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Guelph Lions Club throws support behind blind golf tournament

Thirty two golfers compete in event organized by local lions club

A blind golf tournament gave players of all skills the chance to compete, thanks in part to a donation from a local lions club.

Recently, 32 golfers from across Canada and around the world gathered to participate in the Ontario Visually Impaired Golf Association (OVIGA) Provincial Tournament and the ISPS Handa Canadian Open Blind Golfers Championship.

The back-to-back tournaments, which were supposed to be held in Guelph in August 2020, were moved to Simcoe after local courses were overbooked. Despite the move, the Guelph Lions Club remained as sponsors for the tournament. 

Jim Saunders, a volunteer with the Guelph Lions Club, said they have supported the OVIGA in the past.

"Our primary focus is on eye care prevention and support to people who are blind," said Saunders, who is also blind. "It's just the history of this club (Guelph Lions Club), which is now I think 78-years-old."

Michele Kurtz, president of the Guelph Lions Club, said different lions clubs support programs and initiatives for people who are blind or vision impaired, like its vision screening program with public health which is run through public schools to assess which children need glasses.

Kurtz said the lions club does this after being asked by Helen Keller.

"Melvin Jones was the founder of the Lions Club, and I believe Helen Keller came and spoke to them, basically letting them know there was nothing for the visually impaired to get any help, and they made a pledge to help," said Kurtz, adding the organization has been called the 'knights of the blind.'

"It's important that everybody gets a chance to play."

OVIGA is a registered charity and part of Blind Golf Canada. It's website said blind golf players follow the same courses and tees, but use a coach to help line up the ball, set their direction and inform players about  things like distance to the hole, hazards and green conditions.

There are also three categories within blind golf: B1, B2 and B3. The OVIGA said B1 refers to totally blind up to light perception, while B2 is for players with below five per cent vision and B3 for players with below 10 per cent vision.

Rich Kush is a Guelph resident and president of OVIGA, who was part of the committee that put together the tournament. He said participants at this year's event said its been one of the best tournaments they've been to. 

"It was quite a compliment, especially to the guy who put his blood, sweat and tears into accommodating everyone," said Kush.

Kush, who is visually impaired, said these tournaments provide opportunities to play with other golfers of similar skills. There's also an element of camaraderie at the tournaments.

"It's a real sense of family when people get together at these events, even if it's only once or twice a year, you feel comfortable," said Kush, who participated in the event. 

Saunders also played a few holes within the tournament. He said it's the first time he's been on a golf course since 1972 and was told his final shot was four-inches away from the hole. 

"I went to say hello because I know many of the blind golfers in Ontario over the years," said Saunders. "It felt good to have a club in my hands again and I was using it for what it was meant to be, rather than killing flies with it."

For the OVIGA, Kush said lions clubs, like the Guelph Lions Club, can play a role in growing the sport as golf can be expensive.

"It's really important, we're very hopeful we'll continue to draw on their support in the future," said Kush, noting 19 other organizations contributed to the event. "Lions Clubs are great ambassadors and supports for blind and visually impaired communities, and they have been for years."

"What we would like to do is have local Lions clubs come to our local events that we might have, and also participate as a golfer, get a appreciation of what they're providing, even if its just a small donation of $100, but that could sustain our organization for years and years to come."