From the Clark's Crossing Gazette
Blind golfers find their groove at western championships
You don’t need to see it to tee it.
That’s the philosophy of about two dozen golfers who competed in the Western Canadian Blind Golf Championships at the Legends Golf Club in Warman July 4 and 5.
Gerry Nelson of Saskatoon, who lost his sight at the age of 25 due to complications from diabetes, was back to defend his 2016 Western Canadian championship title. He and his sighted coach, Chris Villaneuve of Meadow Lake, were among a field of 21 competitors from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, BC and Alberta.
Blind Golf Canada promotes competitive golf and sportsmanship among Canada’s blind and visually impaired golfers. Blind golf is played by golfers who are totally blind or partially sighted with an acuity of 20/200 or less. With one minor caveat, the rules of the game are the same as for sighted golfers.
The big difference, though. is that this is a true team sport, rather than just an individual game. Blind golfers rely on a sighted guide or coach to position the ball on the tee and provide a description of direction and distance to the hole, as well as potential hazards.
Nelson, who works for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in Saskatoon, has been golfing competitively with Villaneuve as his coach for the past two decades. Nelson said Villaneuve’s directions paint a picture of the fairway or green that he’ visualizes in his head.
“I’m able to relate to everything he’s telling me,” said Nelson. “So I have a pretty good idea of the kind of shot I need to make.
“For blind golfers, it’s all about getting the feel of the club and being consistent with your swing so you have confidence about where the ball is going.
“It’s not easy, but when things are working for both the golfer and the coach, it’s synchronicity at its best.
“When it’s not working, it’s tough on everyone. The coach is doing everything he can. I think these coaches need the patience of Jobe sometimes to put up with us.”
Nelson said he became a better golfer after he lost his sight.
“Golf was really the main thing that got me back up and going again,” he said. “It’s more than a game to me. It’s a way of life. My involvement with the Blind Golf organization has really helped, and I’ve been lucky to have Chris as a sight-guide and coach. We’ve become the best of friends.”
Blind Golf competitions are about more than trophies and bragging rights, said Nelson. They’re about helping people maintain a positive outlook on life.
“At these tournaments, nobody’s sitting around whining about how tough things are because they can’t see,” said Nelson. “They’re usually BS’ing about the 300 yard drive they made that was really only 150 yards. But it’s about having a good time and meeting up with friends.”
Creston, BC set to host international Blind Golf Tournament
Darren Douma of Creston, BC had a respectable showing at the Western Canadian Blind Golf Championships in Warman.
But he admits he could have done better. His mind, he said, was elsewhere.
Douma is the man in charge of the committee hosting the Vision Cup in his hometown in late July. The “Ryder Cup” of the international Blind Golf Association, which pits the best blind golfers of North America against their colleagues from the rest of the world.
“This is the third edition of the event, which is held every two years,” said Douma. “The North Americans haven’t won yet, so we’re hungry.”
The North American team features six Canadians and six Americans. Five of the Canadians on the team competed in the Warman tournament.
“This was a tune-up,” said Douma, who is also Captain of the North American team. “We’re primed and ready.
The World team includes the most accomplished blind golfers from England, Scotland, Italy, Israel, South Africa, and Australia.
Josh Bailey wins Western Canadian Blind Golf Championship
Josh Bailey of Regina won the 2017 Western Canadian Blind Golf Overall Championship at a two-day tournament at the Legends Golf Club in Warman July 4 and 5. Bailey’s guide-caddy for the event was his mother, Val Bailey.
What makes Bailey’s accomplishment even more impressive is that he golfs with only one hand, swinging the club in a forehand motion with his right arm. Bailey established a commanding lead early in the tournament and held on through tough, windy conditions on the second day to take the title.
The Men’s Championship was won by Gerry Nelson of Saskatoon, with guide-caddy Chris Villaneuve of Meadow Lake.
Runner up in the Men’s Category was Kiefer Jones of Calgary with guide-caddy Deb Frey.
Johanna Camarta of Westlock, Alberta, along with caddy-guide Yilly Mallard won the Ladies’ Category. The runner-up in the Ladies Category was Lillian Haas of Winnipeg, Manitoba with guide-caddy Kay Montgomery.
In the Seniors’ Category, the winner was Roy Bert of Redcliff, Alberta with guide-caddy Judy Shafers. Runner up in the Seniors’ Category was George Thirkill of Langley, BC with guide-caddy Nitro Rite.
Bailey overcomes odds to win title
Josh Bailey of Regina claimed the 2017 overall championship at the tournament with a style all his own.
He’s a one-armed, legally-blind golfer who racked up the kind of score that most able-bodied, sighted golfers would envy.
With the aid of Val Bailey, his guide-coach who also happens to be his mother, he got off to an early lead in the opening round and fought though tough conditions in the late stages of the final nine holes to claim the title.
“I was in the groove for the most part,” said Bailey at the end of the tournament. “My putter was working, the drives were good, and my coach was right on with everything.
“I was getting a little tired on the back nine the second day, and that was a little discouraging, but I think I ended up doing okay.
Bailey, 31, said he was taught his forehand, one-armed swing when he started golfing at the age of 11, and he’s comfortable with it. He uses his right arm because his left side was left partially disabled as a result of injuries he sustained in a car accident when he was only three years old. That devastating incident also left him with minimal sight.
“I’ve grown up with it,” said Bailey. “I’m used to it. I absolutely love the game, and it keeps me motivated.
“When I see a guy like Gerry Nelson, who’s totally blind, play as well as he does, I just think that’s really inspiring.”
Bert wins Blind Golf Senior Championship
Roy Bert took up golf at the age of 43 in 1986. He was just starting to get the hang of it when he lost his sight due to macular degeneration.
But that didn’t stop him from carrying on.
That persistence paid off for the Redcliff, Alberta resident when he, with the help of coach Judy Schafers, won the Seniors category at the Western Canadian Blind Golf Championships in Warman.
“I was pleased with the way I played the last couple days,” said Bert. “Especially today. I didn’t lose a single ball!”
Bert said the camaraderie he finds at Blind Golf tournaments keeps him coming back year after year.
“It’s a big part of my life,” he said. “I don’t know where I’d be without it.”
Golf, hockey two passions for young Calgary athlete
Kiefer Jones of Calgary, 27, was runner-up in the Men’s division at the Western Canadian Blind Golf Championship tournament. Not a bad result, considering this is his first competitive tournament since joining Blind Golf Canada this year.
On the other hand, Jones has been playing the game since he was two years old, so he’s picked up a few pointers along the way. Not only that, but he works full time at a golf course in his hometown.
Jones lost most of his sight at the age of 16. While he has limited peripheral vision, he can’t see anything right in front of him. His mother, Deb Frey, was his first-time coach-guide this tournament.
“I had the round of my life yesterday,” said Jones in an interview at the end of the two-day event. “I shot a 68. Today I shot a 77, which was a disappointment. I just wasn’t hitting the ball as well, and it was windier too.
“We spent a little too much time in the rough today looking for my ball.”
Jones also plays full-contact Blind Ice Hockey in the winter in Calgary. “The puck is about four times the size of a regular puck, and it’s hollow steel with ball bearings inside, so it makes a noise,” said Jones. “The goaltenders have to be totally blind, but the nets are smaller, and if they position themselves right, it’s pretty hard to score on them.