The Clallam County Orcas golf team started with just three players back in 2008.
A team of 30 strong peppered the putting green and holes at The Cedars at Dungeness for their regional competition in mid-July.
“Nine years later,” program coordinator Wendy Bonham said, “it’s still growing.”
The Orcas, the local athletes collective of Special Olympics Washington, started with several sports in 2006, including bowling, basketball, cheerleading, track and field, swimming and softball.
It was two years later when a meager team of three players — David Carver, Kim Wing and Ursula Schletter — got the proverbial golf ball rolling. Carver recalled getting introduced to the game while he had a month-long hospital stay.
“I said I would join if we got a team to play,” Carver noted between holes at The Cedars at Dungeness earlier this month. “I took to it like it was nothing.”
He said he enjoys getting out on the course for a number of reasons.
“Being out here on the golf course is really calming,” he said.
Carver said he likes the sportsmanship in competitions in which he and other Orcas compete.
“Everybody’s noticed. We don’t treat (like) anyone has a disability,” he said.
The Orcas golf team has grown to add players from Port Angeles and (as of this season) five players from Jefferson County, where there isn’t a similar program offered, Bonham said.
The growth in the group has been similarly met with a boon in number of assistants and volunteers, Bonham noted.
“It’s really a great program and (The Cedars) golf course (staff) is great. They love our athletes and our athletes know it.”
The Cedars not only provides course time for players but coaches Bill Shea (director of golf/general manager) and head professional Garrett Smithson, along with several staffers at The Cedars — including Judy Reno and Joanne White — plus numerous youth volunteers, parents and other volunteers.
“A lot of people see how much fun Bill and I have had in this program; it’s pretty rewarding,” Smithson said.
That dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Garrett and Bill and the extra assistance from the community — without that and The Cedars, we wouldn’t have (this program),” Carver said.
Bonham and others see numerous benefits to the program beyond offering sports outlets via Special Olympics, an international program that, “through the power of sports, people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills and success.”
They say the golf program provides camaraderie, promotes teamwork and sportsmanship, and celebrates success on many levels.
“They learn how to take instruction (and) they learn how to dress the part,” assistant Jake Tjernell said. “We’re trying to create routines.”
Plus, Bonham notes, “Golf is great sport because it’s something they can do the rest of their lives.”
Orcas athletes can compete in skills competitions such as long and short putting, pitching and chipping, or woods and irons, or can play on two-person teams (called unified play) or solo over nine holes.
That’s what Carver was preparing for as he hit drives down fairways at The Cedars on July 12.
“There are some darn good players that’ll challenge you,” he said of his upcoming tournaments. “That’s what I like.”