Manitoba golfers on course for first all-abilities championship – Winnipeg Free Press

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By: Joshua Frey-Sam
Posted: 2:01 AM CDT Thursday, Jun. 23, 2022
Jeff Vogan / Golf Canada
Kristian Hammerback, president of the Canadian Amputee Golf Association.
Kristian Hammerback gets emotional just thinking about it.
Kristian Hammerback gets emotional just thinking about it.
This weekend, he’ll tee off in the inaugural Golf Manitoba All Abilities Championship at La Broquerie Golf Course.
The tournament is a 36-hole event for golfers who identify with neurological, intellectual, sensory and physical impairments.
“It is monumental,” Hammerback said on a phone call Wednesday afternoon.
Hammerback, 44, was born without his left arm from the elbow down.
Though his disability delays daily tasks like tying his shoes and putting on a shirt, he’s come to terms with his impairment over the years, saying he doesn’t know life any other way.
While still finding his place in sport, Hammerback’s father introduced him to the game of golf when he was 12 years old. The preteen was quickly hooked, and at 16, became a member of the Canadian Amputee Golf Association.
By his late teens, the Manitoba product belonged to Southwood Golf & Country Club, and his late 20s, St. Boniface Golf Club.
“I absolutely love the game,” he said. “It’s a sport I’ve been able to play my entire life with my friends, and beat them in many instances.”
Hammerback, like in many other facets of his life, has been forced to adapt to the game.
Similar to the prosthetic arm he uses each day, he has a “golf arm.” The carbon fibre accessory is a hose that acts as his wrist, while a 3D print of a specialized attachment grips the shaft of the club like his left hand would.
This weekend will serve as a full-circle moment for Hammerback, who said there were no golf events for people with disabilities when he started playing.
For years, amputees, the blind, wounded veterans and those belonging to other groups with disabilities would play and try to grow the game within their respective communities separately, Hammerback explained.
“Before it was the amputees stuck together, the blind stuck together, the (cerebral palsy) folks stuck together, and now the official golf associations are getting involved and bringing all these disabilities together.”
The field will see 12 golfers compete across men’s and women’s gross divisions (lowest score wins), and a net Stableford format. The former converts the golfer’s handicap index to the course’s handicap while players receive points based on their score each hole. The player with the most points wins the championship.
Jared Ladobruk, executive director for Golf Manitoba, said he believes the tournament is a step in the right direction for the game in the province.
“We’re starting here and we’re hoping this is something we can continue moving forward,” he said. “What we’re doing is trying to offer more opportunity for competitive golf to try creating a more inclusive, diverse and inviting community.”
Golf Manitoba is the second province to host an all-abilities tournament, following Golf Ontario, which ran its inaugural all-abilities tournaments in 2021.
Golf Canada hosted a national all-abilities event in 2021, as well.
“First and foremost, it’s about creating awareness,” Ladrobruk said. “There are some significant barriers that (disabled) golfers are going to face, and by taking leadership in this as the governing body, I think we provide an opportunity for our member clubs to understand that golf should be played by golfers of all abilities.”
“Our mission is to develop, govern, promote and service the game of golf for the benefit of all participants and that’s exactly what we’re doing here.”
While he said his competitive days are behind him, Hammerback, an 11 handicap, has turned into a major proponent for growing the game within Manitoba for golfers with disabilities.
He serves as the president for Canadian Amputee Golf Association, also sitting on the Governor’s Council of Golf Canada.
He said his goal is to have golf included in the 2028 Summer Paralympics in Los Angeles, a process that is proving arduous but not impossible.
“That would be an epic thing that I would love to see.”
A major snag in the approval process is deciding how golfers with different disabilities would compete against one another, Hammerback said.
Competitors who are blind, dealing with amputations, cerebral palsy or a slew of other possibilities could all be playing against one another, making it difficult to create an even playing field.
“How do you equally allow them to compete against one another? That’s been the sticking point.”
But Hammerback is optimistic about the prospects of seeing golf in the Summer Paralympics one day.
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“I think the steps are there to get us to the final point.”
For the time being, Hammerback is thrilled about the opportunity this weekend presents for himself and others with disabilities to showcase their talents.
“With the game of golf, I’m no different than an able-bodied person,” he said. “There are some unbelievably talented golfers out there that would beat many able-bodied folks.”
“I’m optimistic and hopeful that as the years progress that more and more golfers will come out and participate.”
Golf Manitoba welcomes those interested in watching the event to attend for free.
Twitter: @jfreysam
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