Chasing birdies through blindness

BY CAROL STENDER


Curt Jones of Battle Lake golfs and plays darts. He was a drummer in a rock and roll band, and is even a deer hunter. And he has done it all without one of the most important senses -- his sight.


Jones became blind at age three due to cancer (retina blastoma), but it hasn’t hindered his life experiences.

Curt Jones (right) is a blind golfer who discovered the sport later in life, but he loves it and participates in several blind golf tournaments during the year. He spearheaded a blind golf tournament at Pebble Lake Golf Course in Fergus Falls. Helping him with the putt is Kevin Swenson, the Pebble Lake Golf Course pro. Contributed photo

“Sometimes your family members are your worst enemy because they want to shelter you,” he said. “But my parents didn’t say, ‘You can’t do that.’ I didn’t ever really hear that from them.”


He grew up in Randall, located near Little Falls, where his father was a concrete finisher and built swimming pools. His mother worked in a hospital. He grew up with two older brothers and a younger sister.


His school years, from grades 1 through 8, were spent at a school for the blind in St. Cloud where he learned braille. He lived in St Cloud during the week with a host family, and went to Randall on the weekends, he said. During his eight years at the school, he stayed with three different families.


He completed his high school freshman year at Randall, and grades 10 through 12 at Little Falls.


“I was just a regular high school kid who probably got by doing as little as possible,” he said with a smile. “I had a lot of fun.”


He earned a Mass Communications degree from St. Cloud State University and, during his freshman year, met his wife, Tisa.


His employment search brought him to the Business Enterprise Program. The Federal program is for businesses owned by minorities, women, and persons with disabilities. He completed a BEP training which led to a 35-year career managing the maintenance on more than 100 vending machines located on state properties. He also worked with two to three employees, he said.


“I liked working with machines,” Jones added. “I always enjoyed messing with tools. I know which end of the screwdriver to use. Jones and his wife, Tisa, lived in the St. Paul area where, in his “off” hours he kept active with a number of hobbies.


Ever since he was 14 or 15, he played drums ,which led him to play with a few rock bands.


And, with adaptive equipment, he enjoyed several sports including baseball, darts, and deer hunting. To hunt, a cell phone was placed on a rifle, he said. Someone looked over his shoulder and told him which way to move, either to the left or right, and the second they said shoot, he’d shoot.


“Every year I went, I shot a deer,” he said.


But he never tried golf in his early years because of cost. Once he played it though, he wished he had started sooner, he said.


The year 2017 was monumental for Jones. It was the year he retired from his job, and when he and Tisa moved to their year-round lake home on South Turtle Lake near Battle Lake. And it’s the year he started golfing.


“A friend from high school came to the lake one day and we didn’t have much to do so he said, ‘Let’s go to the golf course,’” he said. “I had never really done that before.”


But he liked the experience so much, the couple went online searching for blind golfing. They found a tournament, paid the registration, but he also needed to have his eyes tested to determine which of three categories he would play in - B1, B2 or B3.


He learned each golfer must have a coach. His coach is Perry Nouris who lives in the Twin Cities.


In blind golf, the coach will tee up the ball and make sure the golfer is aiming down the course. He will give the golfer one of about 10 clubs from the golf bag.

“The coach will step back and say, ‘Hit,’” Jones said. “Sometimes you hit and sometimes you miss.”


With Jones’ newfound skills, he went to a tournament in Arizona in 2018, and to another in Las Vegas.


Then COVID hit.


“I got the idea back in Las Vegas that I wanted to be on the board of directors of the United States Blind Golf Association,” he said. “I got on the board. Then I got the idea that, because we had such a good time in Arizona, it would be fun to have a golf tournament around here.”

Curt Jones (left) is standing with Kevin Swenson, the Pebble Lake Golf Course pro and, Perry Nouis, who is Curt’s coach at the tournaments. Photo by Carol Stender

He contacted Kevin Swenson, the Pebble Lake Golf Course golf pro in Fergus Falls about such an event. Swenson did his homework and the course held its first blind golf tournament in 2021.


“The community was very responsive,” he said of working with the event. “You can’t do something like this without volunteers.”


The Fergus Falls High School golf team and businesses and individuals from the area took part.


“It was awesome,” he said.


It was so good, they plan to do it again this year. The tournament takes place July 17-19 at the Pebble Lake Golf Course.


The couple has two children -- Daniel lives in Benson, and Alissa, who lives in Red Lake Falls. Their son has taken up golf, and a grandson now enjoys the sport as well.


“I always kick myself for not starting 20 years ago,” he said. “But it wasn’t the right time. Golf was expensive back then, and I was doing other sports.”


The couple hopes that, through Jones’ experiences, others facing challenges may be inspired and come together. He has shown by example that anything is possible, if you give it a try.


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