Golf Australia

Blindness no barrier to golf

Michele Watts
Michele Watts is on her way to Rome for the world blind titles.


Michele Watts has been a golfer for a long time, but the game has changed dramatically for her in the three years since she first suffered the effects of an optic nerve disorder that left her legally blind.

Watts, 59, noticed the world growing “foggy” through one eye in 2015 and then the other in 2016. Diagnosed with a mitochondrial genetic condition known as LHON (Leber’s Hereditary Otpic Neuropathy), she has lost most of her central vision, meaning that she cannot make out people’s faces unless they are within a metre of her.

But it did not stop her from playing her beloved game of golf.

Mother-of-two Watts had been a 20-year club golfer at Monash Country Club and Chatswood Golf Club in northern Sydney, and she quickly found the New South Wales chapter of Blind Golf Australia, which helps the sight-impaired to remain in the game or start it afresh.

Last year at Royal Sydney, she won her first Australian championship in the B3 division, dodging the 200-plus bunkers adroitly with the help of caddie Bob Grant.

Watts, a 29-handicapper from Northwood near Lane Cove on the Sydney north shore, is part of an eight-person Australian team that headed to Italy this week for the World Blind Golf Championships in Rome from 1-5 October. It is her first appearance at a World title and a career highlight.

“I don’t see people’s faces around me,’’ she told this week. “Central vision things like reading and using the computer, anything that’s detailed at all is impossible. You can’t see what’s in your kitchen cupboard or your bathroom, or drive a car, obviously.

“It took 15 months to work out what the problem was because they don’t know what they’re looking for. The eye itself looks pretty normal, because it’s actually not an eye condition, it’s the optic nerve. They’re all looking at the eye, when it’s the power cord that’s the issue. The brain’s working and the eye’s working, but the electrical cable has the big fault, sending the message.’’

In terms of golf, Watts needs a caddie (she is travelling with two for the world titles, Michelle Bloxham and Jan Freed), for perspective and course management. “I’m lucky enough to see the golf ball at my feet to hit it,’’ she said. “I get the normal golf feeling that it’s been a reasonable shot. Sometimes I surprise myself … I think that I’ve hit it in the wrong direction and someone else will say ‘great shot!’ I say: ‘Really? Ok.’ Generally, you’ll know when you’ve hit a screamer or not.

“On courses I’ve played before, I have a general idea of the layout, so I can hit in the general direction of the green. Where it gets much more difficult is on an unknown course. I’m totally reliant on the caddie to give me direction and also to describe what’s coming before the green, any hazard or whether it’s an elevated green.’’

In just more than a year of playing blind golf has witnessed some inspirational stories around blind golf. Ironically, she believes that playing the game sight-impaired “takes the stress out of the game”, and that many more blind people could benefit from playing golf. “There are a lot of people with failing eyesight who can continue to play the game,’’ she said.

The Australian Blind Golf team for 2018:

-        Graham Coulton with Caddy Sue Carpenter – NSW

-        Gary Sargent with Caddy Eileen Sargent – NSW

-        Stephen Mitchell with caddy Kerri Mitchell – NSW

-        Mark Eschbank with Caddy Peter North – NSW

-        Michele Watts with Caddies Michelle Bloxham and Jan Freed – NSW

-        Brad Carver with Caddy tbc – QLD

-        Glen Niciejewski with Caddy tbc – QLD

-        Jenny McCallum  with Caddy Ian McCallum – WA


Posted by Anne Brown at
30/09/2018 10:49 AM
Good Luck Michele! Amazing stuff. I play at Kooyonga Adelaide SA and we have two amazing Blind Women Golfers. Go Blind Women Golfers
Posted by Eileen Sargent at
26/09/2018 08:59 AM
They are all inspirational and can teach sighted people a lot about golf and attitude to life in general. Go blind golfers!
Posted by Prescila Keogh at
26/09/2018 01:29 AM
i wish you all the best Michelle. You are a great golfer! And so sad to hear your eyes were affected. You are an inspiration to us..
Posted by daphne pearson at
25/09/2018 10:07 AM
Fantastic keep up the good golf and enjoy
Posted by Bob Grant at
24/09/2018 04:17 PM
A great story! An opportunity is there for other vision impaired people -previous golfers or not - to have a go! Contact Blind Golf Australia to find out more. Play Well Michelle.

Post a new comment

17 September 2019
While critics bemoan wide courses as "too easy", MIKE CLAYTON argues that it opens up so many more pleasing aspects of golf, whether aesthetic and ... Read more
29 May 2019
15 May 2019
30 April 2019
19 April 2019
Inside The Ropes
Golf Australia