On a blustery afternoon at Bear Valley Golf Course, Jeffery Garcia watched his tee shot on the par 3, second hole slice through the breeze.
The white ball plopped on the luscious green and rolled to within 15 feet of the pin. Back on the tee box — 142 yards away from the hole — Garcia stood in awe.
“He’s amazing,” Kodiak Special Olympics golf coach Franke Brown said. “He has a simple swing, but he is getting it out there in the middle.”
Garcia rolled in a par, after his partner, Steve O’Brien missed the birdie putt.
The two played their first round of the 2020 Special Olympics golf season, which started last week, on Wednesday.
The season teed off later than usual as a COVID-19 mitigation plan had to be established by Special Olympics Alaska before play started. Golf is the first Special Olympics sport to return to Kodiak since the pandemic hit in March and forced swimming and powerlifting to end their seasons.
Brown asks athletes and partners COVID-19 related questions before practice and takes their temperatures before they are cleared to participate. The participants than lather their hands in sanitizer before grabbing a club. Masks are required when not golfing.
“Once we are out in the field, and keeping our social distance, it is a discretion to the athlete and the player if they want to take their masks off.”
Other than those new protocols, everything else resembles a normal practice — drives, fairway shots and putts.
In unified Special Olympics golf, the athlete and partner alternate shots.
On Wednesday, OBrien handled the tee-offs on the odd holes, while Garcia held the honors on the even holes.
The two carded a 56 but should have been better. Par on the nine-hole course is 36.
“I made a mistake on their round because they were supposed to play off the red tees, and we played off the whites,” Brown said.
The red tee box is closer to the hole.
There are only two athletes and partners on the golf team. But, it is an increase over last year when only Aaron Dolph and James Glenn competed.
Usually, the season ends with a state tournament in Anchorage, but, because of COVID-19, it will most likely be virtual, with teams submitting scores from their home courses.
All of Kodiak’s participants are thrilled to be on the course after months of doing nothing.
“For me, I just started last year, so it is great to have a program that is continuing going,” Brown said.