The University of Arizona is home to a nationally recognized adaptive athletics program that continues to grow with the passage of a bill that will provide crucial funding for the program’s offerings and the dedication of a new golf simulator.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey was among the dignitaries who took part in the Sept. 24 dedication, calling the event “far and away my most memorable visit to the U of A.” Ducey also watched the Wildcats wheelchair basketball and rugby teams practice at the Student Recreation Center.
“For more than four decades, athletes in this program have been proving to the world that there is no obstacle that will stop them from competing, and at the U of A, no one will stop them from winning,” Ducey said at the dedication, which was also attended by Tucson auto dealer Jim Click, who has been supporting adaptive athletics at the university for more than 30 years, and UA President Robert C. Robbins.
The university is adding golf to its adaptive athletics offerings thanks to a state-of-the-art golf simulator, which is the result of a partnership with Tucson-based TeeItUp Enterprises. Five years ago, Peter Hughes, athletic director for Adaptive Athletics, sat with TeeItUp managing partner Jon Moore on a flight and discussed adaptive sports. After Moore’s son later lost his vision following brain surgery, Moore and Hughes began talking about bringing adaptive golf and the simulator to the university.
The simulator allows golfers to play virtual holes and courses using a camera system and artificial intelligence to provide shot tracking. It also allows for complete voice control through the Amazon Alexa platform.
“Especially with brand-new visually impaired golfers, the simulator itself will be extraordinarily helpful because you can work on your stroke analysis constantly,” Hughes said. “We’re excited about the simulator because it will give us massive repetitions and coaching feedback.”
The golf team, which begins competing this month, is Adaptive Athletics' seventh competitive team. It joins men’s and women’s basketball, wheelchair track and road racing, handcycling, wheelchair tennis, and wheelchair rugby. The university plans to add swimming next fall.
“We are not going to sit on our laurels,” Robbins said at the dedication. “We are going to continue to grow and make this the best adaptive athletics program anywhere.”
The golf simulator dedication served as a chance to celebrate the passage of a bill appropriating $160,000 in Arizona’s 2020 budget to adaptive athletics programs. As the only Arizona school offering adaptive athletics, the University of Arizona will receive the full amount, which Hughes says will primarily fund scholarships.
To date, 38 current and former University of Arizona athletes have competed at the Paralympics. The women’s basketball team earned National Wheelchair Basketball Association titles in 2012 and 2014, and the rugby team won United States Quad Rugby Association championships in 2018 and 2019. Hughes said the university has created a culture that fuels success in adaptive athletics.
“We have individuals who are passionate about the education of young men and women with disabilities first, and then competition adds to that,” Hughes said. “We use the competition and adaptive athletics as a vehicle to bring more confidence and more support to everybody with a disability.”
Ducey added he would like to see more states and schools follow the University of Arizona’s lead.
“I do think that we should be challenging governors from across the country and university presidents to try to match what we’ve done here at the U of A in terms of adaptive athletics,” Ducey said.