Making Golf Special

By George WhiteSeptember 1, 2005, 4:00 pm
Editor's Note: The Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament (NIT) will take place Sept. 16-19. To learn more about Special Olympics golf and register for the NIT Webcast, click here.
It was a bright summer day when he got to this particular par-3 hole last week. Number 7 is a medium-range shot, 155 yards long. He was participating in a nine-hole tournament when it happened. It was Aug. 21 ' a day now burned into his memory for the rest of his life.
He wasnt expecting anything unusual at the time. But, oh, how that was all about to change!
He selected a 3-wood from his bag. He put the ball up on a tee, stood back for a moment to survey the shot, then got into his stance. He swung and watched the golf ball make a gentle arch to the green.
Tom Belka
Tom Belka made his ace while competing in the Special Olympics Minnesota state golf tournament.
He knew it was a good shot as soon as he hit it. The ball rolled and rolled, ever in the direction of the flag. And suddenly, it ended its journey ' stone dead in the bottom of the cup! A hole-in-one!
The golfer was 25-year-old Tom Belka. The place was Blaine, Minn., at the National Youth Golf Centers Victory Links Course. And the tournament was the Minnesota state golf event of the Special Olympics. You see, Tom is a Special Olympic athlete.
A Special Olympic athlete is a person who attempts to succeed at his particular sport, though he must first overcome the disability of being intellectually challenged. Tom, though he must always battle this obstacle, has been playing golf since he was 8 years old. He has a fulltime job working in a mail room, but he considers himself an athlete first and foremost. His participation in softball and bowling attest to that, but he considers golf his No. 1 sport. He spends hour after hour working on his swing at his hometown of Maple Grove.
Toms coach, Mike McStott, was ecstatic about Toms special shot, noting the long hours of practice that Tom puts in. And Toms father, Jim Belka, was equally overwhelmed by his sons hole-in-one. 'I've been trying to do it for 52 years and I haven't come close,' Jim said.
The 2-year-old Victory Links course is part of the National Sport Center, which hosts - among other events - the USA Cup soccer tournament. Toms ace was one of only three holes-in-one in the history of the course.
The Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament (NIT) will be held Sept. 16-19 at Ames, Iowa. More than 200 golfers, from 29 U.S. programs, will compete at the five levels of play.
I personally attended the Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament three years ago. It was eye-opening to see the youths so spirited, if ever friendly. When Im having a bad day on the golf course, I just think of these young athletes and what they must go through when they leave the course. Nothing seems quite so bad afterwards.
The PGA of America and United States Golf Association return for the sixth consecutive year as presenting sponsors and are joined by the PGA Tour in this sponsorship designation. The LPGA and the Golf Course Superintendents Assn. of America are supporting sponsors.

The PGA first introduced golf to the Special Olympics in 1988, and now some 10,000 athletes compete in the sport in 17 countries. In 1991, Special Olympics golf went international with nearly 4,000 Special Olympics athletes participating in daily PGA golf clinics at their Summer World Games in Minneapolis.
Special Olympics first exhibition golf tournament came at the 1995 Special Olympics Summer World Games. The Summer World Games hosted the first official Special Olympics World Golf Tournament in 1999 and the annual Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament began in 2000.
The stated goal of Special Olympics is to changes lives by promoting understanding, acceptance and inclusion between people with and without intellectual disabilities. And golf organizations have jumped in wholeheartedly to lend their support ' the PGA, the USGA, the PGA Tour and the LPGA.
Someone, somewhere is bound to be thankful. Golf may have some warts here and there, but it has been a giant when it comes to these specially challenged people.

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Related Links:
  • Learn More about Special Olympics Golf
  • Sign up for the Webcast
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    Vegas helicopters in to Carnoustie, without clubs

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 9:33 am

    Jhonattan Vegas did some range work, putted a little and strolled to the first tee for his 5:31 a.m. ET start in the 147th Open Championship.

    Everything before that, however, was far from routine.

    Vegas' visa to travel to Scotland expired and the process to renew it got delayed - and it looked like his overseas' flight might suffer the same fate. Vegas, upon getting his visa updated, traveled from Houston, Texas to Toronto, Canada to Glasgow, Scotland, and then took a helicopter to Carnoustie.

    He arrived in time on Thursday morning, but his clubs did not. Mizuno put together some irons for him and TaylorMade got him his preferred metal woods. He hit the clubs for the first time on the range, less than 90 minutes before his start.

    "I'm going to go out there and play with freedom," Vegas told Golf Channel's Todd Lewis.

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    How to watch The Open on TV and online

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:40 am

    You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

    Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

    In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on  

    Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

    (All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; or check the GLE app)

    Monday, July 16

    GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (

    GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (

    GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (

    Tuesday, July 17

    GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

    Wednesday, July 18

    GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

    Thursday, July 19

    GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (

    GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

    GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

    Friday, July 20

    GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

    GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

    Saturday, July 21

    GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

    NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (

    GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (

    Sunday, July 22

    GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

    NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM ( Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (

    GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (

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    The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:30 am

    Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

    What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

    What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

    How old is it?

    It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

    Where is it played?

    There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

    Where will it be played this year?

    At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

    Who has won The Open on that course?

    Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

    Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

    Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

    Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

    This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

    Who has won this event the most?

    Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

    What about the Morrises?

    Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

    Have players from any particular country dominated?

    In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

    Who is this year's defending champion?

    That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

    What is the trophy called?

    The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

    Which Opens have been the most memorable?

    Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

    When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

    Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.