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Careers: Changing Minds, Changing Lives - Australian Golf Digest Careers: Changing Minds, Changing Lives - Australian Golf Digest

A move into All Abilities coaching is allowing PGA professional Matt Portelli to impact the lives of many in Victoria’s Gippsland region

If he’s being honest, Matt Portelli may not have known exactly how he was going to make it happen.

A PGA professional since 2003, Portelli was one of the first to complete the 20-hour All Abilities Accreditation course that is a joint initiative by the PGA of Australia and Golf Australia. Seeing an opportunity to expand his coaching business and bring a whole new realm of golfers into the game, Portelli completed the course in 2016. Shortly thereafter, he reached out to local disability organisations to offer golf as an activity.

One of those to take up the offer was the Sale and District Specialist School, a school that caters specifically to children aged 5-18 with an intellectual disability. The school brought more than 40 kids to Maffra Golf Club to try golf, including a boy with cerebral palsy who was confined to a motorised wheelchair. As kids moved forward to try their hand at golf, the boy found himself at the back of the class, until Portelli asked the teachers whether he might like to try, too.

“They sort of looked at me blankly like, Oh, I’m not quite sure how this is going to work,” recalls Portelli, who has been coaching at Bairnsdale Golf Club for the past four years.

“I asked him first if he was able to have a go and he could communicate with me in what I would say was fairly non-verbal [ways]. He would grunt and nod to let me know he understood what I was saying.

“I pushed an alignment stick into the ground, put a rubber driving-range tee on top with a ball so it was probably three feet off the ground. We used one of the bigger-headed All Abilities kit clubs, which he could hold with his right hand and put a hoop five metres out on front as a target. I got him to swing the club and hit the ball towards the target. His eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.

“You could see the teachers react like, Oh cool, he can have a go. He can participate.’”

Given close to a decade of experience coaching All Abilities golf, it is just one example of how Portelli is not only changing the lives of those he coaches, but also those who are witness to what
is possible.

Seb McCormick [above] is a Special Olympics athlete that Portelli has coached for the past two years at Bairnsdale Golf Club. McCormick has represented both Queensland and Victoria in Special Olympics competition and regularly plays in the member comps at Bairnsdale. The relationship between Portelli and McCormick has developed so much in the past 18 months that where Portelli would once get only one-word answers to his questions, now when they play the coach struggles to get a word in.

“He just talks to me the whole time,” Portelli says. “He’s completely come out of his shell. He loves his golf, he’s always excited to be there.”

McCormick is so excited to be at the golf club that he has told Portelli that he is getting a job there; news that he hadn’t yet shared with his parents.

“I’ve learned too, that he can be quite creative sometimes,” Portelli adds.

And when McCormick rips a drive 180 metres down the centre of the fairway, it’s not only a thrill for coach and player but a demonstration to members of golf’s enormous reach.

“There’s a lot of members that know him now and will say g’day to him,” Portelli says. “It’s opened up those members’ eyes that people with those disabilities can get out there and play golf. We can make it possible.” 

To find an All Abilities-accredited coach near you, visit pga.org.au/find-a-pga-pro/