PGA Advanced Professional Sarah Sutcliffe is based at Tickenham Golf Centre, Bristol and works with Stroke Survivors, supporting them back into the game. Sarah runs hour-long sessions through England Golf’s ‘Get into Golf’ initiative with the help of North Somerset’s Stroke Association.
What made you want to get involved with helping stroke survivors?
Our local England Golf Development Officer, Martin Higgs, contacted me in July 2017 to say he had a link with the local Stroke Association and did I want to get involved with trialing delivering sessions. I am passionate about giving anyone and everyone the opportunity to enjoy golf. Why not stroke survivors?
How does golf help and support stroke survivors?
Getting outside, having fun, engaging with others stroke survivors and volunteers, trying or retrying golf, improving motor skills, physiotherapy with a purpose. I cut down old club fitting shafts so the participants can take home a golf grip to practice with. They love it and many have found significant improvement in their ability to move and hold objects.
How do you help stroke survivors?
Each session is completely different. Firstly the range of participants is vast, from wheelchair users to people without physical disabilities but with language or memory problems. I am determined to let the participants experience every side of golf.
It is really important that I am adaptable. Every session will test my ability to ensure everyone has fun while trying and improving their golf.
Straight forward sessions are those on the driving range, adapting the size of golf club to participants whether they are sitting or standing. We have a fantastic range of volunteers to support the players, sometimes literally supporting them to aid balance. I make sure we have plenty of suitable targets depending on the distance the players have the potential to hit. I move the range nets around, I have purchased smaller mobile nets, I make others with hoops and golf shafts, whatever is required.
Some sessions we move out to the chipping area. This involves some participants been driven and plenty of chairs taken to the area. Again plenty of targets and some competition fun.
We have a large putting green, so chairs are positioned around the edges for resting. More of a challenge is getting the wheelchair users on the green. I do this with a series of 4 plastic planks to drive them on to the green, then move another set in front etc until we have the position right. We drive them around the green via the planks so they can experience long putts and short putts and again we have some fun competitions both static and moving.
Major army manoeuvres really happen when we go onto the course and play the 1st and 9th holes. Yes we take the wheelchair users on the course and the 1st hole is uphill, so it keeps us fit. There are chairs carried, planks for the wheelchairs on the greens, clubs and balls etc. It is an amazing sight to see these lovely people on the course playing golf. We have so much fun.
Some sessions are single subject and others we combine some putting then course play.
How important is your role in building stronger communities in your area?
It has created a new link with the golf club and the most amazing community group. In the beginning we didn’t have an easy way to push wheelchairs into the club. I sent an email to our Members for suggestions and advice, and a wonderful lady member almost immediately sent two of her workers round to design and measure up and within days we had a custom fit, removable ramp. Some of the volunteers already volunteer with the Stroke Association, but I have also gained volunteers from our membership. The project is brilliant for linking people, groups and business.
How are you able to help people living with a disability to grow in confidence and independence?
The sessions put a smile on all of our faces. I hope the fact that I help the participants to encounter as much as possible from golf that they feel they can get back to golf or try a sport they didn’t think they would have a chance to play. Some of the participants visit and practice outside of the sessions, so that’s a new environment they are gaining confidence to be in.