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A below-the-right-knee amputee since birth, Kim Moore has long been a star in the adaptive golf community, having won 14 National Golf Amputee Championships since 2003. So, when word spread about the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open being conducted last year at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort & Country Club, she assumed it would be a similar event. She was wrong.
“I didn’t realize everything the USGA would be putting into this championship and making it the quality that it was,” said Moore, the head women’s golf coach at Western Michigan University. Upon arriving at the host venue, Pinehurst’s Course No. 6, she saw signs and banners everywhere. Significant media attention. Lots of volunteers. And red-carpet treatment for players, including a welcome banquet. “You could feel the excitement that came with this being the first one,” she said.
The inspirational debut of the 54-hole championship surpassed all expectations – and it will return to Pinehurst this July. It fulfilled a vision first set out at the USGA’s 2017 Annual Meeting, where then-President Diana Murphy broached the topic.
“We have given community grants for many years, but it is the right time to expand that support into a deeper review of modifications to the Rules of Golf and equipment rules for disabled golfers,” she said in her address. “We are also looking to celebrate their achievements through a national championship.”
That effort began in earnest the following year, according to the USGA’s Stephanie Parel, who serves as championship director. “We have been going to and looking at several national and regional adaptive golf events around the U.S. since 2018,” she said. “We settled on eight categories with multiple sets of tees that considered impairment and gender.”
The U.S. Adaptive Open was Pinehurst’s 11th USGA championship, and the first on Course No. 6, originally designed by George Fazio and his nephew Tom Fazio in 1979 and renovated in 2005. The 96-player field included women and men from 29 states and 11 countries who competed in one of the following impairment categories: arm, leg, intellectual, neurological, vision, multiple limb amputee, short stature and seated players. Moore led her category from start to finish, while Simon Lee, of the Republic of Korea, who is autistic, defeated Felix Norrman, of Sweden, in a two-hole playoff to win the men’s division.
“No. 6 was a good test and in great shape,” said Moore. “It was conducive for the types of players we have for an Adaptive Open.”
That trait played a key role in the USGA’s selection of Course No. 6 for the championship. “We didn’t have to do much to the course – it really suited our field almost exactly the way it was,” said Parel.
“The only thing that was really done involved a handful of bunkers that had one side smoothed out for a little bit easier access,” said Jack Schlemmer, Course No. 6’s head professional. “The tees were already right next to cart paths, and those are close to the greens. Everything is very accessible. It also had the proper length, and it didn’t need a whole lot of work to be prepared for a championship-level event for these players.”
Course No. 6’s mostly level landscape is a far cry from the rolling topography found elsewhere at the resort. “There are a few elevation changes, but nothing like those found, say, on Course No. 7,” said Schlemmer.
Despite having a field unlike any other in the USGA’s 127-year championship history, the competition quickly became more about golf than player impairments.
“It was very different from everything else we do, but at the same time you would hear players in the hospitality tent complaining about shots they missed or telling stories about birdies they made, so that part was exactly the same,” said Parel. “They were very competitive. It was also the happiest group of players you will ever be around. Almost every single one stayed for the awards ceremony to celebrate the winners.”
For Pinehurst, which hosted its first USGA championship in 1962, the response was overwhelmingly positive. “It was an over-the-moon success in terms of how well it was received by the resort, the community, the state, and well beyond that,” said Schlemmer.
Moore saw further evidence of that at the ensuing National Amputee Championship last October in Florida.
“I saw more female competitors there than in the past decade, and I credit that to the championship and the awareness it brought,” she said. “I’m excited to see what the USGA will do with it in 2023, because there’s a lot of opportunity to showcase these players. I like how it’s opened more doors for people. Golf is something they can play, enjoy, and be competitive. They can see it happening in front of their eyes.”
Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.