Chuck Passao, 73, is a double leg amputee with a strong passion for golf. It’s an activity he’s enjoyed since 1986. From the process of getting his body aligned comfortably getting ready for a shot, to just standing on the green shooting the breeze with his competition.
Everything was fine for Passao until 2000, when he was diagnosed with Buerger’s disease, which is a rare vascular disease causing inflammation within blood vessels throughout the legs.
From the comforts of his Sun City Grand house, Passao, 73, reflected on how the sport he loved so much was almost taken away from him forever. His story dates to his time in Michigan, where he had frequently visited the University of Michigan’s hospitals to figure out what was going on with his feet.
Passao said doctors diagnosed a blood-flow problem and advised increased walking to help.
Fast forward to January 2007, the last time Passao walked a golf course with his own two feet.
As he recalls, his body allowed him to play only seven holes due to right leg pain and cramping. After a trip to the doctor’s office, it was decided the leg needed to be amputated.
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The surgery was from only the knee down, giving the Minnesota native hope of still walking. He began using a C-Leg – a popular prosthetic leg – as he was going through the rehabilitation process. He was told a year into the process, however, an above-the-right-knee amputation was needed.
Passao continued to use prosthetics until 2011, when his left leg became infected and it was required for him to lose his knee, thus ending his relationship with technological legs. He’s had 14 surgeries since the start of the century, and without knees, he gets around daily by using one of his three power chairs.
Without legs, Passao thought his amateur golfing career was over.
His fortunes turned again one day in 2014. His wife was golfing in Michigan, and a person at a perpendicular angle on a golf cart caught her attention. After talking to the individual, she learned it was an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirement for non-private golf courses to have a specialized cart for physically challenged people.
“I started researching on the internet,” Passao said.
Passao began to find out how to land a specialized golf cart in Sun City Grand. He came across multiple carts piquing his interest, but it was the SoloRider that made the biggest impression.
He contacted the company, talking to them on pricing in hopes of landing one at his go-to golf course. After Passao pursued SoloRider and the ADA, it was time to meet with the Sun City golfing committee.
To Passao’s surprise, they were unaware it was a requirement to have these specialized carts.
“Nobody knows that, but I know that,” Passao said. “So, I had to meet with the golf committee here a number of times. Explained to them the rules. Gave them the options of the less expensive cart, SoloRider and ParaGolfer.”
Passao says he met with the committee three times and estimates it took six months to a year for them to purchase the first SoloRider.
It was a big step for the board. According to the SoloRider website, one cart costs “$9,950 plus shipping.”
“It’s an investment,” said Kevin Reagan, Senior Head Golf Professional at Sun City Grand. “Obviously needs board approval, triple stamped and all our due diligence that we need to do on our end.”
After some research, the golfing committee purchased a SoloRider.
Passao’s love for golf was rekindled, and all was well – until it wasn’t.
He began playing with the Men’s Niners, a group that plays on all four Sun City Grand courses and not just one. The issue of transporting the lone SoloRider became problematic; a maintenance trailer had to be used in delivering it to other courses, which, to Passao, “was beating up the cart.”
“So, we have various golfing groups that Chuck belonged to,” Reagan said. “They play on Sundays and Mondays, and since we have four courses they’d always rotate where they’d play. When we had one SoloRider we had to move it a lot. What we didn’t have is a cart to move the SoloRider around.”
The cart wasn’t street legal, akin to other traditional carts. With increased requests for the lone SoloRider among the four courses, “We just bought two more,” Reagan said.
Passao has been able to enjoy his passion again, playing multiple times a week, and several times with his wife.
“To get outside and play golf again is great,” said Passao, who recorded a hole-in-one April 13 at Desert Springs golf course. “I mean, even if you don’t have legs. I’m not as long as I use to be, but I still enjoy the game.”
Passao and the SoloRiders have brought attention to the Sun City Grand courses. It’s been a win-win, with the course giving lessons on how to use the cart.
“Chuck Passao was one of the first big-time users of it,” Reagan said. “Once it got out there that we had it, people who were paralyzed from the waist down or limited in mobility … started coming out to use to it.”
Follow Murray on Twitter @clevismurray