05 May 2023 | All Abilities |

David Blyth: A man of vision

by Australian Golf Media

David Blyth image
David Blyth lost his sight at 14 but has carved out a golfing life regardless. Photo: Kirsty Wrice

By Karen Harding

When David Blyth was asked to tell the story of his remarkable life through a podcast series a few years ago, he named it Blindness No Barrier. That sums him up perfectly.

Just being involved in a podcast in 2017 was visionary. Statistics suggest there were but 133,797 new podcast episodes in 2017 compared to the peak of just over one million in 2020. At then 82, he was – and always has been – a man ahead of his time.

Before an accident blinded him at age 14, Blyth was already an agitator for things to be better than he saw them, so much so that his friends nicknamed him “Ben Chifley” after the then Prime Minister, an advocate for social reform.

Losing his sight opened Blyth’s eyes to what barriers there were for people with disability.

“Things did change and it took me a while to adjust to that, to feel that I could make a contribution. There was an attitude at that time that people like me couldn’t,” he reflects now. “It was pretty tough.”

But he came to realise something important.

“The barrier was the attitude, not the blindness. Blindness wasn’t a barrier to achieving what I wanted to achieve. It was what it was.”

He has worked at advocating for those without sight through such agencies as the Royal Institute for the Blind (RVIB), which later morphed into Vision Australia, Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) and the World Blind Union which represents around 253 million vision-impaired people worldwide.

Through his activity with RVIB he encountered Ron Anderson, then Recreation Officer at the Association for the Blind in WA who had devised programs around golf from the 1970s. Anderson managed to get six minutes of footage on TV which was seen by Japanese philanthropist Dr Haruhisa Handa. The rest, as they say, is history. Handa’s support of blind golf is incalculable.

A founding member of Blind Golf Victoria in 1988, President between 1991-2000, Blyth was also inaugural president of the Australian Blind Golf Association (ABGA), later Blind Golf Australia (BGA) from its inception in 1991 until 2011.

In 1996 Handa asked him to help form an international association. Blyth was chair of the interim committee before its formation in 1998 and President of the International Blind Golf Association (IBGA) between 2004-2012.

He did all this parallel to his working life and was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2002 for services to the blind world and made a life member of the IBGA in 2016.

Earlier this year he was the oldest player, at 88, to play in the Victorian Inclusive Championship at 13th Beach. No mean feat, not just because of his age but because, according to longtime caddie Gary McInnes, “the conditions were extremely difficult for the blindies”.

Blyth remains a man on the go, recently returned from a trip to Christchurch. The week before, he was in Darwin and on May 7, he heads to Adelaide for the Blind Golf SA Stableford Championship. Later in the year he heads to Queensland then WA for blind golf events. That will be after he returns from watching the Second Test at Lords with son Ashley.

His proudest competitive memory is, oddly enough, not winning but being runner-up in the BGA Australian Open five years ago when he staged a last round charge, three-putting the last from a metre to miss by a shot.

“That’s the most exciting game I’ve played.”

But his greatest achievement?

“I’m proud of what we achieved in setting up international golf because it wasn’t easy. The fact that we introduced a lot of people to golf, and it’s made a difference to a lot of people’s lives. And the fact that I can still play, I’m pretty happy about that.”

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