by Albert Fairorth
Ed. note: Since 1948, the Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association (MABGA), a non-profit 501c3 corporation, has been providing blind and visually impaired (legally blind) men, women and children the opportunity to enjoy the challenges and rewards of golf. Today, MABGA has over 120 totally blind, visually impaired golfers and coaches, with another 85 junior blind golfers. The blind golfers participate in about 40 golf outings each year. MABGA is a totally self-sustaining organization providing its programs through dues, donations and an annual fundraising charity event. I am proud to say that my brother, Albert, 76, who lives in this area, a long-time golfer who insists that “I will play in the mid-80s sometime this year,” volunteers to coach blind golfers, both adults and children, at various courses in the area, including Walnut Lane. Since I don’t think many people even know there are blind golfers, I asked him to write about his experiences with MABGA:
I have been an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous for 28 years. We visit hospitals, prisons, high schools and many other institutions. At AA we get our share of homeless people and very sick addicts. We go on 12-step calls. A couple of years ago I decided I wanted to do something else to be of help, so I became a volunteer at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.
I would work with people whose children were about to undergo serious procedures. I’d take them for walks, bring them coffee, try to take their minds off the the upcoming surgeries. The people in charge said I was exceptional, but then U of P psychology students started signing up to volunteer, and I was told they had preference, so I was not needed any more.
About that time a friend of mine who was a fundraiser for a macular degeneration nonprofit told me about the blind golfers, so I signed up to be a volunteer coach. We pick up the golfers, take them to the golf course, coach them, have lunch and take them home. It’s a six-to-eight hour function.
Many of the blind golfers play twice a week. Almost all of the male blind golfers are over 70 years old. There are only four women, and they are younger. All of the volunteer coaches are also over 70. Since I joined not too long ago, three of the coaches have died.
When we go to the course, four of us, two coaches and two blind golfers, all hit off the tee. Then we go to the best hit ball. The blind guys can put balls down there also and hit from there. There are lots and lots of donated balls. We all hit the ball again and again go to the best hit ball. The courses do not want us to dabble because we have to be finished by 12 noon.
I have really become hooked on the children. We go to three schools for the blind, the Overbrook School and two in South Jersey. They have sort of a course layout on their properties, and we go twice a week to work with the kids. When they’re ready, we take them to a public course. I had a 6-year-old girl who was a riot. Her sisters are also blind.
The children get so excited when they make a good contact, as this girl did. Almost all of the blind children bring along a sighted friend. This 6-year-old girl has a friend, Caroline, also 6, who swings the club like a pro, for real, has a real swing. When I told the parents their daughter could be the next Tiger Woods, they were thrilled. We also have a handful of teenage boys who are serious about building a solid swing, and they really do practice hard.
In general, I would say that blind golfers do not really care how they hit the ball. They come on sunny days to be outdoors with other people, sometimes friends. They do perk up, though, if they ever get close to the hole or sink a putt. That is the biggest deal, very exciting.
As for us volunteer coaches, we still like to play, and they are really great guys. I plan to do this for as long as I can. I like helping the adults, all of whom have courage. They really like to be out talking to other people. That is what it’s all about, not golf.
The children are another story. If they can learn to hit the ball well, there is no telling how good they can become. It is great for their lives to be able to do this. It is akin to being sober, to live life to the fullest, to completely appreciate the joy of living.
BTW, just as a matter of interest, a 71-year-old blind golfer named Jim O’Brien from Leicestershire, England, who has been golfing for 16 years, made a hole-in-one on Oct. 13, 2013, on the sixth hole at the Peter Alliss Eye2Eye Challenge at Surrey’s Hindhead Golf Club. According to reports in the British press at the time, O’Brien is only the third blind golfer in the world who has ever made a hole-in-one.
If you are interested in volunteering for the Mid-Atlantic Blind Golf Association, based in Fox Chase, call 215-745-2323 or visit www.mabga.org.