ACCESSIBILITY
Golf Clinic Helps Visually Impaired See Past Disability January 16, 2019 By Jordan Schwartz, USGA

Andrew McLeod (second from right) was the inspiration for the Envision Golf Clinic. His sister, Julia (third from right), also participates. (Bonnie Cochran/Envision)

ClayMerchent playing his tee shot at the 11th hole during the first round of stroke play of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)
Clay Merchent playing his tee shot at the 11th hole during the first round of stroke play of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)
Clay Merchent playing his tee shot at the 11th hole during the first round of stroke play of the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)

Matt McCue was used to overcoming the odds. Diagnosed with leukemia at 5, he eventually lost his sight due to a stroke, but didn’t give up. Instead, he found Envision, a not-for-profit in Wichita, Kan., that supports the visually impaired through employment, outreach, rehabilitation, education and research.

One of the programs Envision runs is a summer golf clinic that the USGA has helped fund three times since 2015 through its Alliance Grant Program. The clinic matches visually impaired golfers with mentors to learn the basics of the game.

“Aside from the physical benefits of playing golf, it gives these people an outlet for socialization and engagement with others,” said Bonnie Cochran, director of support programs for Envision.

McCue, who after four surgeries regained limited sight in his right eye and little peripheral vision in his left, participated in the first clinic in 2011 and once again defied all expectations when he went on to play for his high school golf team.

“What Envision did for him in terms of self-esteem and confidence is immeasurable,” said McCue’s mother, Janet.

Tragically, Matt lost his battle with cancer on Nov. 18, 2018, at the age of 20, but he remains an inspiration to everyone who takes part in the annual clinic.

“Golf meant so much to him,” said Cochran.

The clinic began in 2011 as the brainchild of a child. Envision patient Andrew McLeod wanted to play golf like his dad, Brady, so he asked Cochran what she could do. The program director mentioned the idea to a volunteer named Manuela Nivia, who played at Kapaun Mount Carmel High School. Nivia asked her first coach if he’d teach the class.

“I said yes, and I haven’t been sorry for it one day,” said senior instructor Len Hudson. “I got a little panicked on the way to the first session because I had never taught visually impaired people before, but then I realized it was the same as anyone else: grip, stance and swing.”

Andrew and his sister, Julia, were among the six children that attended that first clinic. They both suffer from Leber congenital amaurosis, a genetic eye disorder that affects the retina.

“It’s been a great outlet to really succeed in something that really isn’t completely based off vision,” said Andrew, 18. “It gave me the confidence to know that I can succeed in other sports.”

Julia, 14, was invited to play in the Wichita Open Junior Pro-Am last June with Wichita State University grad and American Athletic Conference champion Taryn Torgerson.

“It was a good experience,” said Julia. “I got to meet Taryn and she was a really good golfer. She was my mentor one of the years. She helped me get in the right position to do everything.”

In 2018, the clinic had expanded to 47 golfers, 40 mentors and five coaches. Interest has grown so much that there will be two sessions in 2019: one in June for kids and another in September for adults.

Since 2015, the USGA has granted $21,900 to Envision. This past year’s award comprises approximately 19 percent of the organization’s overall golf program budget.

“One of the reasons we have been able to continue our growth is due to the grant,” said Cochran. “The funding allows us to make sure everyone has the golf clubs they need.”

The money from the USGA is also used for transportation because many of the participants can’t drive. In addition, the grant is used to compensate instructors who had been volunteering their services for seven years.

In 2017, Envision added a putting and driving contest played at night with glowing balls, necklaces and yardage markers.

“As the sun went down, our mentors started to get a little feel for what it was like to play golf with a visual impairment,” said Cochran. “Our golfers with some visual function could see the balls and holes easier. It was a cool experience shared by our mentors.”

Envision is just one of nine organizations that received USGA/Alliance Grant Program funding in 2018. You can help make golf more accessible to people with disabilities by making a special contribution to the USGA. Your meaningful gift will enhance the on-course experience for all those who play the game.

“A lot of visually impaired and blind people sit back and don’t get involved, but Andrew and Julia don’t let that happen. They’ve not let their impairment slow them down,” said Brady McLeod. “Down the road, if we decide to start golfing more, I think this makes that a realistic possibility.”

Jordan Schwartz is the creative and content lead for the USGA Foundation. Email him at jschwartz@usga.org.

The USGA Foundation secures resources to fulfill the USGA’s commitment to invest in programs and innovative solutions that best serve golf for all who love and play it.