Golf Instructor Teaches Deaf Duffers

Hometown Heroes, People
on May 11, 2008
Wendi Poole Houston uses sign language and his enthusiasm for the sport to teach other deaf golfers the fundamentals of the game at Plum Creek Golf Course in Kyle, Texas.

Golf instructor Mike Houston, 40, is in constant motiontwisting and turning, stooping low and pointing highat Plum Creek Golf Course in Kyle, Texas (pop. 17,700), while teaching his deaf students the games fundamentals. Houstons hands do his talking, whether its demonstrating a grip on a golf club, or offering praise through sign language.

I want to empower the deaf, says Houston, a PGA golf professional from San Antonio. There are so many deaf juniors and adults who are not getting quality golf instruction because of the communication barrier between pro and golfer. I want to fill that void.

Houston has been deaf since age 5, the result of a head injury. My parents are deaf, he says, and Ive been fluent in ASL (American Sign Language) since before I could speak English.
Although Houston has loved golf since he taught himself to play at age 8, his desire to help other deaf players didnt begin until 1994 while attending a free clinic given by a hearing PGA pro from San Jose, Calif.

I was in awe of this guy, who could teach by signing, Houston says. As I watched him, I knew what I wanted to do as a career. Not only did I want to become a deaf golf instructor, I wanted to find a way to bridge the gap that separated the deaf and hearing worlds and help provide role models that deaf youth desperately need. Because Houston has the ability to speak as well as sign and read lips, he was able to communicate in both worlds.

So, in 2001, Houston left his job as a truck driver at Roadway Express in Portland, Ore., and moved to Phoenix, where he became a cart attendant at a golf course. Meanwhile, he worked on his PGA certification and developed a following of students who appreciated his patient, hands-on style of teaching.

Houston relocated to Texas in 2005 to work for Deaf Link, a company that helps the deaf communicate though the use of interpreters and video/audio conferencing. During a tournament at Plum Creek Golf Course in October 2005, he caught the attention of Alan Wooley, then general manager of the course. Houstons 13-year dream of teaching deaf golfers became a reality when Wooley hired him to teach lessons to hearing-impaired golfers. Mike brings great spirit and energy to his lessons, Wooley says.

Mario Montalvo, a retired rancher from Schertz (pop. 18,694), is one of Houstons satisfied pupils, placing third in a recent golf tournament. I didnt get better until I met Mike, signs Montalvo, as Houston interprets.

Houston, married and the father of three, is focused on getting youth more involved in golf. He and Wooley applied for grants in 2006 to establish a junior program at the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin, and Houston currently is developing the nonprofit Texas Deaf Golf Association, which will include the Texas Deaf Junior Golf Association.

We share thoughts about kids playing golf, and we share faith that this will happen, Wooley says.

In 2006, Houston helped the nonprofit DeafNation Foundation, headquartered in Frederick, Md., establish the first national deaf junior golf tournament, which took place in Mount Airy, Md. Houston offered free golf clinics to players there and hopes to bring the tournament to Texas in the fall.

This will identify individual achievement on a national scale and help high school golfers get college scholarships, he says. It also gives them an opportunity to interact socially.

I felt really connected to Mike when he was teaching me the fundamentals of golf because he knew ASL, says Eric Griswold, 17, of Sykesville, Md., who participated in the Mount Airy tournament.

It was easy to communicate with him and after three days, I honestly felt I was a better golfer.
In addition to hosting free clinics at deaf tournaments, Houston conducts clinics and camps for deaf junior golfers at courses in San Antonio and El Paso.

Deaf kids look up to him, says DeafNation administrator Joel Barish. Hes so friendly and easy to work with.

Through all the growth stages, Houston remains undeterred about his mission: inspiring the deaf to become part of the game he loves.

I feel like I have contributed something worthwhile, he says.