Disabled golfers’ teacher wins award
A man who teaches golf to disabled people, including wounded ex-soldiers, has won a national award.
Craig Thomas, a Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) professional at his own facility, The Golf Academy, in Wolverhampton, won the Toby Sunderland Award, which recognises outstanding charitable work by a PGA member. He received the accolade at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
The 31-year-old launched disability golf in Staffordshire, sits on five volunteer disabled sport forums across the county and regularly coaches youngsters and adults with a range of disabilities.
In addition he has coached soldiers injured in Afghanistan and Iraq while playing a prominent role in Cheshire as its regional development officer.
On picking up his award, Thomas revealed that it was childhood experiences that had stirred his ambition to work with disabled people.
“As a kid I spent a lot of time with my grandmother who worked at an adult day centre in Wolverhampton so I was brought up around disability,” he said.
“It always struck me that they didn’t have a lot of opportunities and I always said to myself if I ever had the opportunity to help them out I would.
“I’ve never been in a position to help out by handing over money but instead have been able to utilise my skills as a coach taught by the PGA which has been my way of offering something back.”
Thomas is also playing an important role in developing the recently launched ISPS Handa PGA Academy programme which is training PGA professionals to specialise in the coaching of disabled golfers.
And through initiatives such as this, and through England Golf Partnership, Thomas believes the game is more accessible to disabled golfers with PGA pros playing a key role.
“There are far more opportunities and I regularly get other PGA pros ringing me up and asking how they can get involved so I think we are seeing more coaches wanting to do it which is fantastic,” he added.
Thomas receives a cheque for £1,200 to give to a charity of his choice and he is splitting the money between the Golf Foundation and Chase Day Service in Cannock.
“I have chosen the Golf Foundation because without their funding in the first place I would not have been able to do what I’ve done with disabled golf.
“I’ve also chosen Chase Day Service because I have done some disabled golf projects with them but their funding is always being cut so they need as much financial support as possible.”
PGA chief executive Sandy Jones said: “The presentation of this award shows clear evidence as to why our members are at the heart of golf.
“People may view professionals who work at club level as only providing a golf service to club members but the facts are that the vast majority do much more than this and Craig’s recognition by receiving the Toby Sunderland Award is well earned and greatly deserved.”
Also earning recognition for their charitable work were the following regional nominees who each received £250 to give to a charity of their choice:
PGA East Region – Lee Fickling (Bush Hill Park)
When one of his best friends, fellow PGA pro Neil Wichelow, was struck down with cancer, Lee raised in excess of £70,000 for treatment for over a period of five years before Neil’s death in August 2011. In addition he has also run pro-ams for more than 20 years raising more than £50,000. Lee will donate the cheque to the PGA Benevolent Fund.
PGA Irish Region – Gavin Kavanagh (Delgany)
Determined Gavin took a prominent role to help raise funds to build the Down Syndrome Centre in Dublin from scratch. In total he has raised €70,000. Gavin will donates his money to the Down Syndrome Centre.
PGA North Region – John Watson (Total Golf Analysis)
John has raised nearly £100,000 in less than four years for Childflight and Wayahead charities. He became involved after his late daughter Amy was diagnosed with a brain tumour. John will give the cheque to the When You Wish Upon A Star charity.
PGA Scottish Region – Stephen McAllister (Renaissance Club)
Stephen supported the Teddy Bear Foundation by establishing a pro-am in 2005 which has subsequently raised in the region of £100,000. He is also organising a pro-am in support of his close friend and late colleague Adam Hunter. Stephen gave his cheque to the Teddy Bear Foundation.
PGA South Region – Johnathan Callister (Pentland Golf)
Johnathan has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, raising £20,000 for Demelza Hospice Care for Children which provides respite care, short breaks and end of life care for children and young children with life limited and life threatening conditions.
PGA West Region – Ian Ferrie (West Wilts)
Ian lost his young son to cancer in May 2008 and since then has undertaken a number of fundraising events in aid of Clic Sargent who supported the family during their most difficult time. Ian ran half-marathons, ran quiz nights and golf days, helping raise more than £12,000 to date. Iain will give his cheque to Clic Sargent.