Golf is generally considered to be a lifetime sport. However, that's not true for every person who takes up the game, as over 12 million golfers have had to hang up their clubs after they've been affected by a disability.
The recently opened Ken Lanning Golf Center in Jefferson City is here to help those golfers get back on the course. Located on 17 acres of land at the Turkey Creek Golf Complex on the northeast side of the city, the Lanning Center is a nonprofit organization that is the first of its kind in the U.S.
A 9-hole par 3 course, the Lanning Center is entirely handicap and wheelchair-accessible, complete with ramps and synthetic turf greens that make for easy golf cart navigation for the disabled. The idea was birthed by Scott Hovis, executive director of the Missouri Golf Association (MGA), after his father was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease six years ago.
"When I became executive director about 10 years ago, I was looking for ways to give back to the game of golf," Hovis said. "Golf has been my life since the age of three.
"... Then when my father was diagnosed with Parkinson's, I saw that the ability for him to play golf was taken away because of his struggles."
Not only does the Lanning Center cater to those disabled and with special needs, but it also allows free entry to any active military and veterans. As part of the MGA Junior Golf Foundation, the course is also hosting youth tournaments in its first summer of operation.
"Our mission is to grow the game of golf and to provide opportunities for people to enjoy the game of golf," Hovis said. "(The MGA) provides handicaps and is the rules authority for golf in the state of Missouri."
The course's namesake comes from Ken Lanning, a Rolla native who was a longtime leader for junior golf in Missouri. Aside from devoting much of his life to promoting junior golf, Lanning helped tutor many of the top young golfers to come from Missouri in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Junior Golf Foundation runs the day-to-day operations of the Lanning Center and has received full accomodations from Turkey Creek since breaking ground in June of last year.
"Danny Baumgartner, the owner of Turkey Creek, built our office out here for us. The summer is my busiest time of the year because I'm on the road out running golf tournaments. So when the National Guard was here building, he was very instrumental in making sure everything was going right.
"... It was a neat process to be able to watch how they took a 17-acre bean field out here and developed it into a golf course."
The course includes four man- made ponds. Aside from a recent junior golf tournament, the Special Learning Center also held a clinic last week where kids could golf and fish in the stocked pond. Though the Lanning Center is still fairly new, word has started to spread about its unique ser- vices. Sports Planning Guide recently named it as one of the 10 best adaptive sports facilities in America and MoGolfTour's Mark Schupp paid a visit on his tour of every golf course in Missouri.
"I think it's a pay it forward kind of thing," Schupp said. "It's a small way of giving back and shows an appreciation for service men and women. It gives the disabled a chance to participate in an activity they otherwise could not do. It's a great addition to the community."
The Lanning Center is available to all golfers, and with time the hope is that it can grow and continue to be a host for participating organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Special Olympics.
"I think we've opened a lot of eyes," Hovis said. "I think a lot of people have realized this is a need and it gives people a pretty cool opportunity."
To learn more about the Ken Lanning Golf Center or to make a donation, visit golfforeall.org or call 573-636-8994.