For double amputee Tom Heard, golf has done nothing less than restore his sprit and renew his faith in life.
"At one point, I'd spent four months in the hospital and thought I might be bedridden for the rest of my life," he said. "But golf motivated me to start living again. If it weren't for golf, I don't know if I'd have a life, period."
As one of the instructors at the First Swing Golf Clinic held Thursday at Westlake Village Golf Course, Heard, of Orange County, says he wants to teach other disabled people to live life to the fullest through golf.
Designed for disabled people, the golf clinics are sponsored throughout Southern California by the Western Amputee Golf Assn. and were developed by San Diego PGA professional John Klein.
"It gets them out of the house and gets them socializing with other people," Klein said. "It increases their self-confidence and improves their whole outlook on life. They realize that, hey, they're not so different after all."
Clinic participant Cleveland Rose, of Los Angeles, said he felt "traumatized" after his right leg was amputated in February, but soon resolved to have a "positive outlook" nevertheless.
"This is the first time I've ever held a golf club and the first time I've ever been on a golf course," he said. "I just decided I wanted to do something adventurous and try something I've never done."
During the four-hour clinic, instructors--many of whom are disabled--work with participants individually and offer creative advice on compensating for disabilities.
Instructor Justin Norton of San Diego lost a leg in a childhood accident 30 years ago, but said it has not hindered his competitive spirit.
"I hold the world record for speed golfing," Norton said. "I ran 18 holes in 70 minutes."
Norton added that the Casey Martin case, in which the disabled Martin sued the PGA for his right to use a golf cart in professional competitions, has done much to increase public awareness and acceptance of disabled golfers.
"What that case has done is let golf courses know they have to allow a person with a disability access to get to the golf ball," he said.
For more information about upcoming First Swing Golf Clinics, call the Western Amputee Golf Assn. toll-free at (800) 592-9242.