BILLINGS — Special Olympics golf athletes in Billings competed in golf individual skills and some played a round of nine holes at Exchange City Par 3 golf course Sunday to close out a week of sporting competition in the 2021 State Summer Games.
Special Olympics golfers have been on a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nick Heinzman, 25, has been a Special Olympics golfer for the past three years, but he's participated in seven Special Olympics events over the past 17 years.
Heinzman said it was fun to be back on a sunny day for some golf.
“It’s nice to get out there and play," said Heinzman, a member of the golf team from Billings.
Two Special Olympics golf teams were at the competition in Billings: the 25-member Billings Battlin' Bears and a single-athlete team from Red Lodge.
The 2021 Montana Special Olympics Summer Games were supposed to be held in Bozeman this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the games were held at individual locations across the state, with 50 adult, youth and young adult delegations competing.
Heinzman had a successful day of golf and earned a silver medal in his division for golf individual skills. He was among 18 total athletes across 10 divisions to earn medals for the event in Billings.
Golfers were scored for distance in their drives, and accuracy for chips and puts. Judges added up total scores between the different golf swings to name winners.
Heinzman said he was inspired to pick up the clubs after wanting to try something new and his recent success is another notch on his belt.
“It’s something new that I’ve never done. My first year I was playing, I got second in state for my first year playing," Heinzman said.
Heinzman said he also earned four blue ribbons and two state track medals in the Special Olympics Summer Games this hear. He said he's excited for the bowling competition coming up in August.
After the skills awards ceremony, the golfers had a lunch break, then some hit the course for for a round off nine holes. About 10 two-person teams went out for the round of golf. The teams were made up of a Special Olympics athlete and a Unified Partner, who isn't intellectually disabled.
The Unified Partner is responsible for keeping the team safe and healthy while on the course, but perhaps more importantly, they are 50 percent of the golf team. The golf game is alternate ball, where each team mate strikes the golf boll every other stroke.
“It makes it kind of fun if they tee off and I go ahead and take the next shot. Then the next hole, we’ll alternate. We try to kick some rear on some scores," said Jeylynn Grinsteiner, a Unified Partner athlete for the Billings team.
Grinsteiner has volunteered as a Unified Partner for the Special Olympics golf team in Billings for the past five years. It's the athletes that keep her coming back, she said.
“It just puts a smile on my face. These guys make me laugh. They bring so much joy to your heart. It’s just more of a good feeling and it gets them out from their situation. They don’t have to think about their homes and stuff like that. It’s just a good feeling," Grinsteiner said.
This year, the weather was perfect to be on the golf course. A few years back, that wasn't the case with a rain storm soaking the golfers, Grinsteiner said. The soggy day however, turned out to be a shining memory, Grinsteiner said.
“The last time we got to do it a couple of years ago, it was pouring rain out here and we had the best time. It was so fun. We were all just drenched and soaking wet, but we had such a good time. There were a lot of laughs that year," Grinsteiner said.
The Exchange City Par 3 golf course staff donated all of the range balls and tee times to the Special Olympics, Grinsteiner said. Not just for the weekend event, but also for the weeks of practice beforehand, she said.
"Everything has been donated. They have not let us pay for anything. That is very, very awesome of them. And they've done this for years, but they have been top notch," Grinsteiner said.
To learn more about the Special Olympics golf event in Billings, visit Special Olympics Yellowstone Valley's Facebook page by clicking here.