Marty Ebel, a member of the Eastern Amputee Golf Association, takes a shot from a cart designed for amputees. The Eastern Amputee Golf Association was founded in 1986 by Bob Buck, who is a resident of Bethlehem, as well as a below-knee amputee (Courtesy of Bob Buck).

Golf organization provides support for amputees

Kellie Valentine

Kellie Valentine is a member of the Eastern Amputee Golf Association. The organization looks for its members in several states in the Northeast. (Courtesy of Bob Buck).

Bob Buck glides his finger down the annual Eastern Amputee Golf Association brochure. He hesitates as his hand meets the first picture of a double below-knee amputee in a wheelchair lining up his tee shot.

“This is one of my oldest friends,” Buck said. “He’s a Vietnam War veteran. You know he’s got three hole-in-ones from his wheelchair.”

Buck pauses as he gazes past the floor-to-ceiling picture windows out at the first hole of the Saucon Valley Country Club golf course, which is covered by an unadulterated blanket of February snow.

The elderly man is donned in a light blue and white checkered shirt, sporting the colors of his University of North Carolina Tar Heels. The outfit is complemented by a pair of tan khakis, a golf vest and FootJoy golf shoes. He’s ready for spring.

Buck peers back down at the brochure.

“This is another great gal,” Buck said. He can’t help but concede a smile as he points to an aged photograph of a young child wielding a miniature driver. “This gal is Alexis Robinson. She’s missing an arm. I met her at one of the first swing clinics in Atlantic City. She is now a junior at Catawba College in North Carolina. And she’s on the varsity soccer team.”

Buck speaks of the organization’s members as if they were family, revealing their life accomplishments with smiles and laughs, and speaking about their injuries in an open and candor manner.

Buck founded the Eastern Amputee Golf Association in 1986, and is the former president and current executive director of the organization. The association conducts five, two-day amputee golf tournaments and seven, one-day golf outings from April to October. In addition, it hosts 24 “First Swing” and 25 “Learn to Golf” clinics, which aim to teach individuals with disabilities more about the sport.

According to the organization’s brochure, its objective is to “assist in the rehabilitation of amputees and provide for their general welfare, both physical and psychological, through the medium of golf and its associated activities.”

The association welcomes members, with or without amputations, from all over the world, but concentrates its efforts in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington D.C.

The organization was formed by Buck and several additional members of the National Amputee Golf Association who were interested in developing a regional amputee golf union. The association utilizes the same guidelines as the national organization, but operates under its own officers, constitution, by-laws and membership dues.

Buck is a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, native and has been a below-knee amputee for the past 44 years. In 1969, Buck suffered a broken tibia and fibula in a car accident and was restricted to crutches for over a year. On April 6, 1970, Buck made the decision to amputate his leg as a result of osteomyelitis, which causes infection and inflammation to bone or bone marrow.

“That was the lucky thing for me,” Buck said. “I was on crutches for a while so I had time to figure out what it meant. When I made the decision, it was thought through. And boy it turned out great.”

Three months later, Buck walked down the aisle with his wife Linda. They will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary this June.

Buck is now trying to build up the association and get the word out about golf’s positive effects for amputees.

“We’ve been a well-kept secret and we don’t want to be,” Buck said. “We want to get the word out to come play golf. The game of golf is truly for everyone.”

Association member Steve Kave said Buck has been a great member for everyone involved in the group.

“The group has been really good for me,” Kave said. “It’s been good to a lot of people.”

The association has helped to transcend golf for many of its members and has served as more of a community and family where both individuals, with or without amputations, can feel at home. At association retreats, members of the organization go golfing while family members engage in activities such as shopping or wine tasting together before everyone gathers for an evening dinner.

“As a group we don’t discuss how we became an amputee or what your story is,” said association member Rick Armitage. “It’s just an opportunity to have a good time.”

Buck actively recruits members from all over the country at various amputee golf tournaments and veterans from groups such as the Wounded Warrior Project, which works to foster successful, well-adjusted military personnel after their time on the battlefield.

Buck recruited his now dear friend Kave at a local Wawa after he recognized that Kave was an amputee.

“(Kave) went to a golf clinic in the Poconos and got hooked,” said his wife Bonnie Kave. “I’m thrilled he introduced my husband to golf. It has been absolutely wonderful for him because he has opened up to the group.”

Buck says that invariably when he meets an individual who is adapting to an amputation they will state, “I used to like to dance,” “I used to like to run” and “I used to like to play golf.”

However, Buck stops them.

“If we can catch them at that time and say you’ll be able to golf and dance, that helps so much with the recovery to know that you can come back,” Buck said. “I think the overall feeling is that we are a support group but we happen to meet on the golf course.”

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