Something Special: Special Olympics World Games Hits Los Angeles
Southern California will play host to the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world in 2015, as the Special Olympics World Games hits Los Angeles July 25-August 2. Expected to include 7,000 athletes and 3,000 coaches representing 177 countries, along with 30,000 volunteers and an anticipated 500,000 spectators, the Games will feature 25 Olympic-style sports, including golf.
The golf portion of the event will take place at Griffith Park GC from July 27-31, with athletes participating in skills challenges, nine-hole competitions or full 18-hole competitive rounds. Among those involved will be Greg, a Southern California native who has been involved with Special Olympics for years.
“I am excited to play in it,” Greg said. “Really excited. But for me the most exciting part will be meeting the other athletes from all the other countries. That’s really the one thing I’m really looking forward to.”
Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics empowers people with intellectual disabilities to become accepted and valued members of their communities through the power and joy of sports. The World Games are flagship events for the Special Olympics program, and take place every two years, alternating between Summer and Winter Games. This will be the first time since 1972 that they will take place in California.
“Greg is just so passionate about the game of golf,” said his dad, Bob. “To be involved with the event this summer is just such an honor for us. The Special Olympics program Greg participates with here in Southern California is the gold standard for Special Olympics golf across the country.”
Greg is heavily involved with the Special Olympics golf program at Tijeras Creek GC in Orange County. Led by PGA Professional Marty LaRoche, Tijeras Creek has been a host site for Special Olympics activities for the past 16 years.
“We’ve been coming here for years; it’s just an automatic thing for us,” Bob said. “In talking with athletes and parents from other areas, we found out that no one has anything like we do here. We took it all for granted, what Marty and his team do here.”
Most Special Olympics programs on a local level are completely run by volunteers, which is why they differ so much location to location. This spring in Southern California, Greg is involved in a weekly program at Tijeras Creek, which will culminate the last week of May with major festivities. Each athlete who has been practicing at the course every Saturday for the past eight weeks will partner with a local PGA pro or high school or college coach and compete over nine holes of golf.
“I love getting out and playing golf,” Greg said. “Being outside enjoying the air. It’s exercise, but it’s also fun at the same time. And they have such a beautiful golf course here. I love being able to play on it.”
And while Greg is learning golf from professionals and volunteers at Tijeras Creek, it’s he who can teach us all something about the game.
“I don’t ever get upset on the golf course,” said Greg, who volunteers three times a week at the Disabled Resource Center in Long Beach. “If I hit a bad shot, no problem. I move on. Some of the people, if they hit bad shots, they start getting upset. I just say ‘no problem, maybe I’ll hit a great chip that will save me.’”
The positive attitude will certainly help Greg this summer, in what could be a pressure-packed experience. But with what his dad calls “Greg’s Army” preparing to walk the course in support of him at Griffith Park, the experience should be nothing but special for everyone involved.
And when asked who in the world he would most want to play a round of golf with, Greg’s answer came quickly.
“Marty,” he said, showing the impact a volunteer like Marty can have on the athletes he works with. “I’d really love to play a round of golf with Marty.”
To learn more about this summer’s Special Olympics World Games, visit la2015.org.