Sport24th October 2014
Sign of the times for PGA
Signing golf professional Paul Aitkens opens the golfing door to hordes of deaf and disabled people
A PGA Professional who enrolled on a British Sign Language course to fill some spare time during his university days is putting it to good effect by introducing hundreds of deaf people to golf.
Paul Aitkens, a teaching pro at Leamington & Country Golf Club, is having a big impact in the Midlands both at the club and out in the community. His efforts reflect the wider contribution being made at grass roots level by PGA pros many who have undertaken the ISPS Handa PGA Academy Programme which equips pros to coach a range of disabilities.
Aitkens, a graduate from The PGA and University of Birmingham Applied Golf Management Studies degree, was inspired to coach deaf people by personal experience.
“My interest in disabled golf came because I have a cousin who is blind and she didn’t have much opportunity to do any activities because she was blind,” said Aitkens who is midway through his Level 2 British Sign Language certificate."
“That’s what sparked my interest and then when I was at university, I signed up to do the BSL Level 1 which created some opportunities to go into a local deaf primary school (Longwill School) and a secondary school (Braidwood) who both cater for Deaf and hard of hearing children.”
Together with Leamington & County head pro Chris Thornton, the pair run the Inclusive Golf Academy which does what it says on the tin and is also looking at special packages to encourage more disabled golfers to join the club. “The message is, golf is for everybody irrespective of your disability,” said Aitkens.
Funding from the Golf Foundation and the Golf For Disabled Charity has helped the 25 year old realise his targets and he is also coaching children with severe physical and mental disabilities at Victoria School which is on the same complex as Longwill in Birmingham.
“Over a week I am currently seeing around 70 children with four schools also coming to the club for sessions,” he added.
“The beauty of them coming to the golf club rather than being in a school hall is that they can get more of a feel what golf is all about.”
In addition funding from the Warwickshire County Golf Partnership has enabled Aitkens to deliver 10 weeks of coaching to deaf adult men from Birmingham, Leicester and Wolverhampton.
“They loved it because they’d never had the chance to have proper coaching before, they were having to teach each other so they were eager to learn as much as possible.”
Of course it’s not just the deaf people who are learning with Aitkens crediting them equally as much in helping him improve as a coach.
“Try giving a golf lesson without saying a word! It’s difficult but the beauty of me learning a sign language is that it’s a new skill for me and I can relate to the people I am teaching in that they are learning a new skill too so I understand the frustrations that can bring because I get frustrated if I can’t remember a sign or action just as they do if they can hit a shot.
“Sometimes it takes longer to get the message across so I’ve learned to be more patient and that has helped me in my other coaching from 60 year olds down to four year olds.
“Other challenges are that there are different dialects in sign language. So I have a chap who comes from Leicester and he uses different signs to those in Birmingham so it keeps you on your toes.”
While being deaf and learning golf is clearly a challenge there are also positives says Aitkens.
“Deaf people are really good visual and kinestheic (feel) learners and particularly if they know the game can be very quick learners.”
Aitkens hopes that will be the case when he rolls out his next sessions for deaf women which have been organised through the Birmingham Institute for the Deaf whose aim is to promote independence and positive activities for the deaf.
These will take place at Tibury Green Golf Club, Solihull, and more information is available by contacting Paul Aitkens at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also follow him on Twitter @paulthegolfpro
Any PGA pros interested in working with Paul can contact him via email.
Article by Nathaniel Sylvester, PGA
posted in Deaf Sport / Sport
24th October 2014