“It’s a big deal – a really big deal,” says Darren Douma, who has taken on the role of Tournament Chairman for the 2017 ISPS HANDA Vision Cup, a prestigious world visually impaired golf event. A visually impaired golfer himself, Douma discusses the upcoming event and what it will mean to the town of Creston when the Creston Golf Club hosts the event next July.
The event brings the best visually impaired golfers from all over the world to play on one of two teams. Team North America will take on Team Rest of World. “They’ll be Canadians, and Americans from cities like New Jersey and San Diego on my team. Players from England, Scotland, Italy, Israel, South Africa, Japan and Korea will arrive to take us on,” says Douma. “Team North America hasn’t actually won the cup yet, but I’m hoping next year we will.”
This is the third season of the Vision Cup. Both United States and Italy have played host, and now it is Creston’s turn to represent Canada. “It’s exciting, but right now it’s a lot of work,” says Douma with a smile. “I’m trying to conform sponsors, book hotels and organize meals. Trying to get all the golfers and their aids and their families to arrive in Cranbrook so we can shuttle them to Creston around the same time is a real challenge.”
Douma has got an ever-growing to-do list to get through, and soon he hopes to solidify sponsorship and fundraise to help cover costs. “Nine months seems like a long time, but there’s a lot to get done.” But Douma is not working alone. Nine months before the event, Douma has received an overwhelming number of offers to help. “I am so thankful for Virginia Harder who is so good with all the details, and the Creston Golf Club members are fighting for volunteer positions. It’s a good problem to have.”
The Creston Golf Course hosted the ISPS HANDA Canadian Blind Golf Championship last year to enormous success. “So many golfers told me our course is a world class course. It’s a tough course, but friendly for those with limited sight or no sight. The fairways are wider and the roughs aren’t severe,” says Douma. Then he laughs again. “But our greens are tough. There are a lot of subtle breaks that make them a real challenge.”
Each participating golfer is classified as a B1, B2 or B3. B1 has no light perception; B2 golfers have about 5% vision, and B3 golfers have about 10% vision. “We usually create teams based on their classification, but also according to their handicap. We’re also trying to encourage more women to compete in the event. Only 12.5% of registered golfers are women and I’d like to see that number increase.”
Douma is eager to share the Creston Golf Club and the town itself with the international athletes. “It’s like a big family. Some of them I only get to see once a year, and we get along so well. It really is a tight community. And I can’t wait to share our course and our town with them.”
If there are no major issues, Thursday will be a practice round for players, and serve as an icebreaker. “Groups get to bond, and the golfers get to meet the Golf Club members and sponsors,” says Douma. “They’ll get a bit of time to settle in and walk around the community. They’ll be staying in hotels within town so they can shop and meet people. Many players have never seen this corner of the world. We could have as many as a hundred people coming in. It’s going to be great.”