JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Johnson City Commissioner Jenny Brock spends a good deal of her free time teaching and instructing on the golf course. But, after a recent experience at a Special Olympics event, she found the Tri-Cities golf scene was missing something.
“Last year, I was a playing partner for one of the athletes, and we played in the state competition,” she said. “I realized all the other parts of the state had programs to help special needs athletes get prepared and ready to play in the golf tournament, but we didn’t in East Tennessee.”
Quickly, she reached out to the Tennessee Golf Foundation, eager to start a skills clinic that would serve special needs athletes in Northeast Tennessee.
“It’s a program that aligns perfectly with what the Tennessee Golf Foundation does with promoting and growing the game of golf,” Tri-Cities Director Cody Weems said.
All they needed was a venue, which Pine Oaks Golf Course in Johnson City was happy to provide.
“Cody [Weems] and Ms. Brock came to Pine Oaks about being the host facility for the athletes, and it was a no-brainer for us here at Pine Oaks to be a part of something like this,” club pro Brian Bentley explained.
“Being the city golf course, it kind of tends to what we make our business model out of,” he continued. “We want to be open and accessible to everybody in the community.”
So, once a week for the past six weeks, Brock, Weems and others have spent their time teaching golf to special needs athletes.
“We really had all the resources we needed to do this program, so we’ve done a pilot for this spring and it’s worked out really, really great,” Brock said.
The instructors have helped to tweak the games of each of the athletes and help them prepare for a state skills test. By passing the skills test, the athletes would then be allowed to compete in Special Olympics tournaments throughout Tennessee.
“Putting, chipping and driving the golf ball,” participant Richard Heath detailed some of the skills he has been honing.
But, the clinic has been about a lot more than backswings and strokes.
“I heard one of our participants say what the program meant to her, and she said it’s just made her a stronger person,” Brock said.
“All the high-fives, all the knuckles, all the congratulations and watching them support each other has also been great,” Weems said.
As is often the case, the teachers have ended up learning the most from their students throughout the process.
“Seeing them out here laughing and having a good time and learning a little bit about golf, it’s been a great experience for all of us,” Bentley said.
“With the Special Olympics, oftentimes we think about what people can’t do as opposed to what they can do, and what we’re doing here is giving the opportunity for the can do,” Brock said.