DECATUR – When he was on his game, Dany Baker could shoot a round of golf within a stroke or two of par at his favorite course near Hillsboro.
So when he lost movement in his legs as a result of a spinal cord injury in a 1993 automobile accident, Baker was determined to get back on the course.
Baker’s friends rigged a homemade adaptive cart, fastening a sliding seat from a bass boat onto a golf cart. That sent him back to the links.
“It’s something that really changed my life,” Baker said of the cart, during a recent visit to Red Tail Run Golf Club. “I love golf.”
Baker, 51, who later discovered that manufactured adaptive carts were available, has devoted much of his energy in the past decade to promoting accessibility to golfing. Baker is a representative for SoloRider, which produces a high-tech cart suitable for disabled people, stroke victims and seniors with mobility problems.
The cart allows golfers to hit balls from a sitting position, elevated sitting position or standing.
The Decatur Park District, which has had a couple of adaptive golf carts available for about eight years, recently purchased a SoloRider, which is used mostly at Red Tail Run.
Rick Anderson, the park district’s golf director, said the new cart has many great features, including a telescoping seat and plenty of carrying capacity for clubs and accessories. The idea is to keep people coming out to enjoy the sport, despite physical challenges.
“With this type of cart, a guy could go on the putting green and chip and putt, if he’s not confident on the course,” Anderson said. “If you can stand with help of support, you can putt or chip. Even if one side is damaged by a stroke, you can putt or chip one-handed.”
Anderson plans to have another adaptive cart available in the spring at Hickory Point. Then the district’s three main courses all will carry adaptive carts. An older model will be kept at Scovill.
“We will have the ability for a threesome to play if all need carts,” Anderson said. “We can accommodate the whole group. We need a day or two notice to move them around.”
The cart is designed to go easy on fairways and greens, while providing stability, even on inclines.
“You can take it on the green unless there are very wet conditions,” Anderson said.
Baker said a player using an adaptive cart could play a faster round than someone using a regular cart because disabled players pull their carts directly to their ball, while others must park on a nearby path and walk to where their ball is lying.
Jim Martinez, Decatur Memorial Hospital sports enhancement center director, said the adaptive carts could give patients recovering from accidents and strokes a big psychological lift. A former golf pro at courses in Oklahoma, Martinez said some patients may believe returning to golf is impossible for them.
“We want to make them aware of this,” Martinez said, while watching Baker hit long drives from a sitting position on a cart.
Mike Albert of Decatur tried to golf after his left leg was amputated by leaning on a crutch and hitting the ball with one hand. He shot 118. Albert later discovered he could use an adaptive cart, providing he called ahead. His scores with the cart ranged from 99 to 107.
“I didn’t do a whole lot worse than I did with two legs,” Albert said. “It was fantastic to be able to play golf.”
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By HUEY FREEMAN – H&R Staff Writer