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The CNC produces journalism on a variety of topics in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties for about a dozen media partners including newspapers, radio and television stations and magazines.

A Parrish golf pro takes the world stage at All-Abilities Competition

Man with a prosthetic left leg watches his drive on a golf course
Jim DeLa
/
Community News Collaborative
Kenny Bontz of Parrish, watches a drive on the driving range at the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, warming up for the ISPS Handa All-Abilities Competition.

Kenny Bontz was diagnosed with diabetes as a child and chose to have his leg amputated, will be competing for Team USA at the ISPS Handa All-Abilities Competition this weekend.

Kenny Bontz is a no-nonsense guy from New Jersey who has made his home in Manatee County for the last four years.

He’s also one of the best disabled golfers in the world.

He's out to prove it this week as a member of Team USA at the ISPS Handa All-Abilities Competition, at the Concession Golf Club. The competition is in conjunction with the inaugural World Champions Cup.

Life hasn't been easy for Bontz. Diagnosed with diabetes at age 11, he battled a rare form of cancer in his left leg. After six knee replacements in nine years, he became addicted to opioids and alcohol. He finally chose amputation to get his life back on track.

Now living in Parrish, in his mid-50s, he's competing on the world stage. Not bad for someone who didn't take up the game seriously until after he lost his leg.

"I did (play), but I was no good at it," Bontz said. "I played for fun with my friends and my brother a little bit ... played for fun with my dad.

"But when I lost my leg and decided to figure out what I wanted to do as far as sports, there's not much that I could do."

Kenny Bontz, of Parrish, is introduced to media as a member of Team USA
Jim DeLa
/
Community News Collaborativew
Kenny Bontz, of Parrish, is introduced to media as a member of Team USA at the ISPS Handa All-Abilities Competition at the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton.

He's played professionally for the last seven years and is ranked 33rd among disabled golfers. "I was the first American to break the top 10 when they first did the rankings. I used to play a lot, all over the place."

Bontz says golf suits his temperament. "My biggest thing is, I'm hard on myself. But it's on me. It's not a team game," he said.

"You had a bad shot, it's your own fault, you know? You put it in the water, you're the one that hit it there." he said. "But I've learned to grow with that. And if you hit it in the water, so be it. You next shot, you just got to be a little bit better."

Mistakes happen, he said. "It's a lot like life, a lot like what I've been through. And, you know, I hold myself accountable for everything I do as well as golf.

"I mean, I blame the dimples on the ball at times," he joked.

Bontz also realizes time may be catching up to him. "As I'm getting older, I've kind of taken a step back because my body can't keep doing it."

"I've had my shoulder done. You know, the knee is the knee. It's part of me, " he said. "In this humidity and stuff ... practicing like I used to practice, (hitting) 2,000 balls a day, and it becomes, it becomes hard on your body."

But on the driving range at the Concession Wednesday morning, it didn’t show. Bontz teed up ball after ball, sending them straight down the middle, as Senior PGA legends, including Ernie Els, K.J. Choi and Stuart Appleby, watched.

Vijay Singh said he was amazed, "especially when I look down the range and there's a guy with one leg and he's hitting it .. like 'oh my God.' That's the most amazing thing I've seen in a while."

Man with a prosthetic leg swinging a golf ball
Jim DeLa
/
Community News Collaborative
Kenny Bontz of Parrish, hits on the driving range at the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, warming up for the ISPS Handa All-Abilities Competition.

Adaptive golf on the Suncoast

Disabled golfers are not a rarity on area courses, according to Allen Steiger of Adaptive Golf Sarasota, a group that brings disabled people together to enjoy the game.

"We are, I think, one of the oldest established clinics in the country," he said. "I think we're something like our 23rd or 24th year. And I think we're the only clinic that runs weekly golf clinics on a year-round basis."

Steiger says they have a roster of about 30 or 40 players.

Every week, players spend a couple of hours on a course, he said. "We'll break up into groups and we'll head out on to the golf course and we'll play ... we usually get about, maybe six holes in."

He says participants like the competition and the camaraderie. "They share life lessons or tips or what's working for them and what isn't. I think the golfers just appreciate being outside in the fresh air and
playing with other golfers."

The group has special golf carts at three local courses, The Palms Golf Club at Forest Lakes, Tatum Ridge Golf Links and Long Marsh Golf Club in Rotonda West.

Anyone with a physical, cognitive or sensory impairment is welcome to participate, Stieger said. "We try to create individual solutions for each golfer because they all seem to have different needs, whether it's a blind golfer or someone with a limb loss or a Parkinson's disease. We have a number of solutions for, you know, a wide range of impairments."

Anyone wanting to join Adaptive Golf Sarasota — as a player or to volunteer as a coach — can go to the website or join its Facebook page.

Jim DeLa is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. Reach him at jdela@cncfl.org

Man with a prosthetic left leg in the middle of a golf swing
Jim DeLa
/
Community News Collaborative
Kenny Bontz of Parrish, hits on the driving range at the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, warming up for the ISPS Handa All-Abilities Competition.

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