Lake Norman & Mooresville

Blind golfers aided by Lions Club, First Tee

They stood on the grass. Then they bent down and patted the grass.

It was soft in spots and spiked in others, but alive.

Mike Abate, director of golf for First Tee, wanted to remind them that the golf course grass is delicate and needs to be stepped on carefully.

Then they gently swung buckets of water from side to side to simulate the motion of putting.

The 27 blind or visually impaired campers from Camp Dogwood in Sherrills Ford stood in the blazing sun in early July, aiming and swinging at the tiny, elusive ball.

"I can break a window with a golf ball," said Dyan O'Campo, 11. His laughter and golf swing were guided by Lions Club volunteer Bill Dunn.

The North Carolina Lions own, fund and maintain Camp Dogwood on Lake Norman. Summer programs - swimming, fishing, crafts and off-campus trips - include the First Tee Program at the Mooresville Golf Course.

First Tee provides golf skills to people of all ages and abilities. Mooresville Golf Course PGA pro Charlie Roberts says it's a perfect partnership that can teach anybody, "disability, non-disability. ... It's open to anybody to expose the game of golf."

"I like that we get to keep our club," said camper Avery Boyer, 9.

"I like that we get to play and that I get to guide my friend," said camper Starr Watson, 8.

Camper Kimmie Richter, 11, said, "It's fun. Everything is fun. I like trying to hit the ball and hitting it hard."

"Visually impaired people can do just as much as a sighted person," said counselor Shawnna Maxwell, 21, while giving her seeing-eye dog, Bri, a sip of water.

Counselor Jennifer Bachman said she couldn't wait to work at the camp.

"I love it. It's the best job ever. A lot of the adult campers have great stories and we've all learned a lot about ourselves and other people," said Bachman. "They've taught me to not take what I can see for granted."

"I knew I wanted to be a counselor since I was 10," said Travis Sherrill, 21, a student at Gardner-Webb University who attended for 11 years as a camper and is now in his third season as a counselor.

"Just being able to meet a lot of people who are visually impaired like me is important. They're capable of doing anything they put their minds to, but they have to be given a chance," said Sherrill.

"If you have aspirations of doing something, you have to be a go-getter."