LIFE can change in a heartbeat. “You won’t get many more famous, wealthy people than Tiger Woods, yet he could have been within half an inch of losing his leg and becoming a golfer with a disability,” said Tony Bennett, the president of the European Disabled Golf Association (EDGA) as he reflected on the frightful car crash that almost cost golf’s biggest superstar a limb. “Disability is so indiscriminate.”

Woods was lucky. Others are not so fortunate, but golf continues to provide a welcoming embrace. Having spent a decade or so promoting and nurturing the disabled game with tireless, enthusiastic gusto, Bennett has witnessed some significant advances, in both opportunity and attitudes.

Golf, as we all know, has taken its fair share of brickbats down the years. Some of these withering pelters have been justified. Issues around sexism, for instance, have burdened the game for yonks. But others – such as the notion that it is riddled with exclusivity – can be the results of lazy assumptions and fusty, cliched perceptions. In many ways, golf is the most inclusive game of all.

“It’s the ideal sport for people with disability,” said Bennett. “The ball is still, you don’t have to react to it and you are playing your own ball too. That’s one of the fortunate strengths of this game whether you have mobility issues or can’t see it.”

The EDGA Tour continues to flourish – it has 100 events – while The G4D Tour (Golf for the Disabled Tour) schedule, which runs in conjunction with some of the DP World Tour’s biggest tournaments, provides valuable, high-profile exposure and helps to spread this golfing gospel. In 2023, The G4D Tour will have an expanded programme of eight events in six different countries as well as the addition of a season-long order of merit.

A change, meanwhile, to the next edition of the Rules of Golf, which will be quietly updated when you’re cleaning out the empties on New Year’s Day, will be a telling development. “In the next edition, the modifications of the rules for golfers with a disability will be fully incorporated into the Rules of Golf,” said Bennett of Rule 25, which covers all manner of bases without the need to apply a local rule. “Personally, I think that is massive and it shows the direction of travel golf is on in terms of inclusivity. For years, those modifications were in a separate little booklet which made disabled golfers feel different. Not now, though.”

The times they are a-changing. Two decades ago, American professional Casey Martin, who had a birth defect in his leg, had to drag the PGA Tour through the courts for the right to use a buggy during tournaments. “The world has woken up now,” added Bennett. “Golfers can get help with mobility issues but they still have to hit from the same tee and get it in the same hole. They are still playing the same game.

“Our goal at the EDGA is to provide the opportunity. Then it’s up to the players to engage with the game, whether they just want to play recreationally at club level or play in EDGA events. If they want to go to the top there has to be an opportunity to do that too and we are working on that. Some will end up with a career in golf, whether as a coach, a club pro or a player. There are now avenues in the game that were never previously open.

“Many of these players have big ambitions. We have had golfers with a disability playing in major amateur events like the Brabazon Trophy and the Amateur Championship. Those are events that are part of the developing process of any player. By the end of 2023 or 2024, I’m sure we’ll have disabled players going to the qualifying school and trying to get on the main tour. There’s no reason why they can’t give it a go.”

The new year will hopefully bring a new stage for disabled golf too. “We put our proposal in for golf at the Paralympics and hopefully we get the nod in January,” said Bennett of the bid for inclusion in the 2028 Games in Los Angeles. “Regardless of our Paralympic status, though, we will keep pushing to drive participation and giving more people the chance to play this game.”

Golf, as the disabled scene illustrates, remains a game for all.