One of the greatest things about golf is that everyone, no matter what level they play at, can enjoy striving to improve. Whether their objective is a more solid performance around ?Amen Corner? in the last round of the Masters or just a lower score when playing in the Sunday fourball, each golfer can try their damnedest to find more fairways and make more putts.

On Saturday I went to meet six members of the GB Special Olympics Golf Team who are doing just that. The group, (Ray Percival, Graeme Andrew, Iain Carle, Shaun Buist, Ruairidh Deans and David Kerr) were at Elmwood College in Cupar for a training weekend in preparation for the World Games to be held in Shanghai this September. Despite the obstacles they face, these six guys are doing everything possible to get the most out of their game and to improve wherever they can.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver developed the concept of the Special Olympics in the early 1960s and the first International Games were held in Chicago in 1968, by 1978 the UK had become involved. The Special Olympics is not to be confused with the Paralympics as the former is just for athletes with intellectual disabilities. The golfers I met have varying degrees of disability but they?re not categorised as at the Paralympics. The idea is that everyone should be able to compete against others of a similar standard and be given a chance to better their previous performances. There are five levels of golf at the Special Olympics ranging from: 1 ? a skill contest for entry-level golfers, to 5 ? 18 holes of individual strokeplay. Graeme, Ray and Iain will play 18-holes and Shaun, Ruaridh and David will play 9. After spending a day with them I can confirm they?ll all be giving it absolutely everything to perform to the best of their ability.

Under the guidance of coach Craig Martin the team is covering all bases in the build up to the competition. When I arrived they were completing a fitness assessment in the gym. They?d been measured over a variety of different tests last time they?d got together (October 06). The idea was, through a focussed training regime given to them by Craig, they?d have improved in areas like grip strength, stamina and core muscle strength. God, they try hard. Ray going for one final press-up, Graeme running himself into the ground to score one more level on the infamous ?bleep test.? They all showed great determination.

After the physical training the focus moved on to the mental game. Renowned golf psychologist Karl Morris was on hand to lend his expert advice and give a couple of key methods the team could use in Shanghai. Morris has worked with the likes of Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley so the boys were very fortunate to get the benefit of his experience. There was also tuition from qualified PGA pros and playing sessions out on Elmwood?s own 18-hole course, then there was a putting master-class and a visit to St Andrews to soak up some golf history. Pretty comprehensive stuff.

I?m feeling inspired by the day. I?m going to start taking a multi-angled approach to improving my game. I?ve got to admit the odd trip to the driving range is not exactly a regimented practice programme. I?m going to endeavour to stay fit ? Maybe do 30 press-ups and 30 sit-ups a day plus go on the occasional run or bike ride. I?m going to actually read some of the many books on my shelves about golf psychology. I?m going to start practicing rather than just smacking balls and I might even venture on to the putting green once in a while.

The Special Olympics golf team is fortunate to be supported by both the R&A and the European Tour. The R&A announced it would provide a contributory grant to assist with the development of golf through to 2007 World Games in Shanghai in 2004. Additionally, they take a direct interest in offering guidance and support to what is essentially an organisation run wholly on a voluntary basis. Also, the European Tour is a staunch supporter. For the past four years the Special Olympics has been showcased on the opening day of PGA Championship at Wentworth. They?ve generated considerable media exposure and awareness for Special Olympics.

Despite this, the GB Special Olympics team receives relatively little external funding. The Government and the Lottery donates huge sums to the Olympic and Paralympic teams but not to the Special Olympics. Each of the guys I met will have to find their own funding to get out to China. Something else they were determinedly doing.
It made me think about how money could be raised. At our club we frequently have sponsored medals. Generally it?s a £2 entry fee that goes to a charity like Cancer Relief ? we normally get about £300. Couldn?t we, and other clubs, hold one medal a year in aid of Special Olympics Golf. £300 is a drop in the ocean for Cancer Relief but could make a huge difference to a Special Olympics Golfer, and if 100 clubs did the same thing?

A more in-depth feature on Fergus? trip to meet the GB Special Olympics Golf Team will appear in a forthcoming issue of Golf Monthly.