White string tied to No. 2 pencils divided the usually tidy Augusta Country Club putting green into a maze last week, creating makeshift guides so Matthew McCue could practice his short game.
Matthew — a grinning, camera-shy 12-year-old from Hutchinson — wrinkled his nose to adjust his glasses. He swept his club along the string, hoping to tap his ball just enough to reach the cup.
"I always wanted to play golf, so I just went for it," he said. "It's been a good experience for me."
And it's easier to play than baseball and basketball, Matthew explained, because he's nearly blind.
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Thanks to certified golf instructor Len Hudson and a host of high school volunteers, Matthew and other visually impaired children received one-on-one mentoring in basic golf skills at Augusta Country Club last week. It was the second of three youth golf clinics offered this summer by Envision, a Wichita nonprofit providing services to blind and low-vision people.
"It's been tremendous for them to... participate in things that other kids, sighted kids, have an opportunity to," said Envision rehabilitation services vice president David Gear.
"They're building self-esteem and their self-perception."
Janet McCue said it's a blessing for her son to play sports again after one of the cancer drugs Matthew took to treat leukemia caused a stroke, blinding her son in both eyes at age 5. After four ocular surgeries, Matthew finally has partial vision in one eye.
The pair drove from Hutchinson so Matthew could play blind golf under the watchful attention of Envision and its volunteers.
"They've been so patient and awesome," Janet McCue said. "They've given him a lot more opportunities than he would have had otherwise."
The program is the brainchild of Wichitan Manuela Nivia, 16, a varsity golfer at Kapaun Mount Carmel High School and an Envision volunteer.
When Envision program director Bonnie Cochran told Nivia the kids wanted to play golf, the teen said she paired her skills in the sport with the motto of her parents, Ed and Victoria Nivia: "If you want to be happy in life, you have to go out and serve others."
Then she drew up a plan.
With the help of the United States Blind Golf Association, Nivia learned the rules for playing blind golf. The game differs from traditional golf in two ways, she said: players can ground their clubs in hazards like sand traps, and they can have what Nivia called sighted coaches to describe the course.
"This program, I can honestly say, is whole-heartedly due to the efforts of Manuela," Cochran said. "She has so much passion for what she does."
During the workshops, Nivia is one of 17 volunteers — mostly high school golfers from Kapaun, Bishop Carroll Catholic High School and Trinity Academy — who lend their eyes to kids as sighted coaches.
"All the kids are so grateful. It's so amazing just seeing how much they enjoy the program," Nivia said. "They are so awesome and so happy. Their enthusiasm is so contagious."
"You go in thinking you are going to be teaching them and helping them, but they end up teaching you."
The Envision Youth Golf Program wraps up with a tournament at 5 p.m. Friday, where the kids will play three holes from 100 yards in.
For more information, call 316-440-1500 or visit www.envisionus.com.