A world-first championship for golfers with a disability will be contested during this year's Emirates Australian Open in Sydney.
On the same course, at the same time and under the same playing conditions, the world's top golfers with a disability will share the fairways chasing the Australian All Abilities Championship as the fight for the Stonehaven Cup rages simultaneously at The Lakes Golf Club.
Golf Australia national inclusion manager Christian Hamilton was thrilled that players with a disability would have the opportunity to share the global spotlight.
"This is far from an exhibition event. These are the world's best players, as determined by their own world rankings system, and they'll face the same test as all the champions who'll be battling for the Aussie Open," Hamilton said.
"It will complement the work of the International Golf Federation which is poised to promote its case for golf's inclusion in the 2024 Paralympics in France.
"One of the sport's great advantages is its capacity to include; these tournaments combined will not only inspire the public to see that, but also encourage other golfing federations to follow Australia's lead in making the game accessible to all."
An elite field of 12 golfers with a disability will play for world rankings points at the AAAC, one of eight annual Australian-based events to offer such points, and placed into the Emirates Australian Open field in a way that is being determined in consultation with the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.
The rankings system was developed in Europe and has since been adopted in 30 countries globally, including Australia and New Zealand.
Golf Australia chief executive Stephen Pitt was delighted to expand the national championship's scope.
"The Stonehaven Cup has long been regarded as one of the world's great golfing prizes and we hope this new event will ultimately be regarded with the same level of global respect," Pitt said.
"Along with the PGA of Australia, we have been working hard on inclusive golf for the past couple of years and this is a critical next step to showcase our pathways.
"It's fitting that Australia is at the forefront of inclusive golf and we can't wait to see our fans' reactions as they witness just how dynamic these athletes are, for many probably for the first time.
"This concept is huge for golf in Australia, but also around the world as we seek to make the sport open to all."
The initiative has the support of the R & A, with chief executive Martin Slumbers saying: “The R&A is delighted to see this initiative from Golf Australia showcase the world’s best golfers with disability and the use of the Ranking for Golfers with a Disability (R4GD) in the qualification process. The Australian All Abilities Championship will do much to promote the inclusive nature of golf to a global audience, and to demonstrate that golf is a game for all, for life.”
The Emirates Australian Open is supported by the NSW Government via its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW. It is one of the most historic national Opens in the world, dating to 1904, and its winners include legends like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Peter Thomson, Arnold Palmer, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.
Gavin Kirkman, CEO of the PGA of Australia which owns the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia echoed Pitt’s statements.
“For the Australian All Abilities Championship to share the spotlight with our country’s Open is an incredible step forward for inclusive golf and another terrific advertisement for the game,” Kirkman said.
“We’re lucky to have people like PGA Professional Christian Hamilton who works tirelessly in his role as Golf Australia’s National Inclusion Manager driving these kinds of initiatives.”
This year’s Emirates Australian Open will be played at The Lakes from November 15-18.