Course of Treatment Includes 9-hole Putting Greens for Young Cancer Patients at Camp Okizu
Nearly 50 youngsters recovering from cancer enjoyed a sunny October afternoon learning or improving their game on a 9-hole putting course at Camp Okizu near Oroville, California.
The camp, which hosts outdoor activities for families coping with pediatric cancer, hasn’t put in a golf course – yet.
Instead, portable putting greens came to the camp, courtesy of “Birdies for ALL,” a Sunnyvale-based non-profit formed to introduce golf as a way towards recovery for children with cancer.
Experts in recreational therapy say certain characteristics of golf make it particularly appropriate for helping young patients overcome their weakness and regain their strength.
“Going through chemotherapy, some patients are really weak physically and with the immune system, so some other sports with physical contact are not really suited to them,” explains Weixing Chen, founder of the Gracious Life Foundation who assisted his daughter Grace in establishing the non-profit group two years ago.
Golf allows youngsters to rebuild their mental and physical skills gradually, he said. At the same time, the game’s scoring system enables players at all levels of skill to play together.
Young golfers compete against themselves, he said, while enjoying a group activity in sunshine and fresh air.
“You can play your own pace and don’t have to play that vigorously if you don’t feel you are ready,” he said.
About half of the youngsters at Camp Okizu chose to practice their putting technique in addition to rope-climbing, canoeing, zip-line, table tennis and other activities on offer.
They had fun, but they played to win too! Prizes included caps, t-shirts, golf balls, movie tickets and dinner certificates, vitamin jelly bean and many others, courtesy of local organizations, merchants and individuals including JGANC , Have a Ball Golf Foundation, San Jose Muni GC, Palo Alto Muni GC, Bridges Golf Club, Fry’s Open, Golfsmith, Sports Basement, Fandango, Applezee, Roger Pineda, Larry Sheffield and ShannonSheffield.
There was an extra chance to win prizes when scorecards were gathered up and entered into a raffle at the end of the afternoon.
Mike O’Neil of Forever Putting Greens designed the 9-hole course. The greens were cut into doglegs, ovals and trapezoid shapes similar to the landscaping of a professional golf course green. Names such as Tightrope, Sidewinder and Finish Strong were given to each of the holes to represent their level of difficulty.
Those names didn’t intimidate the first young golfers to play the course. At every hole, the kids overturned the expected handicaps Mr. O’Neil had worked into the scoring system for the contest.
The kids reportedly cheered resoundingly when asked if they wanted the putting greens to return to Camp Okizu for more rounds next year.
The event's positive impact is definitely well accpeted and acknowledged by Camp Okizu and the partners who supported our event with the comments below:
"Hi Weixing - thanks for making our weekend so much fun. We will let you know when the schedule is out for next year so we can plan better. See you next year."
-- John Bell, president of Camp Okizu
"Hi Weixing, That's great news... Look forward to helping you again next year!..."
-- Bob Hammer, founder at Have a Ball Golf Foundation
"My pleasure I hope that we can do more next year."
-- Shane Balfour, executive director of JGANC (Junior Golf Association of Northern California)
Over the past year, rounds on the mobile putting greens have been added to event calendars at Lucile Packer Children’s Hospital.
“Birdies for ALL” began as a fund-raiser launched in 2009 by Grace Chen, then an 8-year-old junior golfer coming up through the ranks of youngsters playing in national junior golf championships.
The first year she raised $3,000, one birdie at a time, for research and care of children undergoing treatment for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia(ALL) at Lucille Salter Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford.
Each time she scored a birdie – one stroke under par for the hole in play – her sponsors contributed $3 or more to her fund. The Ping and Amy Chao Family Foundation matched these donations.
Bringing all best junior golfers together gave the “Birdie for All” project a new direction.
This year, Grace and other junior golfers: Anna, Brian, Michael, Robert teamed up to bring the game they loved directly to cancer kids in Camp Okizu.
So in a sense ALL came to stand for all the young cancer patients in recovery who wanted to play a sport.
Mr. Chen said he hopes to bring the game to every treatment facility for pediatric cancer in the Bay Area.
“We’re a young organization, but I think we are unique,” he said. “The kids actively participate. We have a direct impact.”
The “Birdies for ALL” program is maintained by the Gracious Life Foundation, a 501 ( c ) 3 non-profit organization.
GLF’s mission is to increase awareness of childhood leukemia, introduce golf as a form of recreational therapy for children with cancer, and to inspire families to fight childhood cancer.
Thanks to Okizu Foundation, John, Mike, Suzie, Beta and other staffs for the invitation and facilitation.
Thanks to Andrea Chen for flyer creation.
Thanks to Barbara Doheny for story writing.
Thanks to David LeDrew at DLD Design for slideshow/video clip editing and creation.