A group of severely wounded or disabled war veterans from America teed off on the Old Course thanks to a St Andrews organisation.
The group, including a double amputee Vietnam infantryman, a double amputee Afghanistan veteran and a former Apache helicopter pilot, took to the links in the first of three events organised by St Andrews Legacy.
The group golf at a special facility in Washington state, currently being re-designed by Jack Nicklaus, where disabled veterans can get together. They are all using golf as a form of therapy as they deal with the physical and psychological after-effects of war.
The most injured in the group are using special Ottobock ParaGolfer carts that carry the men along the fairways and then lift them into a standing position to allow them to strike the ball.
Speaking exclusively to The Courier shortly after arriving in Scotland, they described their delight at visiting the town.
The youngest group member was Aaron Boyle, 24. This is his first overseas trip since 2010 when he suffered a double amputation following a land-mine explosion in Afganistan.
The married father of one, who loved golf since childhood, thought he might never play again after he lost his right arm and leg after stepping on an explosive in Kandahar. But he is now using golf as a major part of his recovery.
“I was thrown 50 metres” recalled Aaron, who served with 166 Bravo Company, 4th Infantry Division.
After 13 surgeries, Aaron golfs using a solo rider a device for players with disabilities.
He added: “I love the game. If I didn’t have the game, I don’t know if I’d be the same person I am today.”
Jim Martinson, 67, of Seattle, lost his legs in a landmine explosion whilst serving as an infantryman in Vietnam as a 20-year-old. He describes golf as the “greatest game in the whole world”.
On the verge of becoming an Olympic skier before he lost his legs, he told how his life threatened to fall apart. But he found the inner strength to go on to win the Boston Marathon, become a seven-time Paralympics gold medallist, downhill skier, cyclist, and endurance racer.
In 1981 he established Shadow Products, a company that developed lightweight wheelchairs for sports.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Steven Elliott is a newly retired serviceman, having finished his assignment with the Warrior Transition Unit last November.
He joined the military in 2000, training as a UH-60 Blackhawk crew chief. He was assigned to the 54th Medical Company Air Ambulance and deployed to Iraq in 2003. By the following year Steven had flown over 200 medical air evacuation flight hours.
He said: “So far this trip has been amazing. I’m pleased to be here.”
ST ANDREWS LEGACY
St Andrews Legacy is all about using the magic of St Andrews to help those facing challenges in their lives, according to its founder Graham Proctor.
The former RAF Leuchars weather forecaster and avid golfer, who now runs a guest house in St Andrews, hopes this trip will be the first of three events designed to showcase all that is best in the game of golf while providing help to severely wounded war veterans going through their long and difficult rehabilitation process.
https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ns6CLYRrLa0?rel=0The trip sees the veterans playing the Old Course, two award-winning modern classics in the Duke’s Course and Kingsbarns Golf Links, and the Old Tom Morris designs at Crail and Machrihanish.Two more events featuring veterans from Britain, Canada and Australia will take place in July and August.
Mr Proctor said: “I want to thank John Grant, director of golf for St Andrews Links Trust, for being so quick to help us.
“The speed of his decision to allow two ParaGolfer devices on the Old Course greatly helped us to organise the first trip and to encourage participants to join us.”
With only two ParaGolfers known to be in Europe, Graham was gearing up for a long and complex search but one of them was located only 10 miles away.
An ex-demo unit made by Ottobock is in the possession of Alan Smith of Springfield, who immediately offered his support.