Disabled golfers foundation brings hope
Before he found Fred Brattain, Barry Frost approached a round of golf cautiously, knowing he’d pay a hefty penalty the following day.
Years of wear and tear from skiing and motorcycling in his youth had taken a toll on Frost – causing him to undergo surgery on the back of his neck – and as a result he would be couch-bound for days after a round. The pain caused him to quit a game he had taken up 20 years ago – one that, as a retired database administrator and software architect, served as a healthy hobby.
Enter Brattain, a work acquaintance who suffered from many of the same back problems as Frost, but who had found a way to continue playing the game thanks to a few swing adjustments. Five years later, Frost is playing pain-free, and thanks to Brattain, so are a number of other players who otherwise would have had to shelve the sticks for good.
Brattain, a traveling technical computer trainer, launched the Disabled Golfers Learning Foundation in August 2009, and since has spent many hours spreading the word about a mission designed to keep disabled persons and military veterans on the links and pain-free. The foundation is deemed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and is not membership based.
Through the foundation, Brattain delivers speeches about playing with a disability and also organizes instructional clinics. He occasionally will play from a chair – and shoot as low as 75 – to get people to take notice. In the spirit of giving back, Brattain doesn’t charge disabled veterans for lessons.
Frost, for one, is a believer in Brattain’s teaching, calling it “serendipity” that he happened to meet Brattain on an work assignment at Oregon State in the first place. Since Brattain paid him a visit at his home in Corvallis, Ore., four years ago and helped reshape his swing, Frost has been able to shelve the pain medication and play nearly unlimited holes of golf pain-free.
“If I had to use the classic golf swing, I wouldn’t be golfing; it’s just that black and white,” Frost said. “With Fred’s technology, I can golf. Without Fred’s technology, I couldn’t golf.”
A Vietnam veteran, Brattain once was in Frost’s boat, too. He has three ruptured disks in his back and two in his neck, and has undergone multiple knee surgeries. At times, he has been in a wheelchair. At other times, he was so plagued with pain that a traditional golf swing was out of the question.
Determined not to give up golf, Brattain began to research ways to play pain-free. It coincided with frequent trips to the local Veterans Affairs hospital, and thus an idea was born.
“I will tell you that if you ever spend a day in one of those hospitals, you will walk out of there convinced that there is no way that this country can say thank you loud enough,” he said. “It’s an amazing experience, not all of it positive.”
Brattain enrolled in the Professional Golfer’s Career College in Temecula, Calif., in 2004, graduating 16 months later with an associate’s degree in professional golf management. He now teaches a swing based on that of Moe Norman called lever-powered golf. Developed by golf instructor Jack Kuykendall, lever-powered golf is based on a neutral grip and stance, and takes the lower body out of the equation to produce a torque-free swing that’s easier on the back, neck and knees.
“Our approach to the golf swing is radically different than most people’s, and a lot of people are reticent to try this until they get to the point where they’re hurting so badly that we don’t have any choice,” Brattain said. “I try to get to people before they’re hurting that badly so we don’t have to spend so much time rebuilding.”
Brattain is based in Corona, Calif., and for now, the Disabled Golfer’s Learning Foundation is limited to the southern part of the state. He hopes to one day raise enough money to purchase a motor home and take his gig national.
"If you ever spend a day in one of those hospitals, you will walk out of there convinced that there is no way that this country can say thank you loud enough."
It’s with that ambition that the first fundraising tournament will be held May 21 – Armed Forces Day – at Diamond Valley Golf Club in Hemet, Calif., where Brattain makes himself available on Friday afternoons for players seeking lessons. He also intends to use proceeds from the tournament to fund future clinics and to aid in buying adaptive golf equipment such as a Paragolfer, a mobility device for players who don’t have the use of their legs. Mostly, Brattain aims to make golf courses a more friendly place for disabled players so that they’re more likely to frequent them.
“How people behind the counter respond to a disabled person showing up at the golf course will be a big factor in whether or not that person comes back,” he said. “One of the things that the golf industry doesn’t understand right now is, this is a huge market.”
Michael Loskota, director of golf at Diamond Valley, knows golf clubs aren’t as receptive to disabled golfers as they should be. Loskota calls Brattain’s foundation a unique one, and hopes Diamond Valley can help set the tone for more user-friendly golf facilities.
“When you put a single person in a wheelchair and then strap him onto a golf cart, he’s going to feel kind of isolated and the focus of undo attention,” Loskota said. “It would be much easier, much better if he feels (accepted).”
Beyond the numbers, Brattain knows there’s no better feeling than restoring purpose in a person’s life. Sometimes a simple golf shot is all takes.
“Here we are in a position where we have a whole batch of young men and women who have been mutilated and a part of them thinks that their life is over and a part of them is saying, ‘There’s no reason why my life should be over, but I need to find something to latch onto,’ ” Brattain said. “I believe we are giving them that handhold.”