Raeann Shields her blindness from no-one

Bubba Watson uses a pink driver and a coloured golf ball because he is paid big bucks to promote the products.

Raeann Shields also has a hot pink driver and bright yellow hybrid clubs, but the distinct colours enable her to visually contrast between the club and the grass because she has an issue with depth perception.

A member of The Brisbane Golf Club since 2012, Raeann is legally blind. She has ocular dystrophy, which is a form of macular degeneration.

That means Raeann can’t read a book, drive a car or watch television. But she can play golf, even though she loses sight of the ball from the instant she hits it.

Recently, in her first crack at the Queensland Blind and Vision Impaired Golf Open, Raeann won her B2 Division and was overall runner-up in the championship. Over the two days of the event she amassed 73 stableford points, with her score of 43 on day one topping the leaderboard.

“It wasn’t a big field – only 20 players from five states competed,” she said.

“And like we did in State of Origin, Queensland performed very well. Four of us played in the championships at Virginia Golf Club and we filled four of the top five places.”

For Raeann, who has had to retire from her career as a paediatric physiotherapist because of her eyesight, says golf has been her lifeline. And she is in total awe of the staff and members and BGC for their support and assistance.

“The golf club has become my sanctuary,” she said.

“Everyone there has been incredibly supportive in many ways, and have helped me keep my sanity. Being out there, feeling so secure, has been a lifeline to me.”

She gave particular thanks and compliment to fellow member Julie Anning, who was her caddy in the state championships. She fittingly described Julie as her ‘beautiful eyes’.

Raeann plays off a handicap of 27 despite never having picked up a golf club until five years ago and endeavours to play in the women’s competitions at BGC every Tuesday and Thursday. But, because she does not have a caddy, can only do so with the assistance of her playing partners.

“Once I hit the ball I can’t see it, so I have no idea where it goes,” she said.

“I have to rely on my playing partners to see it, find it and then give me some idea of the target for my next shot. I am constantly depending on them for help, and I know it must be an imposition. But no-one has ever told me that, or complained.”

The touch parts of the game – chipping and putting – are the toughest to conquer according to Raeann, who says her long game is her strength.

“When I’m playing well I usually find the fairway, but once on the green the game gets much tougher,” she said.

“That is where I need the most help. I usually carefully pace to and from the pin, which I’m sure must annoy the other players.”

While her praise for all associated with her golf club is effusive, she saves the most for Director of Golf, Joe Janison.

“Joe has been a wonderful help and, thankfully, he doesn’t see my vision as a handicap,” she said.

“It was Joe who suggested I cover my driver and my hybrids with bright colours, for contrast between the head of the club and the colour of the grass. He likes my swing and is always complimentary and encouraging about my game in general.

“And even though I have been playing for five years, I still regularly attend his clinics.”

Raeann’s best result at Brisbane came in June this year when she won the C Grade monthly medal with nett score of 73. And although she has played a number of competitions with her husband Tony, a fellow member who plays off 18, she says they have never had success as a team.

But that, she hopes, will change. She is starting to know the course ‘quite well’ and, because she always walks the course, is becoming aware of the overall landscape – the hills, the valleys and the trees.

Diagnosed with her sight issue when she was 45, Raeann is now 57 and says golf has helped change her life. And she wants others who are sight-impaired to know they can also play and enjoy the game.

“It’s healthy, it’s uplifting, it’s friendly and it’s fun,” she said. – TONY DURKIN