How can someone blind or visually impaired step onto a golf course and still enjoy the sport? With teamwork, and some help from dedicated volunteers.
The 2019 ISPS Handa U.S. Open Blind Golf Championship ninth annual AZ Regional, will take place at Haven Golf Course April 4-8. Hosted by Green Valley residents Dick and Sharon Pomo, the tournament will include blind golfers from around the world who will compete with assistance from volunteer coaches who act as spotters.
Dick Pomo, president of the United States Blind Golf Association, said the tournament is made possible through the work of the volunteers.
“These 30 golfers with their 30 coaches couldn’t be coming here if we didn’t have the volunteers saying, ‘hey welcome to Green Valley,’” Pomo said. “That’s just so important because there’s lots of hard work that goes into it on the part of the volunteers.”
One of the golfers competing in the tournament is Larry Rhinehart, a full-time Green Valley resident who has been in the area for more than 20 years.
Rhinehart moved to Arizona to work in the human resources department at Raytheon. While Rhinehart still owns the wooden golf clubs he bought in the 1970s while he played in college, it was while at Raytheon that he began to play golf regularly.
Although his vision has been impaired since birth, the result of his father’s exposure to defoliating chemicals during the Korean War, Rhinehart can still make out images and shapes. More recently, it has become worse and colors are becoming harder to see.
Using a coach to spot the ball and help gauge distances has made it possible to continue to play the game he loves.
“I enjoy the game, it’s fun and I enjoy the people,” Rhinehart said. “That’s why I do it.”
Dennis Gose is Pomo’s coach, and Bob Korbas is Rhinehart’s.
Korbas has been living in Green Valley for five years and began volunteering with the USBGA when he first moved into the area.
At first, Korbas was a driver for the different golfers who needed to get from the hotels to the courses. Later, he ended up volunteering as a coach for Rhinehart, but said he doesn’t think of himself as a volunteer.
“This thing wouldn’t come off at all if it wasn’t for the volunteers,” Korbas said. “I don’t even consider myself a volunteer because I’m just helping Larry, you know.”
There are three categories the golfers play in according to the level of their visual impairment.
The most severe is the B-1, totally blind, category. In this category, golfers will be given blacked-out shades to ensure they cannot see anything while playing.
The last two levels are the B-2 and B-3, vision impaired divisions. Those in the B-3 category have 20/200 to 20/600 vision, meaning their eyesight at 20 feet is comparable tp someone with perfect vision looking at something 200 to 600 feet away.
Those in the B-2 category have visual acuity less than 20/600 but are not completely blind.
Rhinehart is in the B-3 category.
Even though Rhinehart’s visual impairment has increased, it hasn’t diminished his love for the game or the time spent with other golfers, he said.
“Just like anybody else that plays golf, I mean, the 19th hole you want to sit down and visit with the guys,” Rhinehart said. “So, it’s more a social thing than it is an individual thing. I like the game, but I like it for the social part.”
It takes two volunteers for each player just to make a single-tournament round possible, Korbas said.
Each golfer will have one coach to act as the players sight for where obstacles and other landing zones are and one scorekeeper who works independently and confirms each score with the player after each hole, Korbas said.
For Korbas, the time the volunteers give is important to continuing to make golf accessible to those with visual impairments, he said.
With natural aging, people can find themselves in the same situation where vision may become impaired and this is one way that golfers can continue to play the sport, Korbas said.
“Next thing you know you can’t golf anymore because you can’t see,” Korbas said. “Well, you can, it’s just different.”