By Brendon Elliott
PGA Professional and Junior Golf Development Founder
The Little Linksters Association’s new G.O.A.L.S. program kicks off soon and uses golf as a tool for enhancing the lives of children with disabilities. When we started our original Little Linksters program in 2008, we knew then that golf was an amazing tool to teach very young children many aspects of life as well as fitness and other areas of importance in their development; this new direction however is very special and we are very excited. The idea behind our soon to launch G.O.A.L.S program is to use those core beliefs we have and reach out to children with special needs.
G.O.A.L.S stands for Golf Outreach Advances Life Skills. This simple acronym will be the cornerstone of this new offering from the Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development. The objective behind the G.O.A.L.S. program is to bring the game of golf to all children regardless of disability. Golf teaches skills that will help these children in every aspect of their life. The need is there and it is great.
One of the first students with special needs to come to Little Linksters was 9 year old Marcus. At a time that my staff and I were just starting early discussions about introducing a program such as G.O.A.L.S., we received a phone call from Marcus’s mother Paola. She had signed him up for one of our sessions but was somewhat hesitant to let us know about his having Cerebral Palsy. She explained that he had tried other sports and activities but had not yet found “His Thing” or something he could call his own. “To see my son smile and feel proud when hitting that golf ball is what I pray he will feel in everything he does. To be able to enjoy and be proud of himself, regardless of the limitations, is what the Little Linksters has brought him,” Marcus’s mother explains. Marcus was the spark that ignited the passion for myself and my staff to take action on an idea that could be so beneficial for so many children. Paola said, “Thank you for your understanding, patience and the support you have given my son Marcus! I knew I found the right place when he said “Mom, I am a golfer now, let’s celebrate” after his first lesson.”
I am very fortunate that I have found some great students from those I teach at the Golf Academy of America that have stepped up in a big way as instructors for us, especially now, as we breathe life into this program. Chad Ristow, my lead instructor and CJ Thurber, my new Lead Instructor of Special Needs Programming are incredible and I am proud to have them as part of the team. CJ’s passion for working with special needs children is amazing and Chad is just flat out a great instructor, for kids and adults. I have other great instructors such as Jordan Lashoones, Morgan Kelly, Mat Matasy, Nick Squillacioti and Alexander Pollard who are current and past students of mine from the college that are ready to push our mission forward as instructors for Little Linksters. I have an amazing pipeline of other talented young instructors in the making from the GAA that I am proud to mentor and mold going forward.
Expansion of the program is in the works. After almost four years of running our “pilot” or “test” programs, we have started taking steps toward taking this central Florida based, part-time business and program to a broader, national market. In early 2010, we re-branded, created an easy to follow program guide/coloring book and started putting a great package together for other PGA and LPGA Professionals to eventually purchase and implement in their area so that they too may be able to share in the rewarding work of bringing golf and all of the lessons that it teaches to the littlest of golfers. The time frame now to launch our “National Program” will be sometime in late 2015. The Little Linksters Association for Junior Golf Development will be the vehicle that will launch the acclaimed Little Linksters Golf Program to areas nationwide in the near future.
I was a guest on the Golf Channels Morning Drive in April of 2013. You can see a clip of that appearance here: http://www.golfchannel.com/media/pga-america-dottie-pepper-allen-wronowski-and-brendon-elliott/