Creston golfer raising funds to compete in world and Australian blind championships

Web Lead

  • Mar. 31, 2014 7:00 p.m.
Darren Douma putting at the Creston Golf Club.

Darren Douma putting at the Creston Golf Club.

Darren Douma is preparing to travel to Australia in May, for a trip almost exclusively focused on golf. But it isn’t a vacation — he’s competing in the World Blind Golf Championships and the Australian Blind Golf Open, which run May 9-18.

“It’s an opportunity to compete on an international stage while representing my community, my province and my country,” he said. “The outcome, and my personal goal, is to inspire all ages of individuals who cope with vision loss to take up the game of golf.”

Douma is one of six Canadians selected to compete in the world championships, having placed first in his sight category in the Western Canadian Blind Golf Association tournament and second in the Canadian Blind Golf Open Championship last year.

To help him reach his goal of playing in Australia, he’s hosting a fundraising dinner and dance on April 25, with dinner catered by the Heights and music by DJ Vern Gorham. (Tickets are $25, available at Creative Fix or Paul’s Superette.)

In 2005, the 42-year-old was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, an incurable and rare genetic juvenile form of macular degeneration, affecting central fine vision.

“I probably had it my entire life,” he said. “I struggled in school seeing the chalkboard.”

The effects of the disease led to him having to give up his job as a Frito-Lay driver in 2008, as well as a period of depression. As for golf, which had been a hobby since he was 10, finding his ball became frustrating, he felt he was negatively impacting his playing partners’ games, and his handicap continued to climb.

“Simply put, I had lost all confidence,” said Douma, a former manager of the Creston Golf Club. “After completing the 2009 golf season, I decided I no longer wanted to golf.”

But the following spring, while tuned in and watching his favourite player, American professional Phil Mickelson — like Douma, a left-handed player nicknamed Lefty — Douma was inspired to continue. One of Mickelson’s tee shots landed on a bed of pine straw in the tree, but he made the decision to go for the green, landing the ball within a few feet of the hole, ultimately winning the 2010 Masters Tournament.

“If I hadn’t witnessed the shot, I probably wouldn’t be golfing to this day,” said Douma. “As a daily reminder, I have a picture of this shot hanging on my wall to remind me that no matter what obstacles you’re facing in golf or life, you have to have the confidence to go for it.”

Douma wants to do more than simply compete, though. He recently became the golf commissioner for BC Blind Sports and Recreation Association, with the goal of promoting golf to the visually impaired and blind. Through his efforts, the Creston Golf Club will host the Canadian Blind Open in July 2015, and when he attends the blind open tournament in Nova Scotia in August, he hopes to join Blind Golf Canada’s board of directors.

With about five international blind golfers in B.C., and under 45 in Canada, he wants to get more golfers involved, particularly young people.

“Golf’s a great outlet and something you can do your entire life,” Douma said. “I hope to inspire others who are at this stage of eye disease to face their obstacles.”

He still has light perception, but he has seen completely blind golfers play, including one who was missing an arm.

“Anybody out there can do it if they put their mind to it,” he said.

He wants to go a step beyond golf, though, and has committed to furthering vision advocacy in the community and the province. Through his website, Visually Impaired Blind Empowerment (www.vibebc.com), visitors can find his story, links to useful information and learn about the low-vision aids that assist him daily.

He has also joined the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), which advocates for the blind and visually impaired, and is hoping to start a chapter in Creston.

Through CCB, Douma hopes to bring to B.C. the Health and Vision Vans that the organization operates in Ontario. The vans, originally organized in the U.S. by Lions Clubs International, offer vision tests and pre-assessment screening for diabetes in schools and seniors homes. The results of these tests indicated that 80 per cent of seniors need eye treatment or correction.

“Vision affects all ages, genders and ethnicities,” said Douma. “Therefore, there is even more importance to support and have these vans in our communities and our province.”

Douma is thankful for the encouragement of other local golfers, who help with lining him up shots and spotting the ball, and grateful to have the opportunity to keep playing the sport he loves — and he looks forward to helping others meet that challenge.

“The message is simple: It doesn’t matter what disabilities you are facing in your life,” he said. “If you put your heart and mind into what you are trying to accomplish, then you can do anything. Believe and achieve!