The Chautauqua Lakers of Special Olympics New York’s Western Region visited Chautauqua Golf Club Tuesday to sharpen their skills, learn golf etiquette, play a few holes, and — most importantly — connect with friends while having fun.

 

Every Tuesday, the Chautauqua Lakers bring approximately 40 athletes and 25 volunteers to Chautauqua Golf Club, setting up skill games all over the practice facilities in an attempt to simulate what an actual Special Olympics event would look like. Athletes practice putting, chip shots, pitch shots, iron shots, wood shots and then, after proving that they can play at a more advanced level, have the opportunity to go out and play on the course.

The partnership between Chautauqua Golf Club and Special Olympics New York’s Chautauqua Lakers began in the 1990s when members Bruce and Josie Crist, an employee at the club, decided to strike up a partnership, as they had a child involved in Special Olympics. Dan and Darla Davison came along in 2010 and took over for the Crists so they could retire.

“This means a lot to the athletes,” said Darla Davison, who also helps to coach the team. “They are very always excited. They really don’t like it when we have to cancel. For some of them, this is their major activity for the week. They love the competition. They love learning the sports, and we’re very serious about teaching them the right way.”

Chautauqua Golf Club values the partnership with Special Olympics New York’s Western Region and the Chautauqua Lakers, and the two sing each other’s praises at every opportunity.

“These kids are great,” said Troy Moss, the head professional at Chautauqua Golf Club. “They’re so appreciative out there, and it’s just such a good thing for us to do. With the learning center and 36 holes, we have the space for them, and it’s just fun to watch them learn.”

The Davisons, the Chautauqua Lakers and Special Olympics New York as a whole see their partnership with Chautauqua Golf Club as a fantastic opportunity to get their athletes quality experience on the golf course.

“(Chautauqua Golf Club) is a significant partner,” said Darla Davison. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to have this program at all. They make this program extra special.

“We now hold a regional competition, and we invite a team from Buffalo to come down. The Golf Club does a fantastic job hosting that for us and allowing us to have a dinner along with it.”

Even as the athletes crave the competition, the Davisons make sure they recite the Special Olympics oath before every session: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Winning and posting good scores are important, but not as important as the social components of the partnership between Special Olympics New York and Chautauqua Golf Club, as Darla Davison explains.

“(The athletes) love getting out in the fresh air. They love the friendships and the camaraderie that they have here.”