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Kitchener’s dementia-friendly golf program gives players another chance at golf

'Golf Fore Life' helps players with dementia connect with the game they love

Every Monday through Thursday, a special group of golfers tee off bright and early at Rockway Golf Course in Kitchener. For a few hours, they leave their cares behind, share some laughs and focus on the game at hand.

What’s so distinctive about this group of golfers? They live with dementia, but they aren’t letting it hinder them from playing the game they love.

2019 marks the second year for the City of Kitchener’s “Golf Fore Life” program; a unique initiative which helps those living with dementia enjoy the game of golf at their own pace.

Julie Laderoute is the peer helper coordinator and program coordinator for “Golf Fore Life”. Thanks in part to community interest and government funding, the program launched last year and has achieved great success ever since.

“We found there was a need at our municipal golf courses where the older population was golfing, but there were some needs that weren’t met for them,” Laderoute said. “Kitchener Golf connected with older adult services asking whether we could get some support for these golfers.”

For four days every week, members of the older adult services program pair up with local volunteers to play nine holes of golf at Rockway Golf Course. It’s an opportunity for those living with dementia to reignite their passion for a game they once played, or for first-time golfers to take a swing at a brand new hobby.

Laderoute said she’s been fortunate to witness a change in some of the golfers she’s worked with, not just in terms of on-course skills, but their general well-being. “It’s been amazing to watch golfers and their partners and see a change in the person themselves,” Laderoute said. “This is giving them the opportunity to get out and golf and enjoy the game they love; despite the diagnosis they’ve been given.”

As the program enters its second year, members and volunteers have developed special bonds that reach beyond the golf course. Laderoute said the members have created their own tight-knit community, drawn together by dementia, but they don’t let their condition define them.

“These folks are really close to me now and they mean a lot to me,” Laderoute said. “You hope for the best for them and love seeing them improve on the game. The coolest thing too is we don’t even talk about dementia; that doesn’t get brought up at all. This is just our golf crew — Golf Fore Life — and this is who we are.”

The Golf Fore Life program currently has openings for Monday and Wednesday tee times and the program is also recruiting volunteer caddies to assist with the program. By happenstance, Laderoute recruited two new caddies when a pair of golfers saw the Golf Fore Life group on the course and the pair asked how they could get involved.

Volunteers are more than happy to pay it forward and assist these golfers living with dementia. It gives members something to look forward to every week; enjoying some camaraderie out on the golf course, despite their condition.

“Dementia can be intense,” Laderoute said. “For folks who aren’t used to working with folks with dementia, the biggest lesson we teach any of our caddies and our staff is meet them where they’re at, connect with them in their world and you can build a relationship.”


Ian Hunter

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