I was doing a bit of tidying the other day and came across an edition of “bunkered”, Scotland’s only golf magazine, left by my sister on a previous visit. I looked to see how old it was and discovered, rather irritatingly, that as far as I could see there was no date on it. The cover merely states the issue number. However, on flicking through it I ascertained that Dustin had already won the November Masters and we hadn’t yet reached the April one. I rather like “bunkered” – some interesting opinions and in-depth interviews – although it still caters overwhelmingly for the male brigade in golf and is not quite yet embracing the sport in a 21st century manner.
My eye was caught, however, by an article about Blind Golf Scotland which was formed in the 1980s and it reminded me of Jane Connachan, one of Scotland’s best known and most successful golfers, who used to coach a number of blind and partially-sighted players around that time. Perhaps she still does. Jane, or JC as she was known to us on tour, was a child prodigy who took Scottish golf by storm as a 12-year old and represented her country at every level before ultimately joining the paid ranks. At 16 she was the youngest ever Curtis Cup player and setting records was as natural to her as breathing. She is still imparting her vast knowledge and experience to her devoted clients.Over the years JC organised a few pro-am events and I signed up to play in one at Gullane. The week before the event she rang me and asked would I play with a team of three of her pupils, all of them registered blind. I said I’d be delighted to and she explained that we would be going off at the end of the field as we wouldn’t be too speedy. I really didn’t give it too much more thought but it turned out to be a life-changing day for me in more ways than one.
On a cold, blustery day we teed off at the end of the field at Gullane No 2 course. Each of my companions had a guide with them. Surprisingly the guides weren’t necessarily golfers but they had learned how to steer their players round the course and more importantly how to set them up to aim. They made all the decisions as regards club selection and when we got near the green they would estimate the length of the pitch or chip shot or putt – whatever it happened to be.
Obviously it was a round devoid of the usual “good shot” congratulations from all members of the group when someone connected really well or hit one close. That wasn’t something I’d ever considered before and I found it very strange. The guides had their hands full with their particular player and paid little heed to anyone else and for me it was almost akin to playing on my own because of the lack of interaction. What it did give me, however, was ample time to study these wonderful players who were determined to try their absolute best on every shot.As the round progressed I found myself drawn in more and more to helping the guides describe the shot required in greater detail. Painting a picture of the shot facing the players and giving them a more vivid idea of the terrain facing them, particularly on and around the greens, seemed to help them perform better. I learned that calling the other senses into play helped compensate for the lack of vision. I’d get the player to listen and feel the swish of contact with the ground on a practice swing and then just ask him to recreate it. Listening to the quality of the contact on a chip or putt heightens the sense of touch. It was thrilling, thrilling stuff to see the joy on the player’s face as I described how a shot was drawing ever closer to the hole.
We ran out of light with three holes left to play and after being on the course for six hours. Did we stop? Of course not! After all, I was the only one inconvenienced by the darkness! We finally arrived on the last green and I could see the dining room packed with the other pro-am teams enjoying a fine dinner. We were all frozen by this stage but one of our number (not me!) had a 12-footer for par, a rare beast indeed for a golfer of that handicap never mind one who couldn’t see. He took on board all the instructions, rehearsed his putting stroke until it was just right and then calmly rolled it into the heart of the cup. We jumped up and down on the green and hugged each other and those near the windows of the dining room whooped and hollered. I don’t mind admitting I was misty-eyed, humbled by the never-say-die attitude and the pleasure that lit up the faces of all the players at even the most modest of successes.
When we finally walked into the dining room to join the others, the room rose as one to applaud these wonderfully gritty players. They asked no quarter. Once again I was surreptitiously reaching for my hankie.
I had a lot to ponder that evening as I thought back over the events of the day. I learned so, so much but it was another decade at least before I realised that it was on that very day that I started honing my commentary skills for eventually covering golf on the radio – something I’ve now done for almost 24 years. So, thanks JC for organising that pro-am; thanks for fixing me up with such an inspiring team; and thanks for the life lessons learned in that one round of golf.