It didn’t take Victorian man Sean Witting long to realise true vision doesn’t always involve the eyes.
- The first SA blind golf tournament in more than 20 years is being played in Adelaide this week
- Seventeen vision-impaired golfers from around Australia are participating
- One of the players, Gary Sargent, says blind sport “opened up a whole new world” for him
He started playing blind golf in 2011 after he developed a form of vision loss called Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, which puts him on the cusp of being totally blind.
Two years later he won his first international blind golf tournament in Japan.
He and his guide dog Gavin travelled to West Beach in South Australia, along with 16 other vision-impaired golfers, to play in the first SA blind golf tournament in more than 20 years.
It is ahead of the Australian national championship which is being held on the same course on Thursday and Friday.
“We call ourselves ‘blinkies’,” Mr Witting said.
“We give each other a lot of carrot or stick. If the other guy tees off [and he’s] also a blind fella, I’ll just pipe up and say, ‘Mate, you just keep your head down, I’ll watch the ball’.”
Blind golf opening up opportunities
Blind golf is played in the same way and with the same equipment as mainstream golf, but with two exceptions — players can touch hazards like the sand in bunkers with their clubs, and they rely on working in a team with their caddy.
Internationally, blind golf is divided into three sight categories, from B3 — which includes players who have partial sight — to B1, which refers to players who are totally blind.
New South Wales golfer Gary Sargent, a B2-classified player, is in a team with his wife Eileen, who guides him through the course and acts as his eyes.
“Without a guide, I wouldn’t be able to play,” Mr Sargent said.
“Blind sport in itself opened up a whole new life to us.”
Mr Sargent represented Australia in the sport of goalball at the Paralympics, where he met Eileen.
Ms Sargent said that guides were expected to tell the player a rough distance to the hole and needed to have a lot of patience.
“One of the worst things you can do is say, ‘Oh, there’s a big bunker in front of us! You’ve really got to get over that’ — so you don’t point out anything negative, you just gently guide them around the course.”
Blind golf resurging after rough patch
Blind Golf SA was founded in 1993 but folded 16 years later.
Three years ago, a small group of people restarted the organisation and, after becoming incorporated in September 2019, it is slowly attracting more players.
President of Blind Golf SA, Cameron Reid, hopes SA’s tournament will become an annual fixture in the Blind Golf Australia calendar “to give as many blind and vision-impaired people the opportunity to play”.
There are four full playing members in the South Australian organisation and now four junior members who are playing through clinics.
“We’re the first blind golf association to hold dedicated coaching clinics and create playing opportunities for juniors in Australia apart from Blind Golf Queensland, who have one junior member,” Mr Reid said.