When Dennis Walters and his canine companion Bucky perform this weekend at Golfweek’s Golfest Presented by Transitions Championship at the Downs Golf Practice Facility, they will bring an inspirational message of hope and perseverance to all who attend.
“I want to encourage people to reach for their dreams, strive for excellence and do something they didn’t think they could accomplish,” Walters said. “I’m able to do this by telling my story and using my experience as an example to challenge others.
“I also want to grow the game of golf and to prove with every shot I hit golf is a game for everyone. I’m living proof of that,” he said.
“The last thing someone with a serious disability might think they can do is play golf. ‘The Dennis Walters Golf Show’ encourages people with disabilities this is something they can try, and when they see someone else in a similar situation who can do it, that is a big help,” Walters added
A Jupiter, Fla. resident, Walters as a young man dreamed of playing on the PGA Tour. He seemed to be headed in that direction after winning three state championships as a junior in New Jersey, enjoying a successful collegiate career at North Texas State and finishing 11th in the 1971 U.S. Amateur.
His dreams were dashed in the summer of 1974 when the brakes on his golf cart failed as he was riding down a steep hill on a course near his home. He suffered severe spinal cord damage and was paralyzed below the waist. After months of therapy and rehabilitation, Walters was determined to return to the golf course. Playing from a wheelchair was impractical, but one day he had a vision that would make his dream a reality – to design a golf cart swivel seat that would swing 90 degrees away from the cart, allowing him to play.
Through trial-and-error, Walters discovered what worked and what didn’t, teaching himself to hit sand shots and putt one-handed while balancing on crutches. It wasn’t long before he could break 80 on a regulation course.
Within a couple of years, pros had noticed him on the course and he was asked to conduct local clinics. Three years after his accident, he began to spread his gospel worldwide.
During the last 35 years, Walters has made more than 3,000 appearances, and when he did his show for The First Tee of Anchorage a few years ago, it meant he has performed in all 50 states (in addition to Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom).
‘The Dennis Walters Golf Show’ is a combination of golf lessons and life lessons. “Every person should have a dream,” he explained. “If you have a dream and it doesn’t work out, never stop dreaming. … get a new dream!”
Walters is one of a handful of honorary lifetime members of the PGA of America and was given the organization’s Distinguished Service Award in 2008. He is a spokesperson and national ambassador for The First Tee. In 1978, he was named the winner of the Golf Writers of America’s Ben Hogan Award, previously given to President Eisenhower, Babe Zaharias and Lee Trevino.
During his performance, Walters will hit balls with clubs made from a fishing rod, a crutch, a cell phone and a radiator hose. He hits shots blindfolded and through fire, along with the occasional 200-yard putt.
Amazingly, he must vie for the spotlight with Bucky, a 20-pound Terrier mix he found at Canine Castaways in Arcadia. Bucky, who is 4, follows three other canine companions who have teamed with Walters, including the late and beloved Benji Hogan.
“Bucky answers questions from the audience (Believe it!), tees the ball up and does other ball tricks,” Walters said. “He is also a service dog, so he helps me in real life by picking up things I can’t reach.”
The Dennis Walters Golf Show will be performed at Golfest at 3 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday. It is only part of the fun and excitement promised to all golfers during the second annual Golfweek’s Golfest Presented by Transitions Championship extravaganza.
Golfers of all ages and ability levels can sample and buy new equipment, get free lessons, enjoy clinics and demonstrations and enter the $25,000 Putting Challenge. Tickets are $10 daily for adults, with children 16 and under admitted free. Golfest hours are from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are available at the Downs Golf Practice Facility or online at www.golfest.com.
A portion of the proceeds will benefit The Future Champions Golf Tour and The First Tee. Golfweek’s Golfest is the nation’s largest outdoor golf lifestyle event and the only such show in the Tampa Bay area.
In addition to Walters, the list of instructors and celebrities set to attend is a veritable “Who’s Who” of golf teaching. It includes David Leadbetter, considered by many the world’s No. 1 instructor and coach of the winners of more than a dozen major championships and 100 worldwide tournaments; Mike Shannon, a top-50 instructor and putting guru to many PGA Tour players; long-drive champion and trick-shot artist Mike Ziegler; Marius Filmater, creator of the SAM Putt Lab systems; golf entertainer Brad Denton; TaylorMade’s 2009 National Club Fitter of the Year Bob Van Sweden; and numerous top area instructors, including PGA Class A professionals from the Downs Golf Practice Facility staff.
“Golfest is an excellent opportunity to bring out the entire family to try the latest products, receive instruction, win prizes and enjoy good food and beverages,” said Downs Golf Practice Facility manager Jon Johnson.
Golfers can enter the $25,000 Putting Challenge sponsored by Paradise Golf & The Future Champions Golf Tour and the Cobra AMP Short Game Chipping Challenge, with a chance to win prizes and merchandise. Discounts will be offered throughout the weekend. For details, call the Downs Golf Practice Facility at (813) 854-4946.