Adapting clubs to make golf accessible to all

Chuck Leggett, of the Village of Caroline, is a club representative for Cobra — and an accredited clubmaker in his own right, doing work on the side to help adaptive golfers find their best game.

Chuck Leggett once developed laser beams for American Optic, flex meters for Monsanto. He had a role in constructing the very first ATM.

So when it comes to calculating the proper bend in a 6-iron that would help a seated golfer hit the ball more consistently — let’s just say he’s tackled bigger projects.

“By comparison,” the Village of Caroline resident said, “this is a piece of cake.”

Leggett is a club representative for Cobra, conducting the manufacturer’s fitting days at Sarasota Practice Center and elsewhere in Central Florida. But he’s also an accredited clubmaker in his own right, where he does work on the side to help adaptive golfers find their best game.

“If not for Chuck, I wouldn’t be doing as good as I’m doing,” said Kathy Tripaldi, who took up golf after moving to The Villages and plays with a one-armed swing. “He made it very easy for me.”

Challenged golfers come in a myriad of types. Tripaldi lost use of her left arm to a childhood bout with polio. Some play from a SoloRider, a single-rider cart in which the seat swivels out and raises to allow a golfer to make a swing.

Golf also has blossomed among amputees, notably wounded warriors. And technically, the idea of “challenged” also can apply to golfers notably tall or short.

“If you’re 6(-foot)-3 or 6-4, you can’t buy regular golf clubs,” said Leggett, himself on the other end of the height spectrum at 5-5. (Standard clubs, in case you’re wondering, are built to fit a height of 5-10.)

“I’m my own best customer,” he quipped.

But it’s helping those with physical disabilities where Leggett finds the most satisfaction.

Leggett has arranged with The Villages Golf Academy to make a hitting bay at the Palmer Legends site available Thursday mornings to work with adaptive golfers. A $50 fee applies, though it comes with unlimited follow-up to get things fine-tuned.

“I just want to get to the right crowd,” said Leggett, who also briefly coached The Villages High School girls golf team. “Doing fittings is not a problem. This is for people that maybe could use a hand.”

Leggett was a machinist and repairman back in his native Ohio. Working with Steelastic, he helped create the first machine that put steel belts into a tire, now a standard practice. “They gave me some prints and an idea, but I had to build it,” he said. “It took me a year.”

A former motorcycle racer, he also helped Goodyear Tire & Rubber develop a racing tire still in use on the NASCAR circuit.

It was in Akron that Leggett, who didn’t take up golf until he was 30, was introduced to the Edwin Shaw Challenge Course.

Part of the Shaw Rehabilitation Institute, the hospital used adjacent land to build a three-hole layout specifically for challenged golfers. In 2016, the course was renamed in honor of golf founder Ron Tristano; the facility now is part of the Cleveland Clinic network.

“My daughter had cerebral palsy, but she never got to do anything like that,” said Leggett, noting her therapy of choice was riding horses.

“They were the very first course for adaptive golf in the U.S. It’s been so great for the community. … A friend said, ‘Why don’t you go up and talk with Ron?’ So I’ve been doing this for quite a while.”

Leggett uses his engineering savvy to bend clubs to an adaptive golfer’s challenges, taking into account such factors as a club’s length, weight and how the club head lies on the ground. For all the numbers, too, there’s a certain art to the task.

“A little bit of artistry and a little bit of imagination,” he said. “The one thing you have to keep in mind while doing this — not everybody can develop a swing that’s square to the target.”

Cobra, as it turns out, recently began producing a set of uniform-length clubs. The option has drawn awareness in recent years by PGA Tour standout Bryson DeChambeau, but is “a huge plus for the challenged golfer,” Leggett said.

“For someone in the seated position, the 6-iron and the gap wedge have to be the same,” he added. “It’s going to weigh the same, it’s going to set up the same. That’s why the one-length (option) has really helped this tremendously. You can’t adjust. You have one setup, one posture.”

Even for a one-armed golfer, being able to swing with a uniform weight has made a huge difference.

“They were too long, too heavy,” Tripaldi, a Village of Gilchrist resident, said of her first set. “Even though they were heavy, I did my best. But now they’re lighter and I love them.”

Leggett noted that Tripaldi told him recently that she’d made three consecutive pars at Sarasota executive course. “I looked at her,” he added, “and said, ‘Most people around here don’t get three pars in a row.’”

The aim, he said, is to be able to do likewise for others.

“It might unlock something,” Leggett said. “If we can plan something, there’s opportunity to grow this game. That’s how I look at it.”