USBGA – U.S. Blind Golf Association
I knew a young man once who took piano lessons, and played many of the most difficult pieces from the classical repertoire, even though he had been without sight since birth. Our joke together at the time was that he missed two notes per year whether he needed to or not – in short, he was deadly accurate. When I learned of the existence of the United States Blind Golfers Association not very long ago, I was reminded of him and his extraordinary talent.
When things came up in conversation with him, he would often say â€œOh yes, Iâ€™ve seen that,â€ and although I didnâ€™t understand his response at all then, I am sure that his aesthetic enjoyment of what he was doing was every bit as powerful as mine, if altered in some way. It was just that â€œseen thatâ€ was a distinct variety of experience, a different way of perceiving the environment that was largely unknown to me.
Still, I was puzzled thinking about the golf course. What about the mountains and the rivers and the beauty of a slight fade, a snaking thirty foot putt that drops? My answer was that I must expand my vision of the potential pleasures afforded by the game, and by many other things in life. It is clear to me that these golfers are having a wonderful time, and deriving a similar satisfaction to mine…again, even if it not an identical path to that satisfaction.
In a world where humans are doing the most incredible things despite obstacles of every kind, I guess that we shouldnâ€™t be too surprised to see people taking up the game of golf who need nothing more than we who are sighted do, except a little help lining up, some assistance maneuvering through extra tricky territory, and logistical feedback to their shots.
The USBGA has been around since 1953, and is a treasure trove of opportunities and assistance, but it does not practice any dumbing down of the game, for anyone. The rules are identical, with the exception of grounding a club in a hazard, and the organization hosts a national tournament. Players meet specific scoring guidelines and fall into specific categories, depending on the degree of sight they possess.
For example, B-1 includes those have no perception of light to those who lack the ability to distinguish between a piece of white paper bearing a dark mark on it. Players in the B-2 category are judged by the ability to tell the shape of a hand up to 20/600, and B-3 players go up to 20/200.
Players say that above all, it is their coach that makes the game possible and satisfying. Constant communication between coach and player is a must, and he or she must be clear, precise and alert to every change in terrain, weather, elevated green and a hundred other considerations any shot-maker would want to consider. Every shot must receive feedback so that technique can continue to develop. I feel certain that just as in the sighted world, there are gifted players that emerge as champion within the group.
I have not walked a golf course without sight, and am sure that there is much I do not entirely understand about what must be done to play the game successfully. I am inspired, however, by the fact that people with visual challenges have refined a successful method with which to play and enjoy the game, and that there is an organization helping to sustain that enjoyment. It seems clear that playing brings tremendous satisfaction, regardless of how that appreciation is brought to us. In fact, Iâ€™m growing appreciative of the fact that â€œIâ€™ve seen that.â€