The Florida State Golf Association has made its commitment to diversity and inclusion a reality at Innisbrook Resort and Club with the inaugural Florida Adaptive Open, a new state championship for the best golfers with disabilities from the state and around the United States.
“We took on the Adaptive Open to provide opportunities for players of all abilities a chance to compete at a state level and give them the same experience they would see at a national championship,” said FSGA executive director Jeff Magaditsch. “The USGA laid the groundwork for conducting the first national championship in 2022 and we used their framework along the way to conduct our own this October. Our job as an organization is to promote and expand the game.”
The field of 60 players played 36 holes on Oct. 1-2, with competitions across eight impairment categories and overall, for both men and women. Fifty-three men and seven women were slated to play with a shotgun start practice round on October 1.
CJ Hollister, an FSGA tournament director, raised his hand at an early planning meeting and asked to take the reins of the project.
The FSGA had already been conducting research, since the inaugural USGA Adaptive Open was announced, to make sure all the necessary arrangements were handled. But Hollister knew he could count on his own fellow staffers as well as those of other state associations.
“There is a pretty good network within the associations,” Hollister said. “Georgia has been running an event for years and we’ve been bouncing ideas off them. Northern Ohio just ran an event, and we are working with GAP (Golf Association of Philadelphia). As this continues to grow there will be a lot of sharing ideas and trying to find the right formula.”
From November of 2022 through January of this year, the FSGA was deep into planning and implementation and the announcement of the new championship was made in April. They also worked closely with the USGA and the U.S. Adaptive Golf Alliance for a host of questions.
“The difference in most of our events to this one was the combining of divisions,” Hollister said. “We wanted to get players in the right grouping since there is a wide range of severity of the disability within each impairment category. There were some mixes of tees within each category and once we grouped all that information we wanted to make it the most equitable across each division. Every event around the country is still trying to find the perfect formula for that.”
The FSGA had a one-year contract with Innisbrook and plans to announce the 2024 competition site later this year.
“This is a pretty social community and a lot of these players know each other from other events. They come from all over the country so it’s nice when they can get together and hang out outside the golf course.” – CJ Hollister
Hollister estimates that a total of 25-30 people – staff from the FSGA and Innisbrook and volunteers – were needed to run the entire operation.
There were administrative and officiating duties to be handled as well as logistics, transportation, player relations and all the other “stuff” that goes into the plethora of events the FSGA already conducts.
The new championship is open to professionals and amateurs, “with either physical impairment, sensory impairment (vision), or intellectual impairment, who have an authorized World Handicap System (WHS) Handicap Index of 36.4 or lower. A WR4GD or Access pass is required.” Players do not need to be members of the Florida State Golf Association to participate, and caddies and aides are permitted.
The impairment categories are impaired muscle power, impaired passive range of movement, limb deficiency, leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia, ataxia (muscle coordination), athetosis (involuntary muscle movement), vision impairment and intellectual impairment.
In addition to the competition, the FSGA included a social component.
“This is a pretty social community and a lot of these players know each other from other events,” Hollister said. “They come from all over the country so it’s nice when they can get together and hang out outside the golf course.”
With a limited amount of time to prepare and get indoctrinated in the event, Hollister traveled to Pinehurst, North Carolina, for the second USGA Adaptive Open earlier this year.
The experience was more than worth it.
“It really is eye opening,” he said. “It is amazing to see them out there playing golf. They have a better game than I do, a lot of them. It was eye opening and inspiring and made everybody involved in our office excited to put on a great event. You hear some of the stories and they hit home. It’s inspiring and makes you want to learn more and make this the best event possible and make this a memorable experience for everyone who is here.”
Magaditsch sees this new event as a priority as well as one with a long future with yearly improvements, clinics, more events and more players.
“Long term, we see this as an expanding market,” Magaditsch said. “The Georgia State Golf Association is among the leaders in this space, and we will lean on them for advice as we expand our footprint in the years ahead.”
Hollister, who joined the FSGA in 2019, feels the impact of working on this event.
“Everyone here is involved in something that is neat and impactful,” he said. “It’s pretty special. This is the best thing I have done in my short golf career so far.”
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