Augusta Liddic   The Daily Times  Physical therapist assistants Anje Mercado, left, and Michell Foster help Julie Rapp, center, line up a putt on Saturday,
Augusta Liddic The Daily Times Physical therapist assistants Anje Mercado, left, and Michell Foster help Julie Rapp, center, line up a putt on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, during the First Swing Adaptive Golf Clinic at Piñon Hills Golf Course.

FARMINGTON — The First Swing Adaptive Golf Clinic provided people with disabilities an opportunity to get out to the course and give the game a try.

The clinic was presented by the Farmington Living Life After Stroke support group with instruction provided by the National Amputee Golf Association on Friday and Saturday at Piñon Hills Golf Course.

On Friday, the NAGA instructors taught physical therapists how to work with people who have disabilities wanting to golf. On Saturday, the instructors and therapists worked with the participants to teach them the game.

Participants of the clinic were introduced to the basics of the game, including elements of the swing, gripping the club and how to address the ball. And then they took what they learned out to the driving range and putting green.

Gary Willmart, who works with the stroke support group in Farmington and is in his second year running the clinic, said it's good for anyone with a physical disability to give golf or any activity a try.

"I enjoy doing this as a public service. Any handicapped person may be afraid to come out, because they think they're going to be embarrassed," said Willmart, who suffered a stroke in 2001. "It's so important. You've got to work at it. It's small steps, and you don't always make progress, but you have to just keep pushing yourself."

Wendy Bircher, who served as the director of the physical therapy program at San Juan College before retiring to work in outpatient home health, said it was important for not just the physical well-being of the patient, but also their mental health to attempt activities like golf.

"They're doing something that able-bodied people are doing, and they're successful at it. They find out they can do something everyone else is doing and that's important," Bircher said. "Part of the problem is getting people out here. We'd like to see more participate. I don't want people sitting at home and looking at the advertisement thinking, 'I can't do that.' We have not had anyone out here that we haven't been able to direct in some way to participate in playing golf."

Augusta Liddic   The Daily Times  Physical therapist assistants, from left, Sable Slowman, Ashley Pine and Janae Vitali cheer after Gary Willmart gets a
Augusta Liddic The Daily Times Physical therapist assistants, from left, Sable Slowman, Ashley Pine and Janae Vitali cheer after Gary Willmart gets a hole in one on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, during the First Swing Adaptive Golf Clinic at Piñon Hills Golf Course.

For patients who have trouble standing, solo golf carts are available to assist players.

"There are no barriers with the solo carts," Willmart said. "Some people thought they'd never golf again, but then you see them hitting the ball out there. You're not going to get out on the course and play right away, but eventually you can, especially with the carts."

Piñon Hills has solo carts available for reservation and head golf professional Ty Hamer encouraged anyone with a disability who is interested to try the game.

"We have one guy who uses it three times a week," Hamer said. "It's nice to raise awareness that there is access to golf courses for handicapped individuals. Don't be afraid. Call your local pro and get an appointment set up. Try to learn what you can learn."

Willmart said he will likely run the clinic again next September and would like to see an increase in participation.

"They need to get out and socialize," he said. "Some people just give up. The doctor told me I'd never walk again. I don't walk pretty, but I get there. I was a big hunter and fisher, and I've got adaptive equipment and do that all the time."

Joshua Perry covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 or jperry@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.