2001 Conference Proceedings

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Handicap: Zero - Golfing without Hands

Randy Marsden
Madentec Limited

On August 18, 2000, history was made. Sixteen golfers, all with quadriplegia, golfed alongside able-bodied golfers at Pelican Hill Golf Course for the first time. The event, titled Real Abilities Charity Golf Tournament, was the first of its kind. The golfers with disabilities participated on the same teams as the able-bodied golfers. These golfers drove from hole to hole on the real course in their powered wheelchair, following the shots they made on a computer mounted in front of them. The only real difference? The wheelchair players won't have to get out of their seats to make their next shot.

With 2.5 million people in the United Stated alone living with a severe physical disability, this tournament proved that there are still some sports that provide an equal playing field for both the disabled and able-bodied.

Using the latest assistive computer technology from Madentec and Microsoft's Links LS 2000 golf software, the Pelican Hill golf course was recreated on the computer down to the last detail. People with disabilities golfed virtually, using the computer software and assistive technology.

The Participants

The 16 AT golfers had the equivalent of C4-C5 quadriplegia. They came from every walk of life; high school student, teachers, doctors, lawyers and CEOs. In addition to the AT golfers, able-bodied golfers, amputee golfers from Fore All, and representatives from Microsoft and Teddy's Star also participated. In total, over 150 people enjoyed the excitement of the day.

Able-Net TV webcast the entire event and ABC, NBC and CBS aired segments of the vent in over 60 cities nationwide.

In addition to AT golfers participating directly on the Pelican Hill course, other AT golfers held virtual golf tournaments at the golf course. Here, both disabled and able-bodied golfers competed on a truly equal playing field; using the Links LS software and Tracker 2000.

Making it as Realistic as Possible

In order to give the AT golfers all the experience of golfing Pelican Hill, a portable computer running Microsoft's Links LS software was mounted to each wheelchair. The Links software is amazingly accurate. Factors such as wind, fog, hills, sand traps, trees, bushes and how you swing the club make it a very realistic experience. As one user states "you can mess up just as easily as in real golf without the added cost of losing balls".

The Equipment

To access the Links LS software, each AT golfer used Tracker 2000, a device that tracks head movement and converts it into cursor control in the same manner as a mouse. Each golfer wore a small reflective dot on their head or glasses and moved their head to move the cursor. They performed the mouse "click" using either the WISP, a wireless interface used in conjunction with Tracker 2000, or a large ability switch.

A Toshiba laptop was placed in a back-pack on the back of the wheelchair, and was attached to a special outdoor LCD display that was mounted in front of the user using an adapted Manfrotto mounting arm. A specially designed power adapter was used to provide power for all the electronics from the powered wheelchair's batteries. Finally, "Misty Mates" and large dark umbrellas were used to help keep the user cool in the hot California sun. To approximate value of all the equipment used totaled $7,500 (not including the wheelchair).


Overall, all who participated deemed the event a wonderful success. The wheelchair golfers were among the best of all the golfers on the day, and took home many of the awards included longest drive, longest putt, and closest to the pin.

However, the event was not without it's problems, most of them technical. Wheelchair batteries running low was the biggest. In spite of the fact that a powered wheelchair was taken around the course beforehand to verify it would have sufficient capacity for the task, many wheelchairs still had problems. Upon reflection, we realized that we had failed to account for the fact that in a shotgun type tournament, the wheelchair not only had to make it around the course once, but also had to be able to drive out to (and back from) the beginning hole (which was not hole number 1 for most participants). For some, this was equivalent to driving around the course two complete times. Able-bodied members of the teams that temporarily lost their AT golfer due to technical difficulties complained loudly that they were losing their best golfer.

Fortunately, standby batteries were charged and ready at the clubhouse and were dispatched quickly by radio via a service golf cart. In the end, everyone made it back to the clubhouse safe and sound, tired, but happy. Next time, we will devise a system to transport the wheelchair golfers to their starting hole in vans to avoid similar problems.

Where do we go now?

Requests to do similar events have been requested from organizations in Florida, Hawaii, Canada, and even China. There is no other event that we know of that demonstrates better the equalization power of assistive technology. We will most certainly be sponsoring another event.


Of all the people involved in this tournament it was the AT golfers who provided the most encouragement and positive attitude to keep the day rolling. They were able to adjust to the problems encountered and still keep the experience positive. Here are just a sample of what our AT golfers had to say:

"This was one of the best days of my life. I used to say since my accident there were two days that changed my life - now I have to say there are three". Jennifer Sheehy "I never dared to dream I'd be golfing again. Sometimes reality is bigger than your dreams ". Bill Miller


This was a wonderful demonstration, in real life, of what assistive technology can do. Recreation is important in and of itself, and golf is a great game for allowing people with different abilities to compete on an equal footing: people with disabilities can now be included in that group. It was a real-life demonstration of how assistive technology can truly level the playing field for people with disabilities.

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