It would be difficult to find a better advocate for the fulfilling aspects of golf than England’s Martine Gilks, who has become a popular and supportive figure among many golfers with a disability who play in EDGA (European Disabled Golf Association) tournaments.
This may be partly due to her nature: kind and attentive to those around her, with a dry and inclusive sense of humour. Other golfers seem to be drawn to her and her point of view is valued. And Martine is a passionate golfer herself, a key player at her home venue of Coventry Golf Club for many years, while sharing a unique bond in playing the sport with her daughter Heather, aged 17.
Martine has the conditions osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, with effects of chronic, widespread pain and fatigue that can lead to tough days for her. However, Martine will tell you that golf gives her something a medication cannot offer.
She said: “I think it’s very easy just to cut yourself off, stay at home and not do anything. There are days when I turn up to play golf and, quite honestly, I’m in so much pain, but I know if I force myself to go out there, then I am going to socialise. And the mental health benefits of that are so immense. It gives you such a boost just to be out in the fresh air.”
Pursuing this passion, Martine has been involved in supporting county competitions in Warwickshire over the years, and Heather herself joined as a junior at Coventry GC when she was 12, after helping mum with the competition scoring. They both take delight in playing together.
Martine added: “I think that is one of the great things about golf. You don’t see the differences … So we might team up with a father and son. I don’t think they see you as ladies and men; it’s just, they see you as golfers. I think that’s part of the attraction really.”
Heather was born with cerebral palsy, so both mum and daughter have significant conditions to deal with, and their resilience during tournaments is noted by others.
The pair usually get along famously at EDGA events, though Heather doesn’t always agree with mum in her role as self-imposed captain of their team and tour manager. However, their standing among other players is clear, borne from their genuine love of the game and empathy for those around them.
Last winter they were en route to play in the EDGA Algarve Open at Pestana Vila Sol, in a field of nearly 70 players. Taking an elevator at the airport, Martine saw a family with a young boy who used a wheelchair, someone who had never thought that golf might be for him.
Martine and Heather invited the family to check out the action at Vila Sol and they came along. Here, leading Dutch player from a wheelchair Richard Kluwen met the family and talked to them about his own game. This encouragement was typical of the inclusive nature of the EDGA community.
This winter, some wonderful news back at Coventry Golf Club. For 2023, Martine Gilks has been elected as her club’s Ladies’ Captain, while the elected Captain of the Juniors is one Heather Gilks. Heather told us: “It’s very special, isn’t it? I also love playing these EDGA events and travelling with mum is an incredible experience, with so many happy times.”
– Watch/listen to profiles of EDGA players at www.edgagolf.tv
– Learn how to get involved at www.edgagolf.com
By Ben Evans