Connect Radio DJ, Roger Cole, explains how a popular TV show sparked his interest in blind golf.
"Wanted down under" is not the first programme you associate with playing golf. But the hit BBC 1 show that showcases families considering a move from UK to Australia or New Zealand was the catalyst that I needed to take up this sport.
Around six years ago, my wife was watching the show and it featured the blind golfer, Jay Cookson, and she thought golf would be good for me.
I was diagnosed in 1994 with retinitis pigmentosa and was told that I would eventually lose my sight. The deterioration of my sight has been slow, so I count myself lucky. I was registered blind in 2005 and now I also have Charles Bonnet syndrome.
At that time I wasn’t coping well with my eye condition, and the idea of playing golf was a welcome distraction. I also wanted to compete in a sport that could give me added focus, even when all light and shape perception is finally taken away.
And the good thing about playing golf is that you do not need your sight to play as you have a guide to help you direct your shots.
Tee for two
I bought some second hand clubs and took a few lessons with a great instructor called Chris Payne at a local club. In those early days, just making contact with the ball was a major achievement for me. My vision was limited and if I moved my head more than a fraction then the ball would disappear.
Thankfully when Chris teaches golf, he tells players just to shut their eyes and then just swing the club. Hopefully, the ball just gets in the way of your swing. When you connect with the ball, you just feel so good. Once you hit a good golf shot, you just want to repeat it.
If you are playing a match it’s really not about the winning, it’s the taking part. As soon as you hit a few good shots, you really feel you have achieved something. It’s such a great feeling.
Players use the handicap system that applies to anyone who plays the game and the only difference in the rules is that a “blind golfer may ground the club in a hazard and the guide can stand behind the players when the shot is played.” So it is as close to the rules of the game as any professional would play.
Sighted guides play a key part in giving players as much information needed to play and we do develop a great understanding of each other. Different guides use different techniques to help you.
For example, my current trainer, Robert Green, will walk towards the target and will call me from there. I can’t see horizons or trees sticking out to act as markers, but I can hear him - for me, my brain and hearing just connect and I just know the direction to hit the ball.
A game for all
I think it is a sport that anyone could learn. I didn’t know anything when I started, but I just attended training days run by the Association and improved my technique.
It has also introduced me to some of the friendliest and most supremely talented sportsmen and women. The Association is very supportive towards its members, especially those taking their first steps in these highly competitive events.
For me personally, I've certainly made some solid friendships along the way. But more importantly, blind golf has given me the opportunity to improve and who knows, maybe one day succeed further in this fine sport.