The United States Disabled Open, which aims to provide a PGA Tour-like atmosphere for disabled golfers, is descending upon Mesa for its third-ever tournament in May.
The tournament will take place at Longbow Golf Club near Higley and McDowell roads from May 17-20. The US Disabled Open will add to the list of major events that have taken place at the club in recent years, including the Symetra Tour, Heather-Farr Classic and the NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championships.
“Longbow Golf Club is honored to be the host site for the 2021 U.S. Disabled Open Golf Championship,” Bob McNichols, developer of Longbow Business Park and Golf Club, said in a press release. “Longbow Golf Club has long advocated and supported adaptive golf. We have provided access, training, specialized equipment and partnered with Ability360 Sports and Fitness Center and various community organizations to promote access to the game of golf for the adaptive golf community.
“We look forward to welcoming the competitors and presenting an exciting championship for the top U.S. and international adaptive golfers.”
This year’s event will be the third tournament put on by the United States Disabled Golf Association, which began hosting tournaments for amputees and other golfers with disabilities in 2018. The first-ever tournament was held in Orlando, Fla., where Ryan Brendan, an amputee from Nebraska, won the title.
In 2019, the USDGA descended upon Richmond, VA., where Chris Biggins from Birmingham, Ala. took home the title. Both events featured a combined 122 golfers with various impairments from all over the United States and some from other countries.
Biggins, the 2019 winner, suffers from cerebral palsy.
The Open in 2019 became the first event to obtain world rankings for golfers with disabilities. The 2020 tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but USDGA founder Jason Faircloth expects more than 70 golfers to sign up for the tournament in Mesa, which has received support from local company PING, PGA of America and aboutGolf, among others.
“We already have 51 golfers who have signed up and already played,” said Faircloth, who has cerebral palsy. “I’ve always wanted to create something like this because I wanted to focus on golfers with disabilities. I wanted to try to give golfers the same opportunities I have had.”
Faircloth, 42, takes pride in his own accomplishments on the golf course, and has never thought of himself as disabled while playing.
He fell in love with the sport while growing up in North Carolina and was named Player of the Year for Sampson Community College in 1999. In 2001, he volunteered for both the men’s and women’s US Open and returned in 2005 and 2007 to do the same. In 2011, he became the first-ever American to play in the Disabled British Open in England.
In front of a national audience in England, he finished 34th overall and sixth in his flight in 2011. In 2012, he finished 28th overall and was second in his flight in the same tournament.
To this day Faircloth is the only American to have ever played in the Disabled British Open.
“I didn’t even know there was anything out there like that,” Faircloth said. “I’ve never really considered myself as disabled. But to see how professionally run the tournament was, it gave me the motivation to try to create that same type of event here.”
Larry Celano, a 52-year-old Chandler resident, is among those already signed up to participate in the event in May. A veteran, Celano became paralyzed at 20 years old while in the military storming Panama. He utilizes a SoloRider while golfing that allows him to sit down and still swing a club as the seat is able to raise up and down.
He played in the United States Disabled Open two years ago in Virginia and recalls how special of a moment it was for him. At one point while exiting the elevator in his hotel, he broke down in tears at the thought of being able to compete at a high level for the first time since his injury.
“It was the first time I was able to do anything competitively since I got hurt,” Celano said. “There were a bunch of emotions. I’m using this event as my own U.S. major, where I can feel like a pro for the day.”
Now with the tournament in his own backyard, Celano is confident in his ability to compete once again at a high level in the tournament.
“I always go into tournaments looking to win,” Celano said. “I’m excited to be home, have my own caddy and to have my friends and family come watch me.”
A number of local sponsors have offered to help with various tasks to put on the tournament at Longbow, including food, drinks and the installment of rules for golfers.
Arizona State University’s Special Events Management Department has also stepped in to help by providing volunteers for the three-day event. An aspect Faircloth said has made the tournament possible. Still, more help is needed.
Due to the pandemic, many of Faircloth’s usual sponsors for the events have not been able to help like in year’s past. He’s asking anyone interested in volunteering or donating to do so to provide an opportunity for disabled golfers to play the sport they love at a high level.
“We almost didn’t have a tournament again this year,” Faircloth said. “I was about to cancel it. We got the support we needed from PING and Arizona State to have the tournament.”
Registration for the event is set at $280, which includes four rounds of golf, two meals and will be part of the U.S. Rankings for Golfers with Disabilities. Hyatt Place near Mesa Riverview has been selected as the official hotel of the event for those coming from out of town.
For more information on the United States Disabled Open Golf Championship taking place at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa or to make a donation, visit www.usdga.net.