Special Olympics Unified Golf

Read to Play

There is no doubt that Special Olympics is at the top of our Melissa’s favorite activities. Each year she participates in Gymnastics, Basketball, Tennis, Bowling, and for the past decade Golf. Of these sports, only golf offers the unique opportunity for the athlete to compete along with a partner.

Called Unified Sports® each participating athlete is paired with an unimpaired partner and together they compete in the event. Parents, siblings, or family friends are the most common partners that play alongside the athlete. The unified team practices together and plays in an “area” tournament and then in the state-wide event.

Unified golf consists of an alternating shot, 9-hole tournament on a regulation golf course. Athletes tee-off on the (5) even holes and the partner on (4) odd holes. Pairings are set based on scores from athlete “skills” tests and from the unified teams score in the earlier area tournament.

Golf was introduced to Special Olympics in 1995, and in Minnesota, participation has grown from 89 golfers and their unified partners in 2000 to over 300 last year.


The tournament was last Sunday. We had remarkable weather … partly cloudy skies, a cool breeze, and temperature in the high 70s. Melissa and I were paired with two other twosomes. She did an amazing job teeing off, with each shot landing in the middle of the fairway. She also had several chip-shots that left the ball within 10 feet of the cup. And on a number of occasions, she dropped 8-foot puts that her partner (me) surely would have missed.

On the Awards Podium

We were contending for first-place until the 17th (second-to-last) hole … a short par-3. Unfortunately, her partner (me) chunked the tee-shot into the weeds. In the end, we missed second place by a single stroke. No matter though, it was a fabulous day and great fun. I am always amazed at how much better Melissa gets at this game from year-to-year.

If you ever get a chance to play in a Unified Sports event, don’t miss it … I promise it will be something you will never forget.


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