Sunday, May 16, 1999

Golf clinic opened some eyes


Confidence, fun result of lessons

BY DEBORAH KENDRICK
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When I wrote about Casey Martin last year, I realized a few things about golf. First, people everywhere are taking up the game. Second, it's a sport that has attracted a number of people with disabilities. And third, I knew virtually nothing about it.

        That final condition changed in the spirit of fun and challenge at the fifth annual Golf Outing, sponsored Tuesday by the Cincinnati Association for the Blind. Held at the Kenwood Country Club with instruction supervised by assistant golf pro, Paul Hobart, blind and visually impaired people were given the opportunity to learn about golf, practice a swing, or gain new confidence with an old love interrupted by loss of vision.

        Organized each year by CAB social worker, Charles Rosenblatt, the Golf Outing was originally held in response to clients receiving services and training due to vision loss. “They missed the game,” explains Jane McGraw, CAB community relations director, “and they wanted us to teach them how to play with limited sight.”

        Today, Mr. Rosenblatt invites clients past and present, workshop employees, professional staff — anyone with a visual disability who is interested. As Mr. Rosenblatt gathered participants at the pro shop for a word of welcome and safety reminders, the distinct differences in approaching golf with limited sight or no sight were quickly understood.

        Golf, for a blind or visually impaired person, requires a team effort. Each participant was matched one-on-one with a sighted teacher/coach to position the ball, give verbal direction, and advise the blind golfer when to swing. It is imperative that coaches announce out loud when they are positioning the ball and when it is clear to swing, Mr. Rosenblatt informed the gathering. His emphasis on out loud brought knowing bursts of laughter — as we all momentarily envisioned a zealous golfer swinging the club with the unwitting head of a helper still in the path.

        For Dave Ellington, a 42-year-old music pastor from Calvary Baptist Church in Covington who lost his vision just last year, the golf lesson was an important one. “I played some golf when I could see,” he said, “but not since I lost my sight. This has been truly encouraging to me, to learn the kinds of things that are possible.”

        Experienced golfers like John Murray, a retired salesman from Fin neytown, were inclined to offer a bit of instruction now and then along with Paul Hobart and his crew of assistants. Mr. Murray has played golf for 50 years, beginning with his days as a caddie in Findlay, Ohio, but stopped playing when advanced glaucoma took most of his vision two years ago.

        “First you build confidence,” he warns a new player with a grin. “Then you get cool. You hit those balls and you get eager. Then you get mad ... and then belligerent!” Clearly, golf has reclaimed one temporarily absent player.

        For the youngest participant, 16-year-old Jennifer Holladay, a junior at Conner High School in Hebron, Ky., this was the first time ever to hold a golf club. Her typical teen-age assessment: That the golf was fun, but talking to the people was even better!

        For someone who has never played golf with sight, learning is a composite of suggestions from the voices of experience. My personal coach for the day, David Lichtenfeldof Wyoming, first showed me how to hold the iron, initiate and carry through a swing. As Paul Hobart — or Brian or Melissa or other of his assistants — observed, I was given additional pointers. Try an abbreviated swing, loosen your grip, step a bit back. With each instruction, my sense of how this ought to work expanded.

        Teaching the techniques of golf to people with disabilities is not a new experience for Paul Hobart. With Fore Hope, a Columbus-based organization, he and other golf pros and enthusiasts provide golf opportunities and instruction to people with a variety of physical disabilities.

        “Each time I do this,” Mr. Hobart said, “it makes me a better teacher. I always get back more than I give.”

        From the perspective of this novice, it is now clear how the gratifying whack of a ball and resulting shot keeps people coming back to the course. Mr. Lichtenfeld jokingly advised me to keep my day job — but I don't think it's my last time to take a swing at this new game.

        Cincinnati writer Deborah Kendrick is a nationally recognized advocate for people with disabilities. E-mail her at dkendrick@enquirer.com or write The Cincinnati Enquirer, Tempo, 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati 45202.

       



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