For nearly a decade, Rick Conder has been a volunteer coach for blind golfers.
The program, started by the Waxhaw Lions Club, is now run by the Hickory Grove Lions Club. It has eight participants and eight coaches, but has had up to 14 participants.
Four of the program's Charlotte golfers will participate in the sixth annual Russell B. Knox Memorial Golf Tournament on April 26 at River Run Country Club in Davidson.
The event is a major fundraiser for Lions Clubs in Davidson, Cornelius, Huntersville and North Mecklenburg. Proceeds will benefit programs, such as Camp Dogwood and Lion Services Inc.
Knox, a longtime Davidson Lions Club member, was an influential figure in Davidson history who helped ensure the preservation of some its historic buildings. He also served the town for 20 years, as its mayor and as a town board commissioner.
Conder's father, Don, is legally blind. He also is a retired piano technician, a trade he taught his son.
His mother, Mabel, has been a longtime philanthropist and advocate for the visually impaired. She is blind.
In the late 1960s, she served on the advisory board and provided input on how to develop Camp Dogwood, a 42-acre recreational facility on Lake Norman that serves blind and visually impaired people of North Carolina.
Run by the North Carolina Lions Foundation, Camp Dogwood has been in operation since 1967 and each summer provides a vacation retreat to 850 blind and visually impaired campers, most of whom are adults with an average age of 59, according to its Web site.
"That's what got me into the philanthropy of working with the blind," said Conder, 48, who was born and raised in Charlotte. He has worked with the Lions Club since he was kid but has been a member of the club for about 25 Years.
"It's all about pushing the people to surpass what they think is possible," he said. "Blind people are always told what they can't do, so they tend to lose a lot of confidence. But when you get them to do something they thought they couldn't do, it makes a wide-sweeping effect throughout their lives."
The four legally blind golfers expected to play in the tournament are David Bennett, 48, Marlon Stover, 38, Robert Fairfax, 47, and Ricky Beaufort, 50. Each has golfed for at least four years. Beaufort has golfed for 10 years and this will be Bennett's eighth year playing golf with Conder as his coach.
"People are usually amazed that I can play golf," Bennett said. "I've been losing my vision for 13 years. I can still see large print and I'm not good with colors, but I am legally blind. I've played with people who are totally blind, and it amazes me too."
These men also help manufacture products (chin straps, seat cushions, military workout gear) for the U.S. Department of Defense while working at Lions Services Inc., a Charlotte nonprofit that has provided employment opportunities for blind and visually impaired people since 1935.
"What inspires me most is working around people who are blind," Bennett said. "I have a great support community."
While Conder enjoys the satisfaction of helping others, he also appreciates a great long drive down the fairway.
"A lot of shots my blind golfers hit exceed what I can do," Conder said.
"Being a part of their 250- to 300-yard drive can be an amazing thing to watch."