By Steve Robinson | September 20, 2007 - 1:25 pm

golfDanny Gillespie and Colin Carroll will both tell you golf is a game that requires plenty of patience. While Carroll has been playing since he was a pre-teen, Danny took up the gentlemen’s game just five years ago, the last three with help from Sunshine Through Golf.

Danny was one of about two dozen athletes who have access to the Sunshine Golf Center, who participated in the Special Olympics Illinois Outdoor Sports Festival on Sept. 8 and 9. The Special Olympics Illinois Outdoor Sports Festival included athletes participating in softball, equestrian events, and of course, golf.

“The people at the (Sunshine Through Golf Center) showed me what I was doing wrong and I learned from that,” a seemingly always smiling Danny Gillespie said.

Knowing that he would learn a little more about the game from someone who has been playing longer than he, Gillespie asked Carroll to become his partner in Unified competition.

Gillespie, who works at a department store at the Golf Mill Mall in Niles, and Carroll, a Des Plaines firefighter, have been burning up the course ever since while representing Main-Niles Special Recreation Association.

“Sunshine Through Golf has, perhaps, taught Danny the patience this game requires,” Carroll said. “After he’s hit the ball – whether it ended in a good or bad lie – he calmly walks up to the ball, hits it and moves on. For him, that shot is done.”

From Danny’s point-of-view, there’s also an appreciation for the fact that, as Carroll states it, “golf is forever. With other sports, they can take their toll on the body. But Danny knows he can play when he’s 80-years-old. So Danny knows as long as he’s around, he can play golf.”

To an outsider, Gillespie and Carroll look to make quite a team as they practiced putts just prior to teeing off on the tournament’s first day. Their scores at the end of the two-day session showed the chemistry was working, as Danny shot a two-day total of 76 while Carroll shot a 125 total – good enough for the pair to earn first place.

Hickory Point Golf Course in Forsyth, near downstate Decatur, was the site for a spirited two-day golf outing, which included events which Sunshine Golfers like Danny* *were well prepared for.

Among the events each of these two days was a round of 9-hole golf for both individuals and unified teams, and a skills competition. All of the golfers, whether on the course or on the practice range for the skills competition, could attribute their success to spending time participating at one or more of the over 60 camps Sunshine Through Golf provides at a number of locations, including its home course, the three-hole Sunshine Course.

To compete in the Special Olympics event at the state level, athletes must have trained for at least eight weeks and qualified through one of 17 Areas competitions in the state. From there, athletes were placed in divisions based on age and skill level.

Sunshine Through GolfGolf Skills Tested, Too: Sometimes, it isn’t about the game itself, but rather, demonstrating you have the /skills /involved in playing the game.

While Gillespie and Carroll were burning up the links, a fellow M-NASR athlete, Kathy Maloney, was showing that appreciation for those skills, too, in this competition.

The Skills Competition involves six specific game skills which each athlete must show they can master: the short putt; the long putt; the chip shot; the pitch shot; and the iron shot.

Scoring is determined by how close the ball came to specified targets set in the skills section of the practice range at the course.

Maloney, 45, who has been with Sunshine Through Golf for three years, admits the iron and putter shots are her strong suit, but that her experience with a wood is weak, but getting worked on.

Much like Gillespie, golf has taught Maloney something about herself, she admitted. “I didn’t realize I could /actually /play golf because I never really got into this before (Sunshine Through Golf).”

Unlike basketball or softball, the other sports she plays in Special Olympics competition, Maloney knows from her golf experience that there is a little more self-imposed pressure when it’s just you versus the course.

Finishing the Skills Competition with 48 total points earned Maloney a gold medal, proving she could handle that type of pressure easily.

Other Lessons Learned, Too: For some golfers, like 27-year-old Greg Wettour, a golfer connected with Lincolnway Special Recreation Association, based in Frankfort, Ill., it is not just a game with built-in life-lessons such as what Gillespie* *discovered, it also inserts a session on public etiquette while on the course, which he said he finds helpful.

“I’ve learned to respect my coaches,” Wettour said. “I’ve loved meeting other people and to have a fun time.” His score was respectable, too: A two-day total of 175 – scoring 90 on day one and 85 on day two – good enough for a second place finish in his division.

Maloney, too, has discovered something that golf has taught her which she can carry away from the course.

Being in Sunshine Through Golf hasn’t just improved her game, Maloney said. It has improved her life. “I’m a little more calm,” she said. “I don’t get as frustrated as I used to.”

Special OlympicsJohn Fajdich, a 43-year-old golfer who represents Chicago Special Olympics, competes in the 9-hole competition, but like Maloney, has an appreciation for the simple aspect of putting one’s self to the test without keeping score. “I like getting in practice (at the Golf Center),” he said. “(Doing that) teaches you the fundamentals of the game.”

The fundamentals are working for Fajdich, as he shot 67 on day one, and followed it up with 71 the second day for a third place finishing score of 138.

Tips From A Pro: It isn’t everyone who can brag they shot a round with a PGA pro. Yet, Joann Adamski, a 32-year-old athlete representing Downers Grove-based Southeast Association for Special Parks , or SESPAR, can.

Although Joann has only been golfing for two years, she received what any golfer would consider the opportunity of a lifetime recently through her involvement with Sunshine Through Golf and its three-hole golf center — to shoot a 9-hole round with one of the PGA’s newest champions – Brandt Snedeker, who captured his first career tour win at the Wyndham Championship in August.

Joann’s father, Al Adamski, said his daughter did not squander her opportunity, especially as the game began. Joann said she met Snedeker stroke for stroke, even 2-putting the first hole – something that impressed three-year PGA pro.

Not bad for a young woman who had not picked up a club before two years ago when she joined SESPAR’s golf team.

She said along the way during the session, Snedeker even gave her insights on playing, including a putting tip: To remember to stand sideways slightly on sloping greens so the ball will instinctively roll toward the hole. Those kinds of tips must have stayed with her, as Joann earned a silver medal thanks to a two-day total of 168.