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Metro Parks' Special Olympics golfers get ready to compete

July 16, 2015

A game group of golfers gets going Monday evenings at Metro Parks’ Meadow Park Golf Course.

The Metro Parks Special Olympics golf team is a lively bunch, whose weekly practice is as much a chance to socialize as build skills. On the golf course, smiles come easily even to those unable to express themselves in words. What these golfers lack in capacity, they make up in zest.

Yvone Link, of Tacoma, sees it in her irrepressible daughter Clara, 42, who still chips and putts despite recent physical problems that limit her ability to walk the course. “She gets all excited,” Yvone said. “I’m glad she’s not slowing down.”

Far from it. In fact, Clara and others are fixated on a goal: success in the upcoming Southwest Regional Special Olympics Golf Tournament. The July 26 event will be Meadow Park’s 10th outing as host of the tournament which draws players from throughout the southwestern part of Washington. Between 200 and 300 players are expected for the upcoming tournament, including as many as 30 from Metro Parks.

Those who do well may have the chance to enter the statewide tournament Aug. 15 at the Walter E. Hall Golf Course in Everett.

Golf has been a staple of Metro Parks programs for people with disabilities since 2003. The program is part of Metro Parks’ longstanding commitment to provide recreation especially for people with disabilities, an effort that extends back to the 1950s. Metro Parks plans to celebrate the 60th anniversary with an Oct. 10 party, scheduled in October to coincide with Disability Awareness Month.

Word of the October celebration is beginning to spread among advocates and family members of developmentally disabled players. “Wow!” said Clara’s mother, Yvone. “We’ve got to find out more about that.”

Just the chance to practice with the Special Olympics team was a big hit for participants, especially newcomer Dave McMullin, whose introduction to the Metro Parks specialized golf program came recently. “I’ve been hitting golf balls with my brothers,” said Dave, who lives in Puyallup. “This is lots of fun. I like to putt and drive.”

Another player, Erik Simmons, of University Place, has been golfing with the Metro Parks crew for about 10 years. “It’s fun to get outside and meet new people,” he said.

On a recent outing, Erik and his coach, volunteer Tom Monin, were paired up with Tom Martens, of Puyallup, and his mentor David Ralph, also a volunteer.

“We have a lot of fun just yakking,” said Monin, a retired Metro Parks employee and avid golfer who has volunteered as Erik’s partner for many years. “And every time we play we work on rules, strategy and etiquette.”

Erik’s brother Markus Simmons, and other family members, take him to practice and help push his golf cart around the course. Markus isn’t a golfer, but he appreciates the sport’s benefits to Erik. “Besides the great exercise, it teaches him discipline and endurance,” he said.

Erik, for his part, is quick to underscore the difficulties. “Putting is hard,” he said, “because it has to be exact, real exact.”

Both Erik and Tom Martens are looking forward to the regional tournament. “I’d really like to compete and qualify (for the state tournament) because I didn’t last year. I’m going to get a gold medal,” Tom said.

Rivalry aside, what draws Tom and the other golfers together is comradery. “I love the people,” Tom said. “I love the people here in Metro Parks.”

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Learn more about the Specialized Recreation program