21 October 2021: The darkest hour precedes the brightness of dawn. As clear skies enveloped the lush green course at the iconic KGA, Thursday was an autumn day with an unusually dark hue. The voice of a lone coach pierced through the calm.
The symphony of golf notes were a musical aberration, a soothing distraction from the daily cacophony of urban existence. Nikki Ponappa’s suggestions had sails, making their way to eager ears through the still air. Stand like a soldier, keep your feet pointing forward, at a shoulder’s width. Let the head tilt forward, feel the weight of the club in your hands.
In life and in golf, never hold anything too tight. Imagine that the club in your hands is a bird, hold her just enough, without squeezing the life out of her. Ponappa’s assertive notes were a drizzle of inspiration, soaking her soulful students. And suddenly the autumn darkness did not seem relevant.
One by one, they stood tall on a little green patch under their sturdy feet. As they lifted their elbows straight to gain a measure of the club, an inescapable joy spilled from the corners of their jubilant faces. Leaning gently forward, they loaded the club with an extension of their arms, before bringing it back in a steady arc. As the metal in their hands knocked the dimpled sphere at their feet, their joy turned into satisfaction. The darkness, it appeared, did not really matter.
On a bright and shiny October day in Bengaluru, EnAble India broke the monotony of an urban morning with a brave new effort to introduce golf to about three dozen visually impaired young adults from all parts of the city. Supported by Brookfield Properties and LSEG, the NGO made a memorable effort to lay some more bricks in the effort to empower persons with disabilities, hosting the Purple Cup.
“It is an extension of our work for an inclusive society. We believe that golf can help the disabled discover their deeper reserves,” said Shanti, who is the co-founder of EnAble India with her husband Dipesh. Their membership at the KGA and the generous purse strings of their benefactors helped produce an eventful morning introducing the idea of golf to an eager collection of boys, girls, men and women. “We have been working for many years helping the disabled gain employability and inclusive acknowledgment at the workspace. And giving these young people access to golf helps us take that work forward.”
Dipesh believes in the power of partnerships and collaboration. “We cannot be alone in this endeavour. The event today is a beginning, hopefully drawing attention to the possibilities by affording these young people an opportunity to discover themselves,” said an optimistic Dipesh. “We hope that many others pick the strands from today and complement these efforts by creating a platform for blind golf and golfers with visual impairment.”
The event was supported by the generous presence of Shubhankar Sharma and Khalin Joshi. Sharma produced an inspired run on the European Tour, including a brilliant T9 in the BMW PGA Championship. Joshi is rediscovering his best, marching to victory in the Jaipur Open with an emphatic performance. The two golfers were at the KGA to celebrate the launch of the Purple Cup and the blind golf initiative, taking the opening tee shots early in the morning.
Colonel Mohan Sharma was at hand too. He has been vocal in his support for sport as an emancipating agent for the lesser privileged. “The stick in your hand can transform your lives,” he urged the young golfers with varying degrees of visual impairment. “Believe in it and work with it, and the club can change your lives for the better. I stand before you as a soldier, committed to help you realise your dreams.”
The International Blind Golf Association notes that even though events for blind golfers date back to the 1950s, the association was formally founded only in 1998. While blind golf is played to the Rules of Golf, modifications allow for the clubs to be landed in a hazard and permit the coach to stand on the line of the stroke without incurring penalties. The IBGA also has a recognised handicap system, that can be used for the three categories under which competition golf is conducted. B1, B2 and B3 represent varying degrees of sight or lack of it.
“Relax, and keep your grip gentle,” exhorted Ponappa. “Feel the club and ball, without seeking to crush them in your palms. As in life, in golf too, the more you seek to control, the more of it you lose.” Her sagely suggestions resonated with the eager audience, new students for an age old sport that teaches just as much skill as it does perspective.