollment at August’s NAGA National Golf Tournament in Birmingham, Ala., would fit comfortably inside a mini van. On hand for the Alabama heat stroke, er ... golf competition, were eight U.S. players and a visitor each from Italy and Canada.


“We were all split up until the last day of the tournament when we got to play together,” explained Gina Berdami. “It was a great tournament and a wonderful group of women. Everyone was so nice,” she added.

A Meridian, Mississippi, golfer who’s been playing for the past six years, Gina entered her first national competition this summer, and hopes to repeat the experience in California next year.


“Convenience! — Birmingham is only two and a half hours from my home,” she answered when asked why the August gathering was her first.


“Between my work schedule and the expense involved in traveling to distant tournaments, plus the time — I don’t often have the opportunity to go,” Gina noted.


A full-time customer service representative for Federal Express, Gina lost her left leg above the knee to bone cancer 30 years ago when she was 15. Her husband was a longtime golfer, so she decided to join him on their home course, Briarwood Country Club.

“From spring through fall, I play in lots of ladies’ one-day tournaments around the area,” she continued. “And I’d like to go to more. My handicap is about 21.”


A highlight of Gina’s Birmingham experience was meeting Camilla Bernini, who came from Italy especially for the competition. An attractive schoolteacher who’d played golf well before she lost her arm in an auto accident five years ago, Camilla finished second in the women’s championship round.


“She shot 88-88-88 — a real consistent player,” Gina recalled. “Camilla was disappointed in her scores, feeling the extreme heat had affected her game. I’m pretty used to it, but it was fairly brutal, especially on such a long course. At times it seemed straight up and down — a beautiful course, but one of the toughest I’ve ever played,” Gina added.


In addition, Gina met fellow players Gwen Davies, Kellie Valentine, and Brenda Besse. Others such as Donna Marie Garze, Virginia Venable, and Renee Roulo she’d encountered previously at the NAGA Southern Regionals. “They’re an exceptionally nice group of women and we really enjoyed getting together,” Gina added.


Agreeing about the importance of camaraderie and the sharing of amputee tips for women was Canada’s Gwen Davies of Calgary, Alberta.


In the 12 years since her husband Malcolm presented her with clubs on their 22nd wedding anniversary, Gwen has become a regular in NAGA tournaments and international competition, too.


“We have active regional amputee golf associations in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario. Up to 100 golfers come to our national amputee tournament every year, so I think it’s time we have a national group,” Gwen explained.


As president of the Alberta Amputee Sport & Recreation Association (AASRA), Gwen is a prime mover in the formation of a national amputee golf association in Canada. “AASRA started a Web site that’s had over 5,000 hits in the past 15 months. Somebody’s reading it! We’ve had inquiries from Germany, Spain, New Zealand, the Czech Republic — this information is bringing us all closer together,” she added.


That also holds true on a personal level. After meeting Camilla in Birmingham, Gwen stayed with the Italian teacher and her parents at the Oct. 10-15 tournament in Modena, Italy.


“North America is quite far ahead of Europe in fostering disability sports,” noted Gwen, a native of Australia and an amputee since age three due to congenital problems. A below knee amputee born without a kneecap, she wears a prosthesis with a College Park foot and a thigh brace for added support.


“This is an incredible improvement over the peg leg I wore as a child — a steel prosthesis lined with wood and a strap around my waist and shoulder — hot and heavy!” she recalled. “Now I can actually lift up my leg and swing it around. And as prostheses continue to advance, we’re going to see more amputees because there are going to be more survivors. It’s important that we get them involved, especially the women.”  Gwen sees “image” as a major difficulty for women amputees.


Although she played basketball and tennis and swam as an active teenager, “I never wore shorts in public until I played golf. Women have to go to one of these amputee tournaments to see that it’s not a problem. Now I wear shorts all the time,” she laughed.


The fact that there are so many more male amputees than female, which means that women golfers are more scattered, coupled with the distance between tournaments, plus the expense, are further reasons for a smaller number of women on the course, Gwen adds.


“I’d encourage local organizations to help with the costs of tournament play, so we can encourage more women to attend,” she suggested.


California’s Ada Myers agrees. As NAGA national treasurer and president of the Western States Amputee Golf Association, she’s been highly visible on the course for the past decade.


A left above knee amputee since 1967 when she was injured in a boating accident at age 22, Ada credits her husband George with being her Number One fan. The couple owns American Interstate Millwork, sharing both office hours and tee times at golf courses around Thousand Oaks.


“George is a wonderful golfer and an even more wonderful man. He goes with me to all the amputee tournaments — even the international ones. And that makes such a difference,” she emphasized.


Most women aren’t heads of households, neither the major decision maker nor the primary income earner, Ada noted.

“Picture a man saying to his wife, ‘Honey, there’s a golf tournament I want to enter. We’ll take our family vacation there, and you can entertain the kids and go shopping while I play golf.’


“Now,” she chuckled ironically, “Picture the amputee wife saying the same thing to her husband. As if her golf tournament would make a vacation destination attractive to him, and sticking him with the childcare while she plays golf. Add to that the expense of participation in something that just she primarily wants to do, and you see why few women can come to national tournaments.


“My husband totally supports my playing golf, but that doesn’t happen for a lot of women. They’re more likely to play in local and regional events nearby.


“Another reason for the scarcity of women on the course is that many women amputees don’t know about us,” Ada continued. “We need to encourage more single women who control their own finances to get out and play.”


Active tournament participant Kim Mecca engineered a new tournament to do just that. Kim, of Jessup, Penn., organized the first Northeastern Amputee Golf Classic and Scramble in the beautiful Pocono Mountains at Woodloch Springs, PA, on Aug. 22 and 23 of last year. In the Classic segment, she came in second with a score of 108 to Kellie Valentine’s 104. Not through yet, Kim also entered the 10th Annual Long Island Amputee Golf Classic that same week, again coming in second to defending women’s title holder Kellie Valentine, who shot a 96. Kim’s initiative in organizing a new event should be an inspiration to women golfers in other areas of the country, her female colleagues agree.


Ada Myers thinks additional women amputees might participate if there were more sponsorships, since golf is an expensive sport, even though NAGA has been able to subsidize some tournament costs.

Ada has taken her gospel of wider participation to other countries, too, including the October disability tournament in Italy.


“Camilla Bernini, who attended our national tournament, asked Patrice Cooper, Kellie Valentine, and me to come to Italy to publicize the fact that there are women amputee golfers,” she noted. “Renee Roulo and Gwen Davies went, too — five of us. Italy, along with Sweden and Holland, is trying to form a world organization for disabled golf, eventually to get it included as a Paralympic sport. And we’ve been asked to help in the organizing process,” Ada went on.


“I’ve been working on developing the guidelines we use in the U.S. But some of our biggest problems are language and culture, including disability classifications.”


A frequent international player and tournament winner, Ada has repeatedly hauled her clubs to Ireland and England as well as to the Continent. She taught herself to play largely by watching videos, remembering a score of 156 her first time out and getting slightly better each subsequent game. Now she has a 15.5 - 15.8 index, and is aiming for a single digit handicap.


“Golf is the most adaptable game I know. It evens out peoples’ skills and abilities, and encourages self-confidence among those with disabilities. And it doesn’t make any difference what your disability is,” Ada stressed.


“One of the most inspiring golfers I ever saw was a blind man who played with his wife’s directions — two people performing as one! When you’ve seen that, you realize that an amputation isn’t much of a disability after all!”



Spectator wives give golf a top score  -- Don’t call them “golf widows!”

On the contrary, Vicki Novak and Chris Spangler are very much wives, thank you, and delighted that their husbands are enthralled with the sport. While neither spouse takes a swinging interest in golf, both regularly attend NAGA regional and national competitions and thoroughly enjoy the camaraderie found there.


The Ohio women share other similarities, too. Their “40-something” husbands each incurred amputations due to on-the-job accidents; both wives are employed outside of the home; and they agree that shopping and side trips are bonus benefits of attending NAGA events. They do, however, offer different reflections on their husbands’ motivation and experiences in the early stages of golfing as an amputee.


John Novak, 45, of Circleville, Ohio, was electrocuted in 1984 while working as a lineman. He had never played golf before the injury that took his right arm below the elbow.


“My son, who is now 27 and studying for his MBA in Ireland, began playing when he was in high school. A short while later, John joined him, learning the game on his own. He never attended any clinics for people with disabilities — and he generally plays with able-bodied golfers,” Vicki explained.


“I used to play a little bit, and I’d join them when John was still learning. But now that he’s getting so good, he won’t let me come along,” she joked.


Acknowledging that her love of conversation may have something to do with that decision, Vicki laughed, “I just chat too much. Golf is such a quiet sport. I think they need a cheering section, but not everyone agrees with me.”


John picked up golf clubs about four years after his amputation. He wears a myoelectric prosthesis and doesn’t need any adaptive devices. In the past ten years, he has gone from regional tournaments in Akron, Ohio, and Michigan to being a regular at the NAGA Nationals. An 8-handicap player, he also runs the annual Pickaway Country Club Classic in the fall in Circleville.


John heads his own company which is involved in checking electrical poles, and Vicki works with him. Their family includes four sons, 27, 24, 19, and 13, and a nine-year-old daughter.


“I see a lot of my husband at work and at home, so I’m highly in favor of him getting out to play golf — here or in tournaments. I go along and do my own thing. Plus, I’ve met a lot of nice wives through the NAGA organization, and I enjoy their company.


“John didn’t go through a major depression after the accident, but golf has definitely given him something extra, as well as positive, to do in his spare time. I’m all for it!” Vicki added.


Meanwhile, in northern Ohio, Dan Spangler was quite candid about his hesitancy to try golf after his amputation in April of 1992. An industrial accident caused a crush injury that required the removal of his right leg above the knee. A short residual limb made it difficult for him to balance on his prosthesis. It was difficult enough to walk, much less coordinate a golf swing.


“I’d played golf ever since I was a little kid. I was afraid that I’d never get back to the ability level I had with two legs, and I didn’t want to play if I couldn’t play well. It took a lot of practice,” Dan said simply.

Now the 40-year-old welder gets in 18 holes a week from May through September. He also competes in four regional tournaments annually, and he’s gone to the NAGA Nationals for the past three years.

Asked whether Chris shares his enthusiasm for the links, he burst out laughing, “She’d rather watch paint dry! But she’s happy that I’m playing.”


Echoing both of those sentiments, Chris, a medical secretary for a physical therapist, remarked, “I’m real glad to see Dan involved in amputee golf, and he also enjoys playing with the ‘two-leggers.’


“For three or four years after his injury, he didn’t play at all. He was scared that he couldn’t play as well as he’d done before. He wanted to be able to compete, or else he didn’t want to play at all.


“Golf and being in the NAGA have definitely improved his life in general. He’s passionate about golf — and fishing, too. And I’m glad for him. Golf is an expensive sport, but it’s worth it. And the people we’ve met are like our second family. I enjoy going along to the tournaments and mixing with everyone — especially the Canadians. They’re a riot!” she chuckled.


“Every time we go, it’s like meeting up with old friends. Sometimes I’ll walk the course with him, but it usually makes me too nervous. I can’t stand it when the competition gets intense and something goes wrong.


“But I’m independent and I can always find something to do, especially since the Nationals move around to different cities, and they’re usually in an area where there’s plenty to do.


“We enjoy the NAGA so much that I just know we’ll always be involved. We make it our vacation and usually stay an extra day or two to sightsee. This year the Nationals are at Carmel, and Dan wants to do San Francisco and Pebble Beach. We’re both really looking forward to it!”
--by Mary Fleming


© 2004 National Amputee Golf Association