By: AL-NW FL PGA
BIRMINGHAM, AL (June 27, 2019) – Golf as both a sport and a business has become increasingly more diverse over the last few years thanks to a number of new initiatives the industry’s leading organizations have put in to place. It’s clear the game is in midst of a shift leading towards more inclusion for people of all backgrounds and abilities. One of those pushes is coming from a handful of national and international organizations and their mission to provide people with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities an opportunity to showcase his or her ability to compete in golf at a high level.
The R & A (Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews) and the EDGA (European Disabled Golf Association) recently debuted a world golf ranking system for individuals with disabilities. Both the USGA (United States Golf Association) and the USDGA (United States Disabled Golf Association) joined in to create the first tournament held in the U.S. (called the United States Disabled Open Golf Championship) to go towards those world rankings.
The 2019 USDOGC would be the first time competitors could earn world-ranking points by playing in the event. The tournament was held May 14-16 at Independence Golf Club in Richmond, Virginia hosting a field of seventy-four golfers from eight countries. Among those players was the Alabama – NW Florida PGA’s own Chris Biggins, PGA Assistant Golf Professional at the Country Club of Birmingham.
Not only did Biggins compete, but he also won the event’s top division in a one-hole playoff! “At first I didn’t know if it was something that I wanted to play in,” says Biggins. “After talking with others who I’ve played in events with in the past, I realized it was something I needed to put on my radar because of the world-ranking opportunities – nothing like this has ever been done before.”
In doing so he also was nominated by the USGA to participate in the Inaugural EDGA Scottish Open to be staged July 13 & 14 at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick – about a forty-five minute drive east of Edinburgh.
Along with it being the first of its kind, the EDGA Scottish Open will be played in conjunction with the European Tour’s Aberdeen Investments Scottish Open, a Rolex Series event, and is considered one of the most prestigious events on the European Tour schedule.
With the likes of Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler already committed to playing, Biggins, who has battled cerebral palsy from a young age, will tee it up with some of the biggest names in the world of golf for a weekend.
We visited with Chris back in April for the Section’s 50thAnniversary series, and caught up with him again at the Country Club of Birmingham to talk about how he’s taking in the big win and what he’s doing to prepare for Scotland:
Can you describe what the actual competition was like during the U.S. Disabled Open Golf Championship?
CB: It’s fun because I have played against a lot of these guys the past few years, but at the same time with this event we know what’s on the line. We want to have rankings and we want to have a title so there was definitely a different feel going in to this event because now we have something bigger to play for. I shot a 73 the first day – I just couldn’t make a birdie all day. All of us know who has it in them to go low when they need to go low – one of them being my buddy Chad [Pfiefer]. Sure enough, after the first seven holes of my second round, I checked the scores and my dad [serving as Biggins’ caddie] and I realized we had to get a lot more aggressive. I birdied five of my last nine holes, which was enough to get in to a playoff with Chad. It’s funny because Chad had beaten me by one shot two years ago in the International Disabled Championship at Pumpkin Ridge. This time I drained a twenty-five footer on the first playoff hole and Chad missed his birdie putt so now we are even.
What has the reaction been like since you have been back with your family, friends and others around the Birmingham community?
CB: It was really cool because I grew up in Maryland so to have my parents there was awesome! We had a mini celebration because I had to fly back the next morning, but it was great to enjoy it with them. Eric [Eshleman] helped it sink in more because he made me realize how this is more of a national title and not just another event. For me, that day, I was more focused on trying to beat Chad and I didn’t think about much more. Once the membership here caught wind that’s when I started to really think ‘Oh hey, this is a big deal!’ It was really nice to have these last couple of weeks to soak it all in, and it makes it even more special to share it with those people.
So now you find yourself competing in the EDGA Scottish Open can you explain how all of that worked?
CB: For the Scottish Open they will take the top eight in the current world rankings for disabled golf. Additionally, the USGA gets to nominate one player and South African Golf Association gets to nominate another player. The USGA basically came to me saying they wanted to nominate me because of my win at the U.S. Disabled Golf Open. So then I started to hear more about Scottish Open – it’s a groundbreaking event with a motive to get the EDGA on the map and give disabled golf more exposure. It will be my biggest test because the course will be the toughest and the field will be the toughest.
Have you ever played golf over seas? How are you preparing for this event?
CB: I have never been out of the country besides going to Canada, but I don’t really count that. I have never had experience playing overseas either – the biggest difference that we will see over there is that we are going to playing from where the pros play. So instead of 6,500 yards it’s going to be closer to 6,900 or 7,200 yards. Needless to say, I will have to put a premium on my short game and grind out those up-and-down pars all weekend.
Do you think after this event you will continue to look in to competing in these worldwide events?
CB: Definitely. After talking more with the folks at the EDGA it’s clear they are making a big push for a more established worldwide tour for disabled golf. The biggest issue right now is finding sponsors to help pay for some of those costs, because most guys are hemorrhaging money. The reason I can participate in the Scottish Open this year is because it’s such a big deal, and I’m not paying an arm and a leg to get over there – I also work with an incredible team here [at the Country Club of Birmingham] who can pick up my slack while I’m gone.
As far as skiing goes, what do think will happen as you pursue your goals in golf? Will your mentality on either sport change?
CB: I don’t think so. My goal has never been to be the best golfer in the world or the best skier in the world – I want to be both. Both sports complement each other so I need them for myself. I love skiing and golf too much to give up one or the other. Even if it takes away from opportunities in either sport I want to “Michael Jordan” it – it’s the only way I know how to do it!
ABOUT THE UNITED STATES DISABLED GOLF ASSOCIATION
Founded in 2011 by Jason Faircloth, the USDGA exists to provide people with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities an opportunity to showcase his or her ability in a golf championship at the highest level in the USA.
ABOUT THE EUROPEAN DISABLED GOLF ASSOCIATION
The EDGA promotes and delivers opportunities for individuals with impairment to start, participate and succeed in golf. Formed in 2000, the EDGA is uniquely positioned to support the expansion of initiatives which promote the development, support and delivery of golf for individuals with impairment across Europe. The association is made up of the national governing bodies from 23 countries. Although EDGA is primarily focused on Europe, organisations from around the world regularly reference the EDGA for direction, advice and more specifically the definitions of impairment, eligibility and tournament criteria.