When playing golf, there is no better feeling than hearing the highly satisfying crack of a well struck shot. This is usually followed by sheer delight as you watch the ball fly through the air and land perfectly close to your intended target. What if you could only hear the impact, however, and that you were reliant on someone else telling you where it finished?
This is the reality for blind golfers, who are dependent on their ‘guide’ to tell them where their ball ended up. Many people believe that a consequence of sight loss means you can’t interact in sports or activities, but that is a myth that the England & Wales Blind Golf charity is battling to correct.
Whilst golf is the focal point, it certainly isn’t the gel that binds the group together. No, that would be the fantastic community that the charity has managed to establish, bringing people together to recover from the trauma that is sight loss. With guides on hand at the course, many of whom are not golfers, their presence is all about “giving them the sight and helping to align them”.
There are three categories of blind golf: B1 is for totally blind players; B2 for those with 5% vision and B3 for players with 10% vision. The same rules as traditional golf apply with just two exceptions: players are allowed to ground their club in hazardous zones, and the guide can stand down the direct line of the golfer. England & Wales Blind Golf was established in 1989, although that was quite late considering that associations were set-up in North America during the 1950s.
In the UK, more than 2 million residents are living with sight loss, and 340,000 are registered as partially sighted or even completely blind. This is a strong reason as to why charity secretary Andy Gilford “really wants to get the message out about what is possible, even if they are living with this disability.” Gilford plays off a 16 handicap whilst charity trustee, John Eakin, plays off nine – showing that visual impairment does not have to be a block on successful golf.
Guides play a vital role when playing blind golf, which can be summarised as similar to a caddie but with much more responsibility. Whilst the caddie may select the club for the golfer, they certainly don’t align them and meticulously explain the ball flight and where it finished. What’s more important is the ability it has to bolster relationships and even meet like-minded people.
“It gives married couples the chance to guide their spouse or family and partake in an activity together. We have built a community through golf that has helped to develop and strengthen relationships,” says Gilford. Why would he not be proud of the fantastic work the charity do? Not just for adults but children too, where two young members have recently been introduced to the game and are having their golf lessons and travelling expenses covered by the charity.
The Vision Cup is the pinnacle of blind golf, and it functions in a similar fashion to the Ryder Cup, although it is America and Canada against the rest of the world. The progressive competition has been played at Green Island, Villa d’Este but the next instalment, scheduled for 2022, will be the grandest of them all: contested at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course. Members of England & Wales Blind Golf have represented the rest of the world at this bi-annual competition and many have their minds set on a trip to Florida later in the year.
The charity is slowly raising its profile, and as a result, the fantastic work is beginning to reach more and more people. It isn’t without struggle, however, as they often need volunteers to act as guides. Some of the areas that are underrepresented include Birmingham and Coventry conurbations plus the county of Berkshire. Without guides there would be no blind golf.
The work that men like charity chairman, Barry Ritchie, Gilford and press officer Steve Killick conduct on a daily basis is beyond inspirational. The next move? Continuing to improve their social presence whilst introducing as many visually impaired golfers to the charity as possible. “There are so many stories about the impact of this charity and how it has given people hope in their life – we want to continue building on that influence,” says Ritchie.
With guides constantly in demand, you can sign up to help this fantastic charity and bring a new lease of life for those who are struggling to accept their condition. Visit their website here and why not give them a like on Facebook? We are proud to be in partnership with England & Wales Blind Golf and the inspirational work that they produce every single day of the year.