Carly Booth interview: How the Special Olympics changed my brother's life
The Scottish pro-golfer and Abu Dhabi games ambassador says brother Paul, who has Down syndrome, is now the family's leading sports star
When pro golfer Carly Booth got her big break she was the star of a proud sporting family.
The youngest Scot to qualify for the Ladies European Tour, she quickly became a household name and amassed a social media following of hundreds of thousands.
But then her brother Paul carved out his own sporting success story – thanks to the Special Olympics – and now he’s the star of the family.
Paul, who has Down syndrome, has won medals for power lifting and swimming, generating headlines at home and inspiring other athletes with disabilities.
Carly has signed up as an ambassador for the Special Olympics World Games taking place in Abu Dhabi in March, and which promises to be the biggest yet. Although Paul has retired from competition, having taken part in two previous games, Carly said she wanted to support the games so that others could benefit as her brother did.
“It’s very close to my heart,” said Carly, who is in Abu Dhabi for the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Open golf tournament.
“So I’ve confirmed I’m going to be there, checking out all the sports and doing whatever I can to help. I think they have 300 hours of live TV, which is great, and I think it’s going to be the best yet – the most publicity it’s ever had.
“I’ve seen first-hand how amazing it is, and how talented and focused some of these athletes are. It’s phenomenal and I think everyone needs to see that. Life’s tough, but if you work hard and really focus you can achieve anything, and that’s what these athletes do.”
Speaking about the effect the event has had on her big brother, she said: “For Paul, his brother and sister are golfers, and we’ve always been at a high level and in the limelight in Scotland.”
Carly’s brother’s experience shows the effect the games can have on young athletes with intellectual disabilities, the phrase used to describe the wide range of conditions and learning difficulties the competitors have.
About 7,500 athletes will take part in the competition in Abu Dhabi from March 14 to 21, supported by about 20,000 volunteers and an estimated 500,000 spectators.
Carly is also in Abu Dhabi to promote golf for girls. On Friday, she will be one of the professionals to put on a girls’ golf clinic, in which youngsters will be offered the chance to try the sport with expert guidance.
She says she can remember the moment she fell in love with golf, and hopes to give others the same chance.
As a child, her brother Wallace, who also became a pro golfer, was already so keen on the sport that their dad built a golf hole on his farm that eventually became a full course.
“Having that on my doorstep made it so easy for me to learn and take up golf,” Carly said.
“I started playing when I was about five, then I stopped for about a year, a year and a half. My dad one summer just said, ‘why don’t you go and get your golf clubs out?’ I didn’t really fancy it, but I did.
“Then, I vividly remember exactly that moment when I thought, ‘Wow, I love this, this is so cool’. I hit a shot, it probably only went about 45 yards, but I couldn’t believe how far it was. I was probably 7 or 8, and I never looked back.”
She said an expansion of initiatives such as offering cheap course fees for children and offering golf as an option in school PE lessons was helping to make the sport become more accessible. A perception of the sport as mainly a male pursuit is also “slowly deteriorating”, Carly said.
Despite a promising start to her professional career – at 17 she was the youngest Scot to turn professional on the European Tour and she enjoyed success in 2012, winning two tournaments – she has struggled for form in recent years.
She is currently ranked 512th in the world.
Carly admitted she had been left deflated by social media comments about her performance, including comparisons with Paige Spiranac, who has a social media following most see as wildly disproportionate to her sporting achievements. Carly has about 180,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram.
“There have been a few times where I’ve had girls message me via Instagram saying ‘I love your profile, you inspire me’. That really feels amazing because that’s what I want to achieve from it, I want to inspire young girls to play, and see how cool the sport is and where we travel and what you can access for it,” she said.
“But in terms of the dark side of it, I’ve had the worst. At first I really took it to heart, any negative comment. I don’t see why people do it. Now, I just ignore it, it’s something I’ve managed to work on.
“The most known female golfer from a social media side is Paige Spiranac. This is nothing aimed towards her, but I’ll get comments saying ‘you’re just trying to be another Paige Spiranac’, who is more social-media focused rather than playing. She doesn’t play on tour, whereas I do and have done for the past nine years.
“But the good comments make you feel good and you appreciate them.”
Updated: February 19, 2019 04:03 PM