Golf for the Blind: Turning an Obstacle into an Opportunity

Golf is a great game to play from April to late October. What many don’t realize is that not only sighted individuals enjoy playing it, but blind and visually impaired individuals as well.

In 1948, four blind individuals from the Philadelphia area who enjoy playing the game of golf joined together to form what is now known as the Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association. Sixty-nine years later, the organization has over 115 blind and visually impaired members, and sighted coaches who help with estimating distances and alerting the golfers to hazards such as sand traps and water. When the organization started, they had a handful of outings. Today the MABGA plays about 30 to 40 outings in the Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey area, including its annual Pro Am Tournament and annual fundraising tournament. When the organization was first formed, it only had male members and coaches. Today the organization has a mixture of both male and female members and coaches.

I first got involved with the MABGA back in 2001 when I attended their Junior Blind Golf program’s spring golf clinic at the Overbrook School for the Blind. While at that golf clinic, I had to overcome the challenge of doing a short swing since the course had very short holes! The MABGA Junior Golf program is for blind and visually impaired kids ages 5 through 21 in the Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware area. In addition to attending the golf clinics at Overbrook, they pair the blind golfer with a golf pro at the blind child’s local golf course for free golf lessons. All junior golf clinics are free to attend. I enjoyed it so much that I graduated from the junior blind golf program into the main organization of MABGA back in 2009, but I didn’t start playing with the main organization until 2010 due to attending classes at Burlington County College (now known as Rowan College at Burlington County).

When a sighted individual learns that a blind individual is playing golf, they always wonder how the blind individual can play such a challenging game. The blind golfer goes out with a sighted golfer, also known as a coach. This individual coach assists the blind golfer with club selection for a given shot (if needed), determining the distance for a given shot, lining up the ball with the club, finding the ball after the shot, and anything else that may be needed for the blind golfer to make a given shot. Most blind golfers use nonvisual techniques such as putting different tactile distinguishing tape on their clubs. For example, MABGA president Mario Tobia uses this technique to independently determine the right club for a certain shot. He uses one type of tape for his woods, one for his irons, and one for his wedges. The tape is placed incrementally on the club shaft near the clubhead. Outside of that, it is up to the blind golfer to do what is needed to take a golf swing. Believe it or not, some blind golfers take better golf swings than our sighted peers!

I really enjoy playing golf. For me, it is both challenging and satisfying to play a mainstream game. When I graduated from the junior golf program in 2009, there were about 20 to 30 participants with golf clinics at two locations (Overbrook School for the Blind and Walnut Lane Country Club in Philadelphia). As of this year, the program has 78 participants with clinics at five locations located in the Philadelphia area. They have also expanded by adding a group in northern New Jersey. The director of the MABGA Junior Golf program, Norman Kritz is working on building golf courses at schools for the blind in every state. He started with the Overbrook School for the Blind in Pennsylvania which opened in 1996. Since then he opened one in northern New Jersey, and plans are in the works to build courses in Georgia and Maryland.

You too, as a blind or visually impaired individual, can turn the obstacle of blindness into an opportunity by joining the Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association. After an individual submits a membership application form, and approved by the Membership Committee, the blind golfer becomes a provisional member until voted in as a full member at the annual Fall General Meeting which takes place in November or December. Once approved as a full member, the blind golfer is obligated to pay $100 a year for membership dues, which allows them to attend all of the outings listed in the current year’s schedule.

This year’s annual fundraising tournament is scheduled on September 5th at the Ace Club in Ambler, PA. The registration cost for the general public is $225 a person, and there are special reduced costs for a MABGA member and their coaches. The registration cost includes brunch, a round of 18 holes, cocktail hour, and dinner. Additional information on the tournament can be viewed at www.mabga.org/annual-tournament.htm. Since the organization is a 501c3 nonprofit, the annual tournament is the main vehicle to raise funds for the upcoming year.

If you wish to learn more about the Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association, please contact President Mario Tobia at mabga@comcast.net or 215-745-2323. Please view their promotional video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chWLCsKCphE and visit their website at www.mabga.org.

Published by

Brian Mackey

Brian Mackey has been the proud owner of Mackey Enterprises, LLC since 2011. In addition, he volunteers his time with the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey. Within NFBNJ, he serves as affiliate treasurer and webmaster, board member of the Braille and Technology Divisions, secretary/treasurer of the At Large Chapter, and secretary of the Garden State Chapter. Brian also serves in a variety of positions within multiple NFBNJ committees.

If you like this post, please leave us a comment.