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Now that the warm weather has finally visited Western Pennsylvania, the golf enthusiasts are hitting the greens. Over the last decade, golf's popularity among the middle class has exploded. Young stars like Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia have transformed golf from being "crusty" to being "cool." So, it should be no surprise that people who are visually impaired are also enjoying the golf phenomena. For nearly 50 years the U.S. Blind Golf Association has been promoting the participation of blind and visually impaired people in America's newest favorite sport.

Golf played by individuals who are blind or visually impaired closely resembles the game of mainstream America. Blind golfers play on the same courses, use the same clubs, and start at the same tee location. Like sighted golfers, the blind golfers follow the USGA rules; the only exception being that blind golfers may use a sighted coach in addition to a caddy. This coach explains the hole's layout and advises which club might work best. The coach also assists the blind golfer to align his hips, shoulders, and swing.

Golf is really a team sport for the coach and the blind individual. It is vital for the coach to inform the golfer about the distance the ball traveled. The golfer can then remember how his swing felt and adjust it as needed. Although many blind golfers learn their swing from a PGA instructor, the coach continually tweaks his technique. Since concentration is vital to making the shot, communication is usually limited to the exact distance to the hole and positive reinforcement. Too much detail about the hole's hazards and traps can be distracting for the blind golfer. Once the ball has reached the green, the coach needs to figure in the slope and the grade to estimate the putting distance. Sometimes the golfer and the coach walk off the distance so the golfer truly understands the shot.

Tournaments are held across the country and around the world for blind and visually impaired golfers who choose to be competitive. Like other sports for the blind, competition is organized according to the participants' visual abilities. There are typically more than 40 competitors in each classification at the major tournaments. Competitive blind golfers score 125 or better. These golfers belong to the USBGA, the membership organization that promotes and sanctions competitions.

Other blind golfers play for the fun of it. In fact, Northwestern PA hosts a Blind Golfer's Association, the NWPBGA. More than 20 individuals of varying ages and visual abilities regularly enjoy the group's outings in the Erie area. The NWPBGA strives to educate their members on the rules and etiquette of golf. The outings are also used to assist individuals who are coping with vision loss by offering a social support. Each year the NWPBGA sponsors a blind golf tournament to raise funds. When possible it subsidizes the costs of greens fees, clubs, and transportation.

Golf is an ideal sport for the blind. Since it does not require a crowd of blind and visually impaired people, it can be done in any community. The golfer only needs one friend or family member who understands the game to begin playing. The availability of public golf courses make golf affordable even for individuals on a fixed income. Blind golfers even have an advantage over sighted golfers because the ever-present visible obstacles do not distract them. Please contact us to learn more about golf for the blind and visually impaired.




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