Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Golf

Mark aims to take on the world, just like our Rory

This week: Mark Gibson

By Frank Brownlow

Mark Gibson has pledged to bring more Major glory to Northern Ireland, following on from the successes of Ulster's golfing superstars Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.

Gibson, who has just successfully defended his European Challenge wheelchair title in Barcelona, would love to bring more Majors to these shores - and he certainly has the talent to do so.

Ballynahinch man Gibson, a member of the Spa club in the town, made the lengthy and expensive journey over land to defend his crown. The fact that he has to take his own golf buggy rules out flying.

"I travelled with Trevor Jones, who caddies for me. I've known Trevor since school and I couldn't have done all this without him," said 54-year-old, who designed his personalised golf buggy himself.

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

Gibson has been confined to a wheelchair since the age of 17 following a car accident back in 1978. He first turned to snooker, winning a Disability World title in 1982, before returning to the game of golf in 2000.

"It's tough adjusting to life in a wheelchair but I was determined to make the best of things," said single man Mark.

"Golf was my first sporting love and when the opportunity came along to get involved again, I went for it," said Gibson, who still plays snooker.

Reflecting on his latest triumph at the Terramar club, when he won by four shots from French golfer Jean Marie Requeut, Gibson said: "If I played to my full potential I knew I could defend my title but obviously you are up against the best players from all over Europe.

"I would love to play in more of these events but really my only other competitive golf comes in able-bodied club events at Spa.

"I play off 18 with a one-armed swing. In wheelchair events everyone plays off scratch. There are other wheelchair events but finance is a big issue."

Like so many others, Gibson has been inspired by the exploits of world number one McIlroy, Clarke and McDowell.

He said: "For such a small nation, we do very well at golf. Particularly when you take our weather into consideration!

"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," he said.

Disability sport has grown in popularity, partly due to the success of the 2012 London Paralympics, and there are plans to hold a World Wheelchair Golf Championship.

"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 the HandiGolf Foundation (the UK wheelchair golf charity) were able to help with that," he said.

Dr Andrew Greasley, chairman of the HandiGolf Foundation, believes that players like Gibson ought to be offered more financial assistance from the sport's authorities.

Dr Greasley admitted that the Royal & Ancient, golf's governing body, has helped non able bodied golfers in some areas but feels much more could be done. He said: "It starts at the top with the Royal & Ancient at St Andrews.

"They have been quite helpful giving us financial support and they were good enough to modify the rule book for disabled golfers but we do believe they can do more.

"I want to form a disabled golfing union and I would like the R&A to help us.

"People like Mark Gibson have no help financially and we would like to see that change and make some real progress for our golfers.

"It costs a massive amount of money for Mark to travel to tournaments.

"He is proving to be a success and should be encouraged to continue to achieve."

Dr Greasley, who wants to see golf in the Paralympics one day, added that he feels sporting bodies in Northern Ireland should rally behind champions like Gibson.

The Ulsterman has now conquered Europe twice and it would be a crying shame if he were to be denied a shot at world domination.

McIlroy, Clarke and McDowell have managed it. Why not Mark Gibson?

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph