Meet the man who inspired our Drive for Defibs campaign by hitting golf shots from John O’Groats to Land’s End and training 30,000 people in life-saving CPR on the way
Our Drive for Defibs campaign is brought to you in association with Motocaddy
David Sullivan is remarkably upbeat for a man who lost 942 golf balls and accidentally left his 7-iron at Canary Wharf. He spent 10 weeks walking from John O’Groats to Land’s End and reckons h hit an estimated 250,000 putts and 7-irons in that time.
He half-jokingly refers to it as the world’s longest golf hole, but is deadly serious when he says he made history by becoming the first man to hit a golf shot over Stonehenge, and through York Minster and Lincoln Cathedral.
How he managed to make it there on foot is perhaps even more impressive. He had to hit balls on beaches, over rivers and cattle, and even down the side of a motorway. It sounds utterly absurd, but walking the length of Great Britain while hitting golf shots was only one half of the challenge. The other part was raising money for charity while using dummies and defibrillators to give lessons in lifesaving to thousands of people he met along the way.
It’s a cause that has been particularly close to David’s heart ever since he lost four close friends to a cardiac arrest because there were no defibrillators nearby to save their lives. All of them left behind wives and young families.
‘I was lucky that there was a defib nearby and I was around people who could help me. They are the real heroes’
“It affected me immensely because I’m older than all of them,” says David, who has a wife and four children. “They were all under the age of 46 when they had a cardiac arrest. That’s what really worried me because it can happen to anyone.
“We lose hundreds of people to cardiac arrests on golf courses every year. How would you feel if one of your loved ones fell down around people and no one had the ability to help? To learn how to do CPR isn’t the most important 15 minutes of your life, but it could be for someone else.”
David, a former armed forces trainer, speaks from experience, and while he wasn’t present when his golfing partner died at Prince’s Golf Club in 2014, he was when another young man collapsed two years later at Hever Castle Golf Club.
‘‘To learn how to do CPR isn’t the most important 15 minutes of your life, but it could be for someone else’’
“Initially, I thought he had been hit by a golf ball because he was bleeding profusely,” he recalls, “but then I realised he had actually gone into cardiac arrest and fell down and smacked his face…”
Luckily, David knew what to do and gave CPR for 17 minutes until the man was treated with a defibrillator.
“It was thanks to my training, and a defibrillator being nearby, that I was able to help save the man, who luckily made a full recovery. When something like that happens right in front of you, it makes you realise how precious life is and
how important it is to know what to do in that kind of emergency. Now it’s my mission to create an army of life savers all over the country.”
Following the life-changing incident, David founded Creating Lifesavers – a non-profit organisation – its aim being to provide CPR and defibrillator training courses across the UK.
“What we do is give people the training and confidence to give CPR and to use a defibrillator,” explains David, who works as a roofer. “We went to Wildernesse Golf Club after a man’s life was saved by a defibrillator. We trained 200 members across two evenings, but we’ve got to do that before an incident occurs.”
Although unbeknown to him at the time, David began his challenge on the same day Danish footballer Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest during Euro 2020 in June. After driving 14 hours from his home in Surrey to the start line, David spent the next three weeks walking up to 30 miles each day, before stopping off at a golf club or city centre to teach CPR to as many people as possible.
“There was so much interest in what we were doing for the first couple of weeks especially,” he says. “It was hard work, but I was with my son, Fred, who was basically my caddie and would ride ahead on his bike to map out my route every day. That was the best three weeks of my life, even if I did have to sleep in a pop-up tent.
“The funniest moment was when we tried to catch a ferry across to another island. All I had to do was putt the ball onto the ferry. It was only five metres away and I missed. But I was losing balls on beaches, in Roman ruins, down the drain – you name it, I did it. At one point I was hitting balls down the A9 at 2.30am.
“To save me walking an extra 14 miles, I had to carry one shot 260 yards over a river and onto another island. I can’t remember how many shots I took before I eventually managed to pitch it on the sand. But soon after that we had to fly back to England to attend my father’s funeral. Then Fred ended up catching Covid, which meant I had to take a plane back to Edinburgh on my own two days later to complete the challenge.”
With the help of volunteers, including the Scots Guards, David still managed to reach all 68 stops on his route despite nursing a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“You wouldn’t believe some of the places I visited,” says David, who plays off two. “I hit one ball over Stonehenge and actually played through a submarine and a pub called The Plough. I did have some rotten lies along the way, though. One time I had to move a ball off a jelly fish in Scotland.
“Another time I had to play over a herd of sheep. I was on this stretch of land which was only about 10 yards wide. There was a river on one side and a canal on the other so you can imagine how many attempts that took me!
“Through towns, I was having to use a lot of tennis balls for health and safety reasons. Luckily there were no dangerous incidents, other than the time I let one young lad hit a ball which flew into a shop!
By the time he arrived at Land’s End on August 22, David had walked more than 1,110 miles after numerous detours. More importantly, he managed to raise over £10,000 for the British Heart Foundation and Creating Lifesavers after equipping an estimated 30,000 people with life-saving CPR skills.
‘‘We’ve definitely saved lives by doing this. My ambition is to make every golf club heart safe”
“I’ve destroyed my legs, lost a golf ball in a seal sanctuary and got tricked into sleeping on a dogging site. But you know what, it was so worth it because I know we’ve definitely saved lives by doing this.
“But I don’t want it to stop there. My ambition is to make every golf club ‘heart safe’. Just imagine how many lives could be saved if we had an army of four million golfers with the ability and courage to step in and give CPR wherever they are.
“I’m imploring individuals and businesses all over the country to support this endeavour. Being treated with a defibrillator can literally mean the difference between life and death.”
If you’ve got a story that you’d like to be told, you’re hosting a fundraising event inspired by our campaign, or your golf club has recently installed a defibrillator, get in touch with us, here.
READ NEXT: How a defibrillator saved this golfer’s life
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Catling is the Features Editor of Today’s Golfer.
He has been a journalist for more than 10 years and was shortlisted for Bauer Media Journalist of the Year in 2019.
Michael joined Bauer Media in 2016 and has exclusively interviewed dozens of Major champions, including Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
A former member of Ufford Park and Burghley Park, Michael has been playing golf since he was 11 and currently plays off a handicap of 10.
You can contact Michael here.