Point and Shoot Game


JUNE 14, 2005
by Rachel George, News Sports Reporter
Buffalo News

Wende Columbo

Wende Columbo's friends will say she's good. They'll tell you she's better than them. But Rose Marie Schuler and Marcia Osuch also have to tell her where the pin is, where her ball landed and what hazards lie in the way of her drives. That's because Columbo, an avid golfer, is legally blind.

"I can see to hit the ball, but they just have to tell me where it goes," she said. "I can't follow it at all . . . I can't play by myself. I would never know where the ball was.

"I have a lot of friends here (at Tan Tara Golf Club) and we all play together all the time. Now they just have to watch my ball."

Columbo suddenly became legally blind last June when a genetic disease damaged her eyesight, which is now 20/200. A town of Niagara resident, she has found extra challenges in continuing to play. At Tan Tara in North Tonawanda, where she has been a member since 1988, Columbo has had to learn to play with the help of others.

Twice they've had to tell Columbo that she'd hit a hole-in-one, on May 14 and in September. Both times she did it on the 82-yard ninth hole at Tan Tara.

The first time neither she nor her friend, Carole St. George, knew where the ball went.

"We had no idea where the ball was (on that first one). We were walking all over the place looking for the ball and it was in the hole," she said. "(The second time) I wasn't sure (Osuch) was serious when she said "hole-in-one' because she's kind of a little prankster.

"The holes-in-one, they were a shot in the dark. I don't know how I did it."
While she said both were a stroke of luck, how she did it likely comes from her familiarity with the game. Columbo has been playing since her father taught her when she was 15. Now, at 52, she's been around the links for a while.

Her two holes-in-one match the total she had at Tan Tara before her eyesight deteriorated. Her handicap of 14 at the course is only two strokes more than what it was before last June. It has not been adjusted recently, and Columbo expects her handicup to go up to around 20.

The genetic disease that has changed her life has changed her golf game. The cause of her blindness, pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE), makes her central vision blurry. Because of it, Columbo can't see in front of her or far away with any clarity. PXE, however, does not affect peripheral vision, something Columbo says is still very clear for her.

"It's like looking through a fish bowl. Things are blurry and you can't see fine details because it affects your central vision," she said. "If I had had my eyes examined they probably would have caught it, but my eyes were fine until all of a sudden I was driving one day and I realized I couldn't tell what color the traffic light was until I got right (up to it)."

Columbo had to stop driving right away. In late May she was fitted with a pair of telescopic glasses that she hopes will have her driving again in less than a month. Needing other people to drive her around has been the biggest adjustment in her life. While her condition most commonly causes bleeding in the eyes, it can cause bleeding in the heart, stomach and legs, so Columbo regularly sees other doctors.

On the course, Columbo said PXE has changed her short game. It affects her depth perception and judgment of how a ball will break and at what speed, making putting a challenge.

"I take a lot more putts than I used to. I shoot about eight or 10 strokes more than I did a couple of years ago," Columbo said. "Occasionally I can get a good game in there if I can do better putting. . . . Putting and chipping (are) the hardest things."

With a love of the game that spans four decades, Columbo said legal blindness won't make her give up golf. And while she decided not to play in leagues, she still tries to golf every day the weather permits. She wants to get in at least 100 rounds in each year.

"My philosophy is (that) I can't do anything about it so I just have to go with it," Columbo said. "I'm getting used to it now. I don't know what it would be like to see clearly.

"There's no way I'm stopping. It's been too long I've played. I'm hooked on it."