Finding inspiration through sports has become common place in America, especially with the number of events that are featured on television on a daily basis throughout the year. But a group of truly remarkable athletes, most of whom defy what many would deem probable, will converge on the Brownwood area in September in pursuit of a championship while also proving nothing is impossible.
The Southwest Amputee Golf Association Texas Regional Championship, sponsored by Buckmasters and Big Country Ford, will be hosted by The Hideout Sept. 9-11. Brownwood resident Gerald Ledsome, who recently competed in the Second Annual World Disabled Golf Championships in Portland, Ore., played an instrumental role in luring the tournament to Lake Brownwood.
“I’ve been telling people this is a very amputee friendly course for years,” said Ledsome, who added the tournament had been played in Austin and San Antonio in the past. “I just started back playing in events six years ago. I keep telling them this course is beautiful. The sand traps are perfect, the greens are in good shape, it’s a perfect course for them. The regional directors came down about a month and a half ago and they loved it.”
Ledsome, 56, finished 10th overall and second in the below elbow portion of the World Championships earlier this month, bringing home a silver medal from Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course.
The regional field currently consists of approximately 45 competitors but more could be added in the next two weeks. The Southwest region is considered the center piece for the National Amputee Golf Association with the states of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Louisiana, and Arkansas included. At the moment, nine states will be represented at The Hideout.
Raymond Jenkins, Golf Pro at the Hideout, said the SWAGA Texas Regional is “up there with the bigger ones,” in terms of tournaments the resort has hosted.
“We want to see a little friendly competition and for everyone to have a good time,” Jenkins said in regard to what he hopes golfers and spectators take away from the event. “We also want people to have an idea about Brownwood and see why we like it here. This is huge for us and I’m excited.”
Many of the competitors in the tournament are military veterans who suffered a traumatic injury while in the line of duty. Once they returned home, taking up golf has helped them in their effort to heal mental and emotional scars, according to Ledsome.
“I’ve been working with this organization for 25 years and it’s pretty amazing,” Ledsome said. “I’ve gone out and played with a lot of wounded vets that feel sorry for themselves. But we go out and play and they feel like if I can do it, they can do it. One guy coming in from Fort Worth, Josh Tankersley, I played with him two years ago and he was really down. Now he’s a full blown competitor.”
Along with the overall results, NAGA tournaments are divided into the following divisions — above knee amputee; below knee amputee; above elbow amputee; below elbow amputee; assisted one-arm; unassisted one-arm; vision B1; vision B2; vision B3; cerebral/brain; wheelchair no trunk; wheelchair trunk; and bilateral leg.
“Kids need to come out and see this,” Ledsome said. “When we went to Portland my caddy took his grandson and he just sat there with his mouth wide open the whole time.
“There was a guy from Spain who finished second overall, he had one leg and no prosthetic. He was about 25 years old and just awesome. There was another guy who doesn’t have arms, he just swings with his core and he can hit it about 270 yards sometimes.”
For wheelchair competitors, SoloRider — based out of Plano — has created golf carts that provide accessibility over the entire course. SoloRiders can drive onto greens and tees with no impact to turf, drive over rough terrain and easily enter and exit with a 350 degree swivel seat. SoloRider also allows golfers to play using an elevating seat, which features ergonomic controls.
“The SoloRider people, it’s more of a labor of love for them because they lose money on this,” Ledsome said. “They spend thousands of dollars doing this and don’t expect a thing in return. They travel all over the country with carts. They took 12 to the World Championships in Portland and they’re going to bring six or so down here.”
Action begins Friday, Sept. 9 with practice rounds at The Hideout all day, followed by a sponsored meet and greet from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. VFW Post 3278 Chaplain Billy Murphey, former Major League Baseball pitcher Jerry Don Gleaton and Dan Rasmussen, founder of ESPN, will be on hand for the evening event.
The registration deadline is 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, where at that point a chipping contest and $10,000 hole-in-one contest will be held. The first round begins at 1 p.m. Saturday, with the final round of the event slated to begin at 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept 11. An awards lunch will follow the conclusion of the tournament around 1 p.m.
“There’s a been a lot of interest,” Ledsome said. “I’ve talked to several people with disabled children telling them we’re going to have a golf tournament and they should come out. Of the 40 or so amputees we’ll have three Wounded Warriors, 19 veterans and six or seven Vietnam veterans.”
As for the The Hideout, Ledsome stated the course is in better shape than Pumpkin Ridge, which in 2003 hosted the U.S. Women’s Open.
“Mike Lowry’s done such a great job of manicuring the golf course and greens and holding them together,” Jenkins said. “The front nine greens are 20 years old and the back nine are 10 years old. To be able to have the golf course we do, Lowry and his staff do a great job.”
The NAGA will make another stop in the Brownwood area in May 2017 as part of a two-year agreement, and The Hideout hopes to host additional events in the future.
“We’re always trying,” Jenkins said in regard to attracting events to the resort. “A lot of people don’t know where Brownwood, Texas is, much less The Hideout. But with the direction the club is going, the new clubhouse, we’re going to be able to do more things.”