Cart helps disabled golfers get back on course
By JOHN REYNOLDS STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER
Jonathan Kirshner/The State Journal-Register
Virgil Frese of Quincy, who has limited feeling
in his legs, uses a SoloRider to tee off
Friday at Bunn Golf Course.
For Quincy resident Virgil Frese, discovering a specially designed golf cart that allows wheelchair users to tee it up was like opening the world's best Christmas present.
"It's kind of like a 6-year old coming down and seeing that Santa Claus has been there and left him his favorite toy," Frese said. "You get a silly grin on your face, and you're happy all over.
"On Friday, Frese and his wife, Connie, were in Springfield visiting friends and were able to take in a little golf at Bunn Park. Frese was able to play because the Springfield Park District recently obtained one of the carts — called SoloRiders — for each of the four public courses.
With the SoloRider, Frese can drive right up to his ball, rotate the seat so it’s facing the side of the cart and take a swing. Since the cart doesn't damage greens, he can even putt from it.
"My wife and I have been avid golfers for probably the last 15 years," Frese said. "It was a big part of our lives. We planned most of our vacations around places where we could play. The first year and a half I was in the chair, that all went away because nobody had SoloRiders."
Frese was diagnosed with a condition known as arteriovenous malformation, or AVM. The condition caused the nerves in his spinal cord to be choked off by blood that was flowing the wrong way. He has only limited feeling in his legs.
Mike Stratton, executive director of the park district, said the district has been trying to increase recreational opportunities for everyone. There's even been a slight decrease in the number of older golfers using Springfield's courses, he said, speculating that some people might have quit golfing because they were finding it difficult to get around.
While the SoloRiders are available for wheelchair users such as Frese, they also can be used (for the regular cart fee) by anyone who might have trouble walking around courses. People with heart problems, knee problems and arthritis are just a few of the groups the park district has in mind.
"This provides them a way to come back and enjoy a game of golf," Stratton said. "These carts can increase their quality of life or return their quality of life to what it was before."
Each of the four SoloRiders cost about $9,250, for a total price of around $37,000. St. John's Hospital is sponsoring the carts and contributed $18,500 for their purchase.
Dany Baker, a former Hillsboro High School golf coach who lives in Coffeen, represents SoloRider, a 17-year-old company based in Colorado, and also uses the cart. He uses a wheelchair because of a car crash, and, like Frese, said the SoloRider allows him to continue to play.
"Before I got the SoloRider, I could hit a few balls from the range and give lessons from the chair, but it wasn't the same. I thought, 'Well, I'll probably never get to play again,'" the 51-year-old Baker said. "Then I found out they make these adaptive carts. It was almost like, 'I'm going to walk again.' It's wonderful. I have a new lease on life."
Adaptive features on the SoloRider include extra-wide tires and a special suspension, which allow a SoloRider to drive on greens without damaging the turf. In fact, according to the company, a SoloRider exerts less pressure on the turf than someone who is walking.
In addition to rotating to the side, the chair can move up to give a golfer a better angle to hit the ball. There is a rack on the front of the cart for a bag of clubs.
Baker uses clubs that are specially designed for hitting from a sitting position, but people can use regular clubs.
Frese was using regular clubs Friday when he shot 101 for 18 holes at Bunn. That's the best he's ever scored from the SoloRider and just two strokes off of his goal.
"Before (the wheelchair), I was probably a bogey golfer. My goal is to break 100," Frese said.
People who want to use a SoloRider at a park district course can reserve one by calling ahead. They also are available on a first-come, first-served basis as long as they haven’t been reserved.
John Reynolds can be reached at 788-1524.