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2023 Brightspot Unified Golf Challenge Unites People with All Kinds of Backgrounds Through Sport

people standing in two rows on golf green
Special Olympics athletes at the Brighspot Unified Golf Challenge

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).

A caddy and two golfers on the green
Athletes on the green for a put

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:

Adam Jennings (USMC veteran) and Natasha Stasiuk (Special Olympics Canada) have a very special bond. They first met at the 2022 Brightspot Unified Golf Challenge and were on the same winning team. Over the past year they have stayed in touch as Adam continues to check in on Nastasha before her tournaments to see how she is doing. Adam, representing U.S. veterans in the Challenge, explained that this golf challenge goes beyond just playing golf for him now. He and his wife have several children but their youngest daughter who is 3 years old, has an intellectual disability. This event allows him to see his daughter’s future potential, and it excites him to see her continue to grow and develop. Adam and Natasha are on opposing teams this year which led to some friendly, yet comical banter between the two on the course. Natasha even raised the stakes when she texted Adam to say his team was going down!

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.

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