Carlos Ramirez cracked jokes with just about everyone in his group walking the Cherokee Ridge golf course. He then lined up and, after a few duffs, hit his tee shot right down the fairway.
The time out on the course couldn’t have been more typical for Ramirez and his fellow students from the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. Not being able to see the ball or where he hit it doesn’t stop Ramirez from enjoying himself.
“It has been a good experience,” Ramirez said. “A lot of people think totally blind people can’t get out on the golf course and play golf. I learned how to play mini-golf when I was a little kid, and I wanted to learn how to play real golf. I got interested and I signed up for it.”
The annual program, which goes for eight weeks, has operated since 1997 and was mostly funded through the U.S. Golf Association’s fellowship program. The USGA is closing its fellowship program in the Springs but Pikes Peak Golf Links hopes to keep the junior golf program, of which the deaf and the blind students are a small part, running.
Pikes Peak Golf Links has operated independently since October 2008, when it was provided its own nonprofit tax exemption. Carl Donner, president of the board for Pikes Peak Golf Links, said a USGA grant has been awarded, with the golf organization matching funds up to $20,000. The Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind program has a small budget, usually between $3,000 and $3,500. The Monument Hill Sertoma Club helps with a $1,000 annual donation to the deaf and the blind students, and that program should continue into the future.
The value of the program for students from the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind is evident in not only the kids, but the volunteers that help them. Ramirez will get help lining up his feet by putting his toes on his cane, and then a volunteer gets his club aligned with the ball before he swings.
A lot of work and time goes into every good shot. The 15 or so volunteers from Monument Hill Sertoma Club get as much out of it as the kids, it seems. Many of them are retirees who love working with the students.
“These kids can’t hit it well now, but when you correct it into a proper golf swing, when they make contact … ,” said Bob Tuggle, who has headed the program since its inception, his voice trailing off and cracking as he choked up. “It’s just amazing to see what it does to them.”
The volunteers’ work allows the students to have fun in an active, social setting. And, they enjoy the challenge.
”One of the teachers told me I’d be able to learn a lot about hitting it straight and to the hole and different things,” Fernanda Zepeda, a freshman, said through a sign-language interpreter. “That encouraged me to try and play golf.”
When Yesica Guzman-Diaz joined the program four years ago, she was curious about different shots but admits she was awkward. Now, Tuggle proudly and loudly proclaims her the best golfer in the program.
“I feel like I get a little better each time,” Guzman-Diaz said through a sign-language interpreter. “Sometimes I make some mistakes, but I practice, and I get much better as time goes on.”