Dennis Walters always figured he’d be on tour hitting golf balls, but his career took an unexpected turn years ago and it changed the focus of his tour.
Walters was paralyzed in a golf-cart accident in 1974, ending his dream of playing on the PGA Tour. But it hasn’t stopped him from making a living out of the game he loves.
He has spent the last 35 years touring the country, doing golf exhibitions that feature trick shots hit with some outrageous clubs mixed with with an inspirational message.
Walters will appear at Elizabethton Golf Course on Friday at 11 a.m. Admission is free, and lunch and junior golf activities will follow the show.
“I’ve been on tour for 35 years,” Walters said. “Not exactly the tour I had in mind.”
Walters’ life changed almost 40 years ago when he was going out to join a friend on a golf course. He was driving one of those old three-wheeled golf carts down a hill on some loose gravel when he had an accident.
“I really don’t know what happened,” he says.
The accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.
“When I was laying in the hospital, I never thought I’d get out of the bed,” he said. “I didn’t want to live my life without having golf in it. I had no idea how that would happen, but I figured it out.”
Walters began his return to golf by hitting a few shots while sitting in a wheel chair. Then he had a swivel seat attached to a cart, giving him a little mobility.
The trick shots came later, and when they came, a new career was born.
“I never thought I could make a career out of this,” Walters said. “I was just trying to cope with a seemingly hopeless situation. As rotten as I felt everywhere else, I felt that good when I went to the golf course.”
These days Walters hits shots with clubs made from a fishing pole, a crutch, a hose and a cell phone. He hits blindfolded and through fire.
The act changes constantly, and Walters says his favorite club is his “3-iron,” a club with three heads on it. He can his three balls with one swing.
“It’s not that hard,” he said. “None of these things are that hard if you practice, but why would you want to practice hitting through fire?”
The show at Elizabethton is one of 14 that Walters will do in June. He has put on more than 3,000 exhibitions in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom since he began the act, averaging between 90 and 100 a year.
Walters’ dog Bucky is the opening act.
“My dog is awesome,” Walters says of the canine he rescued from a shelter in Florida. “He’s a treasure. I’m just lucky I found him.”
Walters is a spokesman for the First Tee program. He’s also received several prestigious awards, including the PGA of America’s Distinguished Service Award, also given to Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen.
Walters says he hopes everyone in attendance Friday will hear his inspirational message that people can do the seemingly impossible if they put their minds to it.
“In the end, everybody gets to see a lot of great golf shots,” he said. “They get to hear an inspiring story. They get to laugh and leave with a smile on their face. I like to think they learn something about golf and learn something about life.”