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Golf outing in Flossmoor a lift for blind veterans

MarvHigdNavy veteran from Vietnam ergets ready tee off Idlewild Country Club during golf outing for legally blind veterans.  |

Marvin Higdon, a Navy veteran from the Vietnam era, gets ready to tee off at Idlewild Country Club during a golf outing for legally blind veterans. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 17, 2013 6:58AM



Soldiering on just as they did in military life, nine legally blind U.S. veterans gave it their best shot at Idlewild Country Club in Flossmoor on Friday morning for as many rounds of golf as they cared to play.

The veterans, from all over the Midwest, came from the Hines Hospital Central Blind Rehabilitation Center for one of 14 golf outings planned in the northern Illinois area.

“Idlewild’s a regular (participant of the program),” said Pat Douglass, the Blind Vet Swing Club coordinator. “They’ve been doing it for years. It’s been great.”

For many of the veterans, just seeing the golf ball at their feet was difficult, if not impossible, but the camaraderie they shared with a dozen volunteers and several young caddies and the veterans’ positive attitudes made managing the course an enjoyable experience.

“I just love it. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” Vietnam War veteran Marvin Higdon said.

Higdon, 62, who served in the Navy, said his macular degeneration may have begun because of chemicals he was exposed to during the Vietnam War. He said his condition cannot be corrected but his time at the blind center has made a difference in his quality of life.

“I live in a rural area (Peru, Ind.) and I couldn’t do this, and I couldn’t do that,” Higdon said. “They brought me up here and they taught me to do everything.”

That includes resuming his beloved golf game. Higdon said he began caddying at age 8 and always loved golf. He loves nothing better now than to get on the course with the vets and volunteers.

”I have no depth perception, but if somebody tells me the distance, I can (get the ball there),” Higdon said.

Pat McLaughlin, of Palos Park, who acted as Higdon’s volunteer partner, said he decided to volunteer when he saw a flyer at Idlewild looking for members to help.

“It didn’t make a difference what I was going to do as long as I was helping the veterans,” McLaughlin said. “I certainly appreciate everything they did.”

Douglass instructed about a dozen volunteers prior to the vets’ morning arrival, outlining a special set of rules designed to enhance the golfers’ experiences.

Douglass told the volunteers to tee up each shot on the fairway after the vet took a practice swing. Once the golfer reached the green, she said they could “pace it off to the hole” and someone should rattle the flag to guide the golfer via sound.

Douglass wasn’t surprised that the expected group of 16 turned out to be a smaller group of nine veterans, saying that many times older veterans aren’t feeling well enough to attend events they signed up for days ahead of time.

Those who arrived were excited just to be there.

Some had no expectations at all. Cyril George, 85, of Sioux Falls, S.D., said his only plan for the day was “to have a good time.”

George, who said he “never golfed — first time,” suffers from a genetic eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, and has only partial sight.

George and Harold Rees, 81, a Korean War veteran from Des Moines, Iowa, hoped to use the golfing lessons given at the blind center to at least hit the ball, they said.

“This is my first time,” Rees said. “I’ve never golfed. I’m going to do my best.”

Scores weren’t kept, so the outing resulted in nothing but winners on the course. All things considered, Douglass said, there’s nothing like a day of golf to make everything the veterans are taught at Hines come together.

“One of the instructors said the outings are probably as important as one day at the center,” she said.



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