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Blind golfers sink putts at national championship in Hamilton

Competitors at this week's Canadian Open Blind Golf Championship in Hamilton are taking to the greens on their own merits, with a little coaching help.

Tournament returns this week for its 20th year in the Ontario city

Golfers with sight impairments are competing this week in Hamilton for the Canadian Open Blind Golf Championship. 1:35

Johanna Camarta lines up at the tee at the seventh hole of Hamilton's King's Forest Golf Course and swings.

Her ball launches off her driver as she connects, sailing towards the green. It's an impressive shot for any golfer, but in this case, it's so much more.

Camarta can't see the ball at her feet.

The Alberta native is one of 31 participants in the Canadian Open Blind Golf Championship this week.

"What I really like about it is you can play [golf] with anybody," Camarta said. "The skill level is quite large. It's from great to beginner.

"Blind people, seniors, grandparents can go with grandkids. It's not judged on gender — there are no boundaries."

Boyde Stewart tees off at the Canadian Blind Golf Championship running this week in Hamilton. (Adam Carter/CBC)

There are different sight classifications for competitors: those with no light perception in either eye, with five per cent vision, and with 10 per cent vision.

Camarta has no central vision, due to degeneration and cataracts.

"It started when I was 25 — it hemorrhaeged in the retina, and then it just continually had more hemorrhaeges," she said. "When the ball is at my feet, I can't see the ball or my feet. I try to check out where the ball is in my peripheral vision, and then my coach will bring the club up behind the ball, and when I look down, I don't see anything.

"I see a little bit of a blur. That's why I use yellow balls."

While golf is usually an individual sport, blind competitors require a coach who accompanies players around the course. The coach describes the hole, the approach, and the depth of where the flag is on the green.

Coaches help golfers line up their shots, and describe what they can't see. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Coaches will get down and set the golfer's club behind the ball, and position it properly and explain the hole to the player, so they get a visualization in their mind of what they're about to do.

It's a relationship of trust, Camarta says.

"Your coach really has to know the layout of the course. She has to know distances, what's out there as far as hazards, and also needs to know your game," she said. "Your coach is your eyes, and they're also there for moral support."

Darlene Smith is Camarta's coach and a close friend. She said she's often amazed by just how good golfers in the tournament can be. While watching them make the rounds on the course Monday, it would be easy to mistake them for people with sight.

"If Johanna makes a good shot, I'm her cheerleader," Smith said. "If she makes a bad shot, let it go. It's just one shot Johanna, you can make up for it on the next one, or the next hole. You just always have to be encouraging."

The competition began Monday and is set to wrap up Wednesday.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton, Ont. home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.