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Mark Gibson driven by desire to defend his titles

European wheelchair champion is targeting double delight

By Luke Sproule

When Mark Gibson became the first European wheelchair golf champion, he had a secret weapon to help him seal victory – a lawnmower.

The Ballynahinch golfer had already won Paralympic snooker gold in 1984 before turning to golf, but after winning a handful of UK Championships he grew frustrated with his three-wheeled buggy.

So six years ago he took matters into his own hands and designed a buggy which helped him on his way to the European title last month.

"I bought a sit-on lawnmower, took the electrics out and adapted it for playing golf," he said.

"It was described by somebody at another tournament as 'a bit agricultural' but I just told him I had to go home and do a bit of farming!

"I get a lot of help from Stokes Engineering, who give me a hand with the engineering aspect and Alistair Thompson in Carryduff does the electrics."

Mr Gibson and his caddy Trevor Jones took the buggy on a two-day journey from Ballynahinch to Sitges, 25 miles outside Barcelona, for the European Challenge for Wheelchair Golfers.

"We drove down to Rosslare, got the ferry to Cherbourg and then drove down to the course where the tournament was held," he said.

"We got there on Sunday and I had one practice round on Monday and then it was straight into the tournament on Tuesday and Wednesday."

The long journey and punishing schedule didn't affect Mark, who secured a double victory by defeating 20 other golfers from across the continent to win both the scratch and handicap categories.

"If I go back next year I would like to have a bit of time before the tournament to have a rest," he said.

"Wheelchair golf is one of the most difficult disability sports because it's very tough physically. I like to go out in the afternoon and hit balls for an hour or two but I have to be careful because you can only use one arm and it puts a lot of stress on your shoulder."

Although disability sport has grown in popularity, partly due to the success of the 2012 London Paralympics, wheelchair golf remains less popular than other sports, but the success of last week's European Challenge means it is set to be repeated next year and there are plans to hold a World Championship in the near future.

"It's challenging for me because I don't have sponsorship and it costs £1,500-£2,000 to get to Spain and back with all my kit, although Handigolf (the UK wheelchair golf charity) were able to help with that this year," Gibson said.

"It would be great to go back next year because I know the course now, which would put me at an advantage. I just really want to go back and defend my titles."

Mark may also feature in the British Disabled Championships which will take place in Suffolk in August with wheelchair golfers, one armed golfers, amputee golfers and blind golfers all competing.

Belfast Telegraph

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