ParaGolfer puts 'Jake' back on the course
“I’m not going to shoot another course record — those days are behind me,” said Greg Jacobson of Wilton. “I just want to go out on the course with my friends.”
And that’s what Jacobson did Sept. 28, tooling around the Ridgefield Golf Course on the ParaGolfer — a special cart that allows someone who can’t walk or stand to play golf — during “The Jake,” a tournament he organized to help fight multiple sclerosis, the disease that limits his mobility but not his spirit.
Last week, he joined different foursomes — made up of friends from the course, Williams College or Milton Academy — and hit a shot with them, sharing in the teasing banter of golfers.
One group had a ball on the fringe of the green, 20 feet from the cup. Jake — the event also carries his nickname — knocked down the putt.
“That’s the one!” he said.
“You the man!” said one his pals.
“The game for me, physically, is a lot different,” he said later. “But putting. I practiced putting for so many years. And it doesn’t require that much, I don’t know, physicalness. Putting just never left me.”
Cruising around the course Jacobson pointed out a groundhog, later a blue heron.
“I love it out here,” he said.
“I’m most excited about the ParaGolfer — it’s allowed me to get back on the course,” he said. “In the simplest terms, it’s a stand-up power wheelchair with the power and duration to traverse the entire golf course,”
The cart is driven from a sitting position, and hand controls direct the seat to straighten up, becoming a vertical support that allows a handicapped golfer to swing a club.
An All-American golfer at Williams, Jacobson became a pro and taught golf. He held the Ridgefield course record — a 67 — back in the mid 90s,
The progressive symptoms started. He had all kinds of tests. He stopped golfing about 2008.
“It’s the biggest part of my life, I’d say. And it just up and disappeared from MS,” he said.
“My official diagnosis was in 2011, and by 2014 I was wheelchair-bound. …
“When I was able to kind of get my disability under control, that’s when I felt it’s time to go talk to the town of Ridgefield.”
At a selectmen’s meeting in February he requested the purchase of a cart giving handicapped golfers equal access to the course.
After investigating available equipment with course pro Frank Sergiovanni, First Selectman Rudy Marconi authorized $25,000 for the paramobile golf cart.
And Jacobson was back on the course.
“This is my happy place,” he said. “I’m so grateful to Ridgefield for accepting my presentation.
“I’m learning to play the game I love all over again. It’s a different game. But I love it,” he said. “I’ve been given back a limb.”
Going into this year, The Jake — which started in 2013 — had raised more than $70,000 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. This year, 30 golfers participated. The silent auction included packages at courses Golf Digest rates as some of the best in the world — Fishers Island, Shinnecock Hills.
“I’m blessed to have so many great friends — from Williams, from the Milton Academy — and bring them all together once a year.”
Jacobson serves on the board of the Stand Up and Play Foundation, founded by Anthony Netto, designer of the ParaGolfer.
“Anthony is a paraplegic golf fanatic who invented this,” Jacobson said.
They’re made by Ottobock and about 90 are in use. Half are private and half are at places like the Ridgefield Golf Course — where the ParaGolfer is available to anyone who needs it.
“Our goal is to get more and more people who could use this to use this,” Jacobson said.
They may never have thought of playing golf, or had a notion a handicapped person could play.
But seeing other handicapped people playing with the help of the ParaGolfer, they, too, may want to play, he said.
“It’s truly, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” he said, borrowing a line from the movie Field of Dreams.
“There was a long time I never thought I’d play golf again,” he said.
“For me, it’s been truly transformational — I want it to be for others,” he said. “Nothing would please me more than to see the looks, the smiles on their faces, their friends’ and families’ faces, when they get on this and do a little bit of golf.”