Yorkshire teenager Lewis Eccles, from Rotherham, was diagnosed with autism when he was nine, two years after he first started playing golf.
He began by hitting a few balls in a local field with his father and older brother and, after immediately showing a natural instinct for the game, he joined them playing at a local golf course and has never looked back.
Golf quickly became a way for Lewis to relax, honing his swing most days. One of the biggest areas that golf has allowed Lewis to cope with his autism is by helping him to develop his social skills, forming new and lasting relationships with both adults and children alike.
Lewis, now 15, plays golf four or five times a week and has a handicap of five. He regularly represents Longley Park Golf Club in Huddersfield and Waterfront Golf in Rotherham and won gold at the Special Olympics in Macau earlier this year after taking the 2015 British Disabled Open title.
Lewis isn’t content with just improving his own game – he is currently encouraging several other youngsters with autism at his school to get involved with golf. When he turns 16, Lewis is planning to embark on a coaching qualification so that he can encourage other disabled youngsters in Yorkshire get into golf.
Since finding golf, Lewis has transformed into a confident, happy young man. His father, Peter, said: “The slow pace and repetitive nature of the game means golf is a sport that fits well with people on the autism spectrum. The relaxed social nature of the sport has really helped Lewis’s development, his confidence levels and social skills. It has also helped our family get closer together too. We are all passionate golfers, and it is the only sport that we can all play together.”
The National Autistic Society runs a training and consultancy programme called Active for Autism, which aims to increase understanding of autism among PE teachers, sports coaches and anyone involved in sports.
Carol Povey, a director at the charity, said: "The benefits of sport, including golf, are well known – it can increase self-esteem, help develop social skills, and improve physical and mental health, as well as general wellbeing. Golf, by its nature, encourages players to socialise in a safe and calm environment and could therefore really suit some autistic people.
“So, we were delighted to hear that Lewis is encouraging other autistic children to get involved in a sport that has become a major part of his life. We hope that his enthusiasm will help improve understanding of autism within the golfing community and encourage clubs and associations to become autism friendly.”
Visit www.getintogolf.org to find out about beginner courses, taster lessons and special events at clubs and ranges nationwide.