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Blindness no obstacle in Ellert’s golf game

Golfing is a tough game, what with the crooked sticks, the small balls, the uneven terrain and the sandtraps, perhaps also with the occasional bird that interferes with your play. Eldon Ellert seems to ignore all of those obstacles. You could say that he's blind to them.

Golfing is a tough game, what with the crooked sticks, the small balls, the uneven terrain and the sandtraps, perhaps also with the occasional bird that interferes with your play.

Eldon Ellert seems to ignore all of those obstacles. Playing golf is one of his life’s greatest joys and he’s practically blind to all of the obstacles that stand in his way of driving one right into the hole.

Maybe that’s a slightly cheeky way of describing things. After all, he is legally blind.

“I can still see the ball on the ground. As I move back, it goes into the blind spot but I know it's still there. After I hit it, I listen for it,” he said, offering a basic demonstration of his skills.

Complications from lifelong diabetes led Ellert to be totally blind in his right eye with his left eye scarred right in the middle by argon laser surgery. This makes reading a real nuisance. He only has a 12-degree side view so he wears heavily tinted glasses and has one of those white probing canes to help him get around.

None of those things take away from his golf game, he says, a sport he has enjoyed since he was eight. The Scottish bug afflicted him early after he received a 9 iron as a gift from a family friend.

“He wanted to get dad into golf. I was able to handle a full-sized golf club. It wasn't really that hard. Dad got right into it after a few years and he started taking me golfing.”

Soon, the young boy had books by Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan on his shelves and had learned Byron Nelson’s key to gripping the club, the trick which helped him beat his dad for the first time.

“From there, it was just non-stop. I was shooting in the 70s. I was playing against guys that were pros.”

He started teaching golf when he was 13, working in the pro shop at the Belvedere Club.

His blindness started in the mid-1980s after he moved to Saskatchewan. He describes it as the day his left eye exploded. Diabetes, he explained, makes your body want to grow new veins to try to supply blood to your extremities.

“These veins tend to blow up in the eye. You get a little blood in the back of the eye and you can’t see anything for a couple of days until your body absorbs it. The surgery in those days was an argon surgery that would seal up the vessels in the back of the eye. At the same time, you lose that section of vision. Nine eye surgeries I’ve had. Cataracts I've also had taken out at the age of 36. (The doctor) said that I was the second youngest person he'd ever done. It’s been quite a sightful thing,” he punned.

A wonderfully playful self-deprecating sense of humour has kept him from any bitterness about the tribulations of his life.

“I try to make everything funny. That's the way I've always been. I find people more amiable if they're laughing than if they're mad. I always try to crack a joke. If anybody asked me if I need help, I say, ‘I’m beyond help.’ ”

As a young man, he seemed ready to follow a career in hockey and had the physique to boot – that is, until an older player on another team checked him hard and broke his back during what was supposed to be a no-contact exhibition game.

He could still golf though, and his family lived on a three-acre piece of land near Sherwood Park, perfect for practicing his long drives on that 100-yard lawn. Maybe hockey helped his long game in golf even on foggy courses. Golfing is 99 per cent psychological, he says: it’s only about connecting a stick to a ball for a billionth of a second or two. Perhaps that's why he calls his golf tutoring service Mind's Eye Golf.

After the blindness took hold, however, he gave up his beloved golf for a spell. It wasn’t until he moved to St. Albert and had an appointment with Dr. Jon Cooper, one of the city’s prominent chiropractors, that the fire was rekindled. Ellert credits the good doctor for sparking that fire, simply by having a club in his office and being receptive to some insightful instruction.

“He had never broken 100 in his life. I said, ‘I'm sure I can show you how to hit the ball. I’ve done it so many times.’ I think the second or third year we golfed together, he shot a 78.”

In a recent Kijiji ad to find new students he can help, Ellert says he regularly shoots 80. By comparison, Calgary's Kiefer Jones reportedly shot rounds of 78 and 79 last year, putting him on track to be the world blind golf champion.

Ellert has no interest in the competitions; it’s been a few years since he signed up for Westlock’s blind golf tournament. He admits he still has his share of messy holes where it takes more than 12 shots to sink the ball but he just loves the game and wants to share that joy. He hopes to spend this upcoming golfing season helping the juniors again back at Sandpiper where the staff have been so good to him.

“That’s what I tell people when they’re learning. One of my rules is the par for when you're learning is the amount of strokes you get to get the ball on the green. If you haven't gotten on the green after four shots, pick your ball up and we'll drop it beside where I am. I don’t want anybody to get frustrated. There's no sense losing hair over something,” he said, lifting his Sandpiper ball cap to reveal a bald pate.

Anyone who’s interested in an eye-opening golf experience can call him up at 780-459-4201.

Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns, and profiles on people.
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