BY JOSH BASILE
For as long as I can remember, I always loved the feeling of being on a golf course. There was something special about the aroma of freshly cut grass, being surrounded by so much green and the satisfaction of knocking in a long-distance putt. When I broke my neck in 2004, I was determined to find a way to get back out and play again with my limited movement, and over the years I created a new adaptation of the game called “Slingshot Golf.”
This golf season I played the majority of my rounds at my local public golf course. Before teeing off, I always head to the driving range, and what happens next makes me smile. Other golfers often nod their head with a look of “good for you for making it out here.” When they see my caregiver (a.k.a. caddie) take a hand-held slingshot out of his bag, their look changes to “really?”
I position myself about five feet behind my caddie and instruct him on the line, height and strength of my desired shot followed by the words “launch!” The ball travels in the air with precision accuracy, and eight times out of 10 lands perfectly on the shortest target green 95 yards away. The golfers’ expressions quickly turn from “really” to “that’s damn impressive.”
After practicing, I’m off to the putting green with my putting device. The device has a specially designed putter that rotates back and forth in a pendulum motion on a framed structure. On the shaft of the putter there is a protractor with a ruler arm that moves along its 180-degree surface, which is used to calibrate the power of a given shot.
Before my first practice putt, my caddie places an armband holder onto my forearm or onto my wheelchair armrest. Attached to the armband is a Power Sheet with different distances (two feet to 120 feet) on the left column and on the right column the correlating degree number used to calibrate the putting device.
For example, if a player wants to hit a 30-foot putt that is on a perfectly flat green, then the golfer would have his caddie adjust the protractor arm to 65 degrees. By pushing the handle of the putter forward, the putter head moves backwards, and as soon as the 65-degree ruler arm points straight to the ground, you know you have a 30-foot putt.
What makes golf so fun and difficult at the same time is that you rarely have a perfectly flat putt, and you find yourself with a putt that is either uphill or downhill with a left or right break and sometimes multiple breaks. Taking away power or adding power is needed for almost every shot. Also, moving the frame of the device left or right and aiming with the specially designed stripes on the putter head helps to accurately position the desired line.
Once at the first hole, I determine where I’m going to tee off from. The average male caddie can launch a golf ball around 100 to 130 yards with a slingshot. Compare this to an average male nondisabled golfer with a drive of 200 to 260 yards. With a slingshot’s shorter launching distance, Slingshot Golf follows the “tee it forward” mentality in order to speed up the pace of play and to have an opportunity to make it on a green for a birdie or par.
The starting distance for each hole is determined by the Distance Sheet, which is located inside the previously mentioned armband. A slingshot golfer first determines if the hole is a par 3, 4 or 5 and then the distance from the blue tees. This calculates the starting distance from the green. Most of the time a slingshot golfer tees off in the fairway. If the hole is short for a nondisabled golfer, it will also be short for a slingshot golfer — and vice versa if the hole is long.
The beauty of Slingshot Golf is the accuracy of the slingshot and the pendulum putting device. Both devices take away so much human error, and they function like a video game controller. The key is practicing, knowing how to calibrate them, a player’s strategic course management and properly reading the greens.
Slingshot Golf allows people of all abilities to enjoy any golf course. My goal over the next few years is to get the word out about the sport and for the paralysis community to start playing with their friends and family. My long-term goal is to create state leagues and tournaments across the country.
To learn more about the game or to watch a detailed instructional video of Slingshot Golf in action, visit slingshotgolf.org.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who can be a caddie?
Anyone willing to try, such as your caregiver, family member or friend.
How many holes can a power wheelchair last before the battery dies?
My power wheelchair typically lasts a total of 10 to 12 holes, depending on how hilly the golf course is. When I want to play 18 holes, I bring an old power wheelchair to transfer into after the ninth hole. Most the time I just play nine holes.
Can a paraplegic use the slingshot?
A paraplegic can use the slingshot to launch a golf ball. It depends on a person’s upper body strength and trunk control. Often a caddie will launch the long ball, and a paraplegic golfer will use a slingshot for the approach shot.
Can power wheelchairs go on to the greens?
A golfer in a power wheelchair must avoid wheeling onto the greens and can go up to the fringe anywhere around the green to assess a putt. The heavy weight and thin wheels of a power wheelchair can damage the greens. The putter head’s white and black aiming stripes can clearly be seen from the fringe for selecting the desired line of a putt.
What are the rules to Slingshot Golf?
For in depth rules, visit slingshotgolf.org/rules.