For blind people to be active it takes a team of friends and energy. I couldn’t do what I do alone. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a community for me to live as actively and independently as I do.
With blind golf, we do not adapt much. I set my ball up on the tee by feel according to what I’m learning. With my drivers I put my tee in up to my knuckle. Better yet, I have my teammates tee it up. To line myself up I lean down and locate the ball, putting one finger at the point I want to hit. I then place the head of the club about two fingers behind the ball. Then I stand up going hand over hand up my club. The goal is to not move the club. Truly, I like to stay standing and have my sighted friend help addressing the ball. This saves the back, knees and neck allowing me to do a full round. As a final check before hitting, my sighted guide makes sure I am still squared up. The rest is up to me. Both the mental and physical game.
After hitting away, the guide keeps track of the ball. It’s good to try different colours of balls. When I had more vision the yellow/green ones used to be better for me. These days there are a variety of colours, pink, polka-dot, tartan, lavender or night glow balls may enhance your residual vision.
I find neon yellow and white work best for me. Other than that, my guide calls out obstacles to me and I can orient myself based on their voice. There’s very little to trip on in the middle of a fairway!
Keep aware of your feet so you know if you’re drifting from the smoothest cut on the fairway onto the second cut or getting into the rough. Paying attention to what’s under foot gives you a lot of information about your environment, and this is particularly true on the golf course. Listen as well, you can tell the layout using all your senses. Vision, touch, smell and hearing (don’t bother tasting the grass, it won’t tell you much)! A wider fairway green sounds more open, while the narrow one sounds compact, when you listen to the echo. A wet green and fairway smells and sounds very different from a dry one. The greens’ smooth grass and the fairways’ rougher grass sound completely different when you’re hitting the ball. Listen up when you’re out there.
If there’s no-one behind you on the greens, I like to walk out from the pin to my ball so I can feel the green’s subtle contours. If there is, the ‘pace of play’ prevails. Either way, I address the ball and depend on verbal cues like “uphill”, “downhill”, “breaks right”, “breaks left”. Then my sighted guide goes to the pin and taps the flagpole with the shaft of a golf club and I putt to the sound. Oh yes, the guide first makes sure I’m squared to the ball.
Work with your guide for language. That way they can help from a distance. Examples would be: “back”, “forward”, “close club face”, “open club face”. Make sure you both share the same meaning of the word. Some people use “towards me”, “towards you” …Other than that, it’s time golfing, on the driving range and in lessons to learn this game. It’s a great sport to try and a beautiful way to spend a day.
In my small community of Sun Peaks, BC, I’ve arranged to keep my clubs at the Pro Shop, which allows me to walk independently with my dog or my cane to the shop for practice sessions on the driving range. The staff here are marvelous at helping me get set up, get to the range, and set up on a mat.
Of course there’s always the 19th hole. This one always seems to go down smoothly for us.
For more (and official) information about playing blind golf, check out the International Blind Golf Association website.