Date: August 30, 2017
Author: Steve Perkin - Golf Victoria

Blair�s Goal: �Include me in!�

Blair Mulholland loves golf.

Actually, that’s an understatement. He’s obsessed by golf. And he talks about it a lot. “It’s usually to nag me to take him to golf,” says his mother Kathy.

Blair has faced – and overcome – a lot of challenges in his young life. When he was just three days old, he contracted meningitis. Amongst other things, this caused significant developmental delay.

Blair didn’t walk until he was nearly two and, even then, struggled with his balance, wearing a special suit to give him the core strength to stay upright. His feet have constantly given him trouble and he doesn’t enjoy having his shoes off because he likes the balance they provide. He couldn’t co-ordinate his hands until he was five and he didn’t talk much. Blair also suffers from myotonia, a condition which affects his muscles, and is on the autism spectrum.

A student at the Yarrabah Special Development School in Aspendale, Blair was at school one day early this year when PGA of Australia member Paul Boxall came to give a clinic which was part of a program aimed at introducing kids with a disability to golf and integrating them into mainstream golfing pathways.

“Blair saw me having fun with the kids and decided he wanted to do it,” Paul recalls.

“He told his mum and dad that he wanted to do it again, so they brought him along to a coaching session at Sandhurst Club.

“He grabbed a club, didn’t care where he was aiming because he had no concept of a golf hole, and swung, taking massive divots nearly every time and having no technique. But his attitude was fantastic.”

The improvement was almost instant, and not just with Blair’s swing.

“When he started, he never used to talk to me,” Paul says. “Now he won’t shut up. He has really come out of his shell, and physically he’s so much better.”

Kathy agrees. Swinging a golf club, she says, has made Blair use both sides of his body. He’s a left-handed person and a left-handed golfer.

“Blair has loved all ball sports and tried basketball but he struggled with the team aspect.

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“My husband and I introduced him to mini-golf when he was five and he’s been going to the driving range since he was seven. If he’s not there, he’s watching golf on YouTube.”

Two months ago, Blair entered in the SSV Primary School Championships, despite never having played on a golf course. Paul was amazed.

“I was looking at the list of the entrants and there’s Blair’s name. I thought there was a mistake, but he turned up, got a start and played nine holes, finishing mid-field.”

In the mid-year school holidays he again competed, this time in a nine hole pitch-and-putt contest.

Blair is a shining example of exactly where Golf Australia wants to position the sport to be inclusive for people living with disability.

With Golf Victoria leading the way, the objective is to provide choice on how to participate. This includes pathways into mainstream sport.

Christian Hamilton is the National Inclusion Manager for Golf Australia and Golf Victoria. He says it’s golf’s unique nature which makes it so capable of being inclusive.

“Most sports have separate offerings for people with disability but because golf doesn’t require teams or opponents in organised competition, it is easily able to have dual pathways and to present choice for people with disability to be involved in mainstream programs.

“We currently have 14 PGA professionals in Victoria who have an additional accreditation on inclusive coaching. We feel that these coaches and venues provide the best access and services for people with disability in the community to get into golf.”

School Sport Victoria (SSV) is working alongside Golf Victoria to assist kids with disability to be integrated with other golfers. SSV Strategy Manager Nick Mooney says the program is still in its infancy.

"It's about giving kids more opportunities and teaching the teachers to better understand the possibilities of the students they work with. If this (integration) were a 400 metre race, then we're halfway around the first bend."

To help build and maintain this inclusive program, SSV has created a sub-committee consisting of representatives from Golf Australia and Golf Victoria. One of the sub-committee members is Cameron Heath, Principal of Healesville Primary School.

Cameron is a single-figure golfer and also an amputee, missing his right hand. He therefore understands something of what kids with disability experience in their sporting pursuits.

“Socially, many kids with disability are reserved and anxious about their differences, while kids with autism who play team sports find it unbalancing to have people yelling at them, telling them to hurry up, to do this and do that.

“Golf enables these kids to compete on an even playing field – which helps develop their social confidence – and to take their time, to hit when ready, which kids with autism, especially, find comforting.”