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Clinic helps vision impaired take a swing at golf

Thursday, July 22, 2010 | 5:00 a.m. CDT
Gretchen Maune, who is legally blind, tries putting while instructor Jim Williams, right, gives her guidance during an adapted golf clinic on Wednesday at the Perche Creek Golf Club.

COLUMBIA — Gretchen Maune is blind, but she has been able to play sports such as pool, basketball and bowling — even mini-golf.

“I love learning new things,” she said.

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Still, until Wednesday, Maune had never played on a real golf course.

The MU School of Health Professions Department of Occupational Therapy hosted an adapted golf clinic on Wednesday at Perche Creek Golf Club. The clinic, put on by students of the occupational therapy program, introduced the game of golf to eight people with low vision or blindness.

Maune's willingness to try anything is what sparked her interest.

“I want to do as many things as possible and try as many things as possible," Maune said. "I want to be able to say, ‘Hey, I played golf. I’m blind and I played golf. It was awesome.’”

The key to success for blind golfers is working well with their “coach," someone who works with the blind golfer one-on-one.  The coach tells the golfer how far away the hole is and what direction it is. The coach also lines up the golfer’s club with the ball before they hit it. Maybe most importantly, the coach finds the ball after it’s hit.

The first thing Maune had to learn was teeing off. On her first swing, she was able to make contact, but on the next few swings, she hit nothing but air. This wasn’t anything unusual. Just making contact with the ball is difficult for beginners in blind golf.

So Abby Schuller, one of the occupational therapy students, stepped in to help. She placed her hand below Maune’s hands and guided the club to the ball. She did this several times, repeating the same motion each time.

“It’s important for her to know how the swing feels,” Schuller said. “It allows her to develop muscle memory, so she can repeat the swing.”

The occupational therapy students have worked with people with vision impairment before, but none had ever taught them golf. To prepare for the clinic, the students watched instructional videos made by the United States Blind Golf Association. They also practiced teaching each other by playing golf on Tuesday with blindfolds on.

“We learned that it takes a lot of trust between the golfer and the coach,” occupational therapy student Sara Crites said of the experience. “When they line you up, you may not feel right, but you’ve got to trust that the coach lined you up right.”

The participants were also taught about putting. Again, the coach is vital in lining the golfer up with the hole and letting them know how far away the hole is.

“The trick for the coaches will be telling the golfer how far to bring the club back,” said Jim Knoesel, a golf professional at A.L. Gustin Golf Course who helped out at the clinic.

Various techniques are used to help the golfers putt. Rattling the pin in the hole lets them know about where the hole is. Some of the golfers can see certain colors, so they use a colored ball and a colored marker by the hole.

After learning the basics of the game, participants got the opportunity to play a hole of golf. Some still had trouble making contact, but it didn’t affect their score. They could just say it was a practice swing.

Jim Pelfrey shot a 10 on his hole on the par-3 course, but he was encouraged by his first day of golf.

“There’s always a lot of anxiety when you’re trying something new,” he said. “I didn’t come with a lot of expectations, but I think if I keep doing this, I won’t be real good, but good enough to play recreationally.”


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