GOLF PROGRAMS FOR THE
VISUALLY IMPAIRED
TALK BY SUSAN C. HAGEL, C.T.R.S.

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By:  Jean Feeney, J.D.

The Sister Kenny Institute Golf Program for Golfers with Physical Disabilities started 23 years ago with six golfers, one of the first such programs in the United States. The programs in any disability, makes it possible for people who have had polio, amputations, arthritis, strokes, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, visual impairment, and other physical disabilities to enjoy golf with their family or friends. Using adaptive equipment and techniques, the golfers play golf each week on a nine-hole course at Braemar Golf Course in Edina, near Minneapolis.

Golf  is a nondiscriminatory sport – the traditional golf handicapping system is a great equalizer. For visually impaired players in the program, a sighted guide assists them to and around the course. The guide helps line up the shot, gives feedback as to distance, and locates the ball.  A straight edge is used to line up a shot: the player puts his toes against it, or feels it with his hands as the guide holds it. Scoring can be done with a Braille scorecard, bead counter, or large print paper score card. The players can use colored balls and a sounding device that is placed in the cup when they are ready to putt. For those who want to start similar programs in their area, they should approach golf courses as they are remodeling to ask them to include easier access, brighter signs, and so forth.

Wally Heinz and Terry Glarner  have played golf together for many years. Mr. Heinz had an auto accident in 1977 in which he lost his sight. He said he was an average golfer before his accident. While working with a vision loss program, he heard about the Sister Kenny league and called for information. He was contacted by Mr. Glarner, whom he had known years before at a Catholic seminary. They started working together with only three clubs, two irons and one wood, hitting a few balls and practicing swings.

Mr. Glarner explained that golf professionals often recommend that players practice closing their eyes while swinging, so they won’t be distracted by looking at the ball, so visually impaired golfers can learn to swing properly as well. He demonstrated a short training device called a “protator,” which is weighted like a club and has a fitted grip. It can be used indoors to stay in shape. He also demonstrated a device that fits on the club, and touches each shoulder as the golfer swings, to teach the proper position of the club at both ends of the swing. Mr. Glarner said he uses baseball analogies to advise Mr. Heinz where to aim (“toward third base”); a clock-face analogy could also be used. Mr. Heinz demonstrated some of these techniques, swinging smoothly and hitting a perfect shot with a plastic practice ball.

Mr. Glarner said he and Mr. Heinz have played in tournaments on other golf courses with sighted players. He emphasized the importance of playing “ready golf” to keep play moving along. This includes lining up your shot while waiting, being ready when it is time to shoot, and knowing golf etiquette.

For information on golf for the physically disabled from the United States Golf Association, visit its website at www.usga.org. For more information on the Sister Kenny Institute, call (612) 863-5712 or email Susan Hagel at shagel@allina.com.

By:  Jean Feeney, J.D. 10:1 (January 2003)