The 2023 Brightspot Unified Golf Challenge took place over 31 July – 1 August as 48 golfers descended upon Aldie, Virginia to play four 9-hole team matches over two days at The Club at Creigton Farms. The golfers were a diverse group made up of teenagers, veterans and people with intellectual disabilities representing First Tee, United States veterans and Special Olympics.
The teams, Stars vs. Stripes, each had 24 players on them and followed the rules that on the front nine holes the teams would play by the alternate shots rule (both partners drive on each hole and you must use at least 2 drives from each player) and on the back nine holes they would follow the rule of best ball shamble (play your own ball from the preferred drive, must use at least 2 drives from each player). Furthermore, the teams were able to compete in additional team and individual contests throughout the rounds which included closest to the pin challenges (individual), a team drive (foursome) and a closest in 2 challenge (pairing).
On Sunday, July 30, the players attended a welcome dinner where they had the chance to meet their fellow competitors and teammates before an action-packed two days of play. After the competition concluded on Tuesday afternoon, the players spent the evening at Topgolf where they were able to continue to showcase their golf skills while enjoying a comfortable and fun atmosphere.
After day one, Stars had 9 points on the day as Stripes led with 15 points and after day two, Stars finished with 14.5 points and Stripes with 8.5 points. Overall, the two teams tied with 23.5 points each and the teams faced off in a playoff hole to determine the winner, but they tied on that hole as well. Stars and Stripes had one final challenge to see who could hit the ball closest to the hole and Stripes took the victory.
Highlights from the 2023 Brightside Unified Golf Challenge:
Coach Jerry Stackhouse, former NBA Player and now head basketball coach for the Vanderbilt Men’s Basketball program, played in a foursome with teammate U.S. Army veteran Chad Pfeifer (Stars) vs. Mathew Gang, senior at Vanderbilt University, and Kasey Torres, golf coach. Birdwood Junior Golf (Stripes) teed off 3rd on the first day of the tournament.
Alex Francisco, First Tee participant (Stars) spoke at the welcome reception on Sunday night of how when he participated last year, he didn't know what to expect, but this event changed him to have a higher level of respect for others who come from different backgrounds and experiences. He said the opportunity allowed him to meet other people who are as passionate about golf just as much as he is, but they all have different stories of adversity which brought them to the same sport.