Playing Unified: Bigger than Golf

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As the four golfers approached the 18th green, their alternate shot match had already been decided; however, the outcome of the match was not what this round of golf was really about. A cloudy and humid Wednesday afternoon at The Club at Creighton Farms in Aldie, Virginia, was not stopping anyone from having fun. The match had paired Abbi Fleiner (The First Tee of Northern Nevada) and Kyle Muzina (Special Olympics Florida) against Katelyn Harris (The First Tee of Greater Sacramento) and Vince Egan (Special Olympics Colorado). Abbi and Kyle had clinched the match a few holes prior; but, when Vince's approach landed within inches of the cup on the final hole, all four of them could be heard from hundreds of yards away celebrating one of the best shots of the day.

Putting competitiveness aside, “everyone played great golf, but most importantly, made new friends,” reflected Vince Egan, speaking about his experience at the Perfect Sense Unified Challenge.

Established in 2013, the Perfect Sense Unified Challenge, is a week-long event that combines championship-level golf with unique learning opportunities to bring together top golfers from The First Tee, Special Olympics, and Feherty’s Troops First Foundation.

“It was an honor and an experience of a lifetime to participate in the Perfect Sense Unified Challenge."
Tyler Burkam, The First Tee of Three Rivers Park District

The ultimate goal of the week is to connect people from different walks of life—teenagers, wounded veterans, and people with intellectual disabilities—and inspire them with each other's stories of courage and determination. This is accomplished by living out the ideal of what Special Olympics calls “playing unified.” In action, this means disposing of preconceived notions about the backgrounds of others and celebrating inclusion by simply playing together for the love of the game.

From Sunday through Thursday, guests have an exciting itinerary that includes playing alongside PGA Professionals like Jason Gore, Joaquin Niemann and Ben Crane in the Perfect Sense Pro-Am at TPC Potomac, evening team-building sessions, learning the ins and outs of Perfect Sense and exploring various career opportunities in the technology sector through hands-on activities, touring the inspiring monuments and museums of Washington, DC, competing in a Ryder Cup style team tournament, celebrating with teammates at Top Golf, and watching the pros from earlier in the week compete at the first round of the Quicken Loans National.

“The week was a huge success”, said Parker Ramsdell, who has been leading Perfect Sense's mission projects since 2013. “Our event aims to create lasting relationships that change the way people see and interact with others who are different. Watching the golfers bond throughout the week, I am confident that we accomplished those objectives.”

Some of these relationships began forming early in the week. At Monday's Pro-Am, US Army Sgt. Scott Adams (Ret.) was paired with Tyler Burkam from The First Tee of Three Rivers Park District. Teeing off, the pair discovered that they live in the same city just minutes down the road. “We have plans to connect again for a future round of golf,” said Tyler. “The connection I made with Sergeant Adams and the rest of the participants is something very special to me.”

The connections formed throughout the week were equally as meaningful to the veterans who participated. After sinking a birdie putt to win the first hole at Wednesday's team tournament, US Army Sgt. Maj. Skip Knowles (Ret.) thought he and his teammate, Grace Kehoe from The First Tee of Greater Charlotte, would run away with an easy win.

"That thought didn't last for long," he laughed. "I tried a little smack talking to get in Hailey and Luke's heads, but boy did they give it back in spades!" Despite losing both matches on Wednesday, Skip's experience playing with golfers from The First Tee left an indelible mark, "I was a winner for having the opportunity to share a round with these great golfers."

This distinctive event on the PGA TOUR has impacted the lives of hundreds since its founding 6 years ago. The everlasting smiles and laughs of the week embody the empowering moments of learning, inspiration and unity. With yet another successful Unified Challenge in the books, Perfect Sense is proud to say that every participant had an impactful takeaway from the week that made their experience second to none.

Learn more about the Unified Challenge and Perfect Sense mission work with the participating organizations: The First Tee, Special Olympics, and Feherty’s Troops First Foundation.