Fairmont Hot Springs Local Opts Out of Defending World Championship Golf Title Blindfold

By Steve Hubrecht
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A former Columbia Valley resident and reigning blind golf world champion, has decided not to defend his world title this year.

Kiefer Jones grew up in Fairmont Hot Springs, moved to Mexico with his family as a teenager, then returned to the Columbia Valley as a young adult. Here he lived in Invermere for many years before finally settling in Calgary. It was in Mexico, aged 16, that Jones caught a virus – doctors suspect it may even have been a simple cold virus – which managed to infect his optic nerve .

“One day I worked out and had pretty much lost most of my vision,” Jones said. the Pioneer. “There was no specific medical term for it, so they called it optic neuritis – as in, infection of the optic nerve.”

Gradually, over the next few years, much of Jones’ vision returned. A large part, but not all.

“There’s still scarring and inflammation in the nerve that’s preventing it from fully healing,” he said.

The result is that Jones is legally blind.

“I have blurry central vision, but my peripheral vision is clear,” he said.

Jones is quick to point out that his situation is much better than being completely blind, but that has its limits.

For one, he cannot drive a motor vehicle. Partly for this reason, after living in Invermere for 20 to 26 years, he finally decided to move to Calgary a few years ago, as the excellent public transit infrastructure allows him to get around more easily. Jones now works at the Heritage Pointe Golf Club in south Calgary.

Although he cannot drive a motor vehicle, he can drive golf carts. And by the way, it can also drive golf balls – very far and very straight. In fact, he’s better at carving fairways than most golfers, visually impaired or not.

“Golf has always been part of my life. I played it all my life before I went blind,” Jones said. “So when I found out there was such a thing as blind golf, I decided to give it a try.”

Blind golf is different for every participant. Jones uses visual aid devices when playing outside of competition, but when playing in competitive tournaments (where such devices are not permitted) his caddy will place the club behind the ball for him and tell Jones if properly lined up. face the pin. Then Jones swings.

“He (the caddy) puts me in the right place and then I do everything from there,” he said, adding that, with his peripheral vision clear, he “usually has to look away from the ball, a bit in front, so they can see it. Once the ball has been hit, they cannot visually follow its flight through the air.

Jones is quick to point out that many other top blind golfers are far more visually impaired than he is and have to rely on their caddies far more. “I’m impressed with what they can do. It’s inspiring,” he said.

In the beginning, blind golf was all about fun for Jones. But as he played more and started to participate in a few local and regional blind golf tournaments, he realized he had a honed talent and started playing at even higher levels. .

“I certainly didn’t know in my first year of blind golf that one day I would be going to world-class events, but that’s exactly where I ended up,” Jones said. the Pioneer. “It’s really exciting. I’ve been all over the world and met a lot of great people who have become friends.

The highlight came in 2018, when he won the World Blind Golf Championships in Rome, Italy. Jones credits the win to his good form at the open blind Italian golf tournament he played just before the world championships.

“Based on the world rankings alone that year, I knew I could be near the top. But you never know exactly how you’ll do on any given day. That’s how golf is. You can very play well all year until a tournament and then have a bad tournament,” he said. the Pioneer. “At the Italian Open, I played well, but not very well, on the first day of that tournament. Then I came back on the second day very strong. That confidence then carried over into the next tournament, which was the world championships and I came out on top there.

The World Blind Golf Championships are held every few years, and Jones originally expected to travel to the 2021 World Blind Golf Championships in South Africa to defend his championship title. world 2018. But the 2021 edition of the event has been postponed to 2022, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

As the 2022 edition of the World Championships approaches, a number of top-ranked blind golfers have withdrawn, due to COVID-19 related uncertainty over the event, coupled with the high cost of travel by South Africa. As the number of top blind golfers skipping world championships increased, Jones began to have doubts about going himself and eventually decided to retire.

“It’s disappointing not to go, that’s for sure,” he said. “But most of the big players won’t be there, it wouldn’t have been the same level of competition as the world championships normally. And it would have been a very expensive trip, so it made no sense to go there. .

Instead, Jones is focusing on two other big tournaments this year: the All Abilities Championship, which will be played at the famed Pinehurst Resort course in North Carolina in July, and the Vision Cup at the Tournament Players Club in Sawgrass, North Carolina. Florida. (another mythical course), in September.

The All Abilities Championship is open not only to golfers who are blind, but also to para golfers and other golfers of varying abilities. “This will be my first appearance at a major all-abilities golf tournament and I’m really excited about it,” Jones said. the Pioneer. “There will be so many diverse abilities, it will be really interesting to see that and see how we all play against each other.”

The Vision Cup is a Ryder Cup-style tournament, featuring blind golfers from around the world divided into two teams – North America and Rest of the World – playing against each other. Jones played for Team North America in a previous Visions Cup, held in Ireland, but unfortunately the team lost this time. “Hopefully we can turn things around and get a North American team win this time,” he said.

Another event Jones has circled on his calendar this year is Blind Golf Canada and ParaGolf Canada’s inaugural Junior ParaGolf Clinic, which will be held in conjunction with the Western Canada Blind Golf Championship at Inglewood Course in Calgary in July.

“This is a great opportunity for junior para golfers or blind golfers, or even those who just think they might be interested in learning more about blind golf or para golf to come and experience the sport,” said Jones. “We want to let young blind people and para-athletes know that they can play golf. The sport has been amazing for me and I want to help open that door for other young people.

Those interested in learning more about the clinic can contact Blind Golf Canada Vice President Darren Douma at 250-428-1807 or by email at [email protected]

Michael C. Ford