My name is Carol Brill and I am a member of Stackstown golf club and Irish Blind Golf. I have Usher syndrome, a rare genetic disease which affects both sight and hearing loss. Usher syndrome is the most common form of deaf blindness. I have had hearing loss since birth and I have been wearing hearing aids since I was four and my sight began to deteriorate when I was 11, starting off with nightblindness, and then a gradual deterioration in my peripheral vision. Today, I have approximately 1% vision left, so it’s like looking through a pinhole to view my world.
When I was younger I played a lot of tennis and school sports. At the age of 21 I started tandem cycling. I loved general fitness and loved the way I felt waking up in the morning so energised, even after a gruelling training session the previous day. I would feel tired but it was a different type of tiredness, and the energy and zest for the next day was there for me, physically and mentally. But growing up brought relationships, a mortgage and a daughter which put sports to one side. How I longed for the feeling of waking up energised during my 30’s and 40’s.
I have been playing golf now for five years and how I came to play golf is purely accidental. My little girl started going into longer hours at school and I thought well now’s the time to get a hobby. I started researching blind sports on the internet and I came across golf and initially I was like I hate golf but thought I might as well learn a little bit about it so that I can tell other people about it. I discovered Irish Blind Golf on the internet and learned that they ran golf clinics in Leopardstown Golf Centre, with the help of golf pro John Langan. I decided to go along, more out of curiosity, and then, at the speed of a golf swing, I fell in love with golf!
When I went to the golf clinic I was just given a golf club and I was like how could you just give me this weapon. I was doing about 100 chipping swings and I was thinking ok what am I going to do with this, is this what golf is really about? As I got chatting to the men from Irish Blind Golf, they informed me that they currently had no female blind golfers. Me being me, I thought ok I am going to have to address the gender imbalance and become the first female member of Irish Blind Golf. Being the only woman amongst these wonderful friendly men with different types of visual impairment, was incredibly empowering for me personally. Thanks to their warm friendly support, I learned to love golf with a passion, boost my confidence and self-esteem. I am now not afraid to speak up, whereas before I wouldn’t have said boo to a fly!
Pretty soon after the clinic sessions, I started off playing with Irish Blind Golf on their monthly outings around Ireland. However, I yearned to play golf on a weekly basis, even daily basis and wondered could I ever join a golf club. I was afraid of being refused membership of a golf club because my disability would only be a liability to the club, or I would be considered a danger to other golfers on the course. I had to overcome not only my own fear, but also the possible perceptions a golf club would have of me as a blind golfer treading their fairways and greens.
My golf guide, Theresa Schutte, is a member of Stackstown Golf Club and she encouraged me to apply to join her club. She introduced me to then Lady Captain Mary Grogan who was so welcoming, along with the ladies committee. A meeting was quickly set up and Theresa and I demonstrated how I play golf and how Theresa guides me around the course. A WhatsApp group was formed and called the Girl Guides, and the telephone numbers kept being added as the days went on. The purpose of this group was to enable me to message whenever I want to play golf and request one of the ladies guide me. I felt extremely humbled by the generosity and kindness of these ladies who are so willing to enable me to play golf whenever I wish. Moreover, they are helping me to conquer my disability and improve my physical fitness and mental health. To put this in perspective, I have a fitness tracker which measures my stress levels. When I go to the local shop, the stress levels are showing as very high. When I am on the golf course, I walk with a great sense of freedom, not having to worry about crashing into people or obstacles. My only obstacle is a bunker, which I have fallen into now and again! The fitness tracker records a flatline on my stress levels, so yes, golf is very good for me, where I get to forget my disability, my problems and housework!
The only thing I wish I had done differently was discovered golf sooner!! My original perceptions were wrong – golf is not just for older people. Attitudes are changing and golf is for everyone!
Golf is a wonderful sport made up of a community of supportive people. On the course, we are all competitors against one another, but in the clubhouse, we are all like-minded individuals and friends. It is a great way to switch off from the world. I just can’t put my finger on it but there is nothing else like it. There are no other parts of my life like golf. I am not a morning person, but I am up and ready for an early round of golf. Nothing holds me back from playing golf. I will play in all weather types just to get that feeling of hitting a couple of shots. It’s truly invigorating.
My advice to coaches would be to talk to and get to know the person and understand their disability. Do it sensitively and be open and honest, don’t avoid the elephant in the room. Have a read up on someone’s disability so that you can better understand it and make sure you help them with their golf in their way!! Golf is different for everyone and everyone has a different way of learning and it’s the same for someone with a disability so make sure you teach them in the best way for their golf. Coaches also need to be patient with themselves. Getting the hang of a disability can take a while. We will learn from each other and open our minds to new ways of learning. I have helped people understand my disability with the help of simulation glasses.
For anyone with a disability looking to try a new sport, give golf a shot. Give any sport a try. I thought I hated golf until I actually held a golf club in my hand, and it changed my life for the better. Any sport, not just golf, is a boost for physical and mental health, confidence and self-esteem, and above all, for making great friendships. Where there is a will there is a way and there are kind and good people out there willing to help you.