An inspiring story from England and Wales Blind Golf about Mandi Large who won't let her genetic eye disease hold her back on the golf course

Words by Steve Killick on behalf of England and Wales Blind Golf

Having played women’s cricket for England, won two world championships at tennis and finished runner-up in the first mixed golf tournament she played in it would be a fair summation to say that this woman has a keen eye for a ball. And even more remarkable when she has less than five per cent vision.

Her name is Amanda Large, better known as Mandi, who plays her golf at Bramall Park Golf Club just outside Stockport in Greater Manchester and spent three years studying at the University of St Andrews without ever thinking about picking up a golf club.

“My uncle and stepfather were very keen golfers and I had a boyfriend who played,” she recalls, “but for me sport was all about hockey and lacrosse. When I look back I wish I had played golf because you could play the Old Course for an amazingly cheap price.”

Mandi studied medicine which required three years study in St Andrews and a further three in Manchester. She duly qualified, got married to John, an anaesthetist and had three children, Jack, Sam and Emily and what little time there was for sport amidst work and the family largely comprised of tennis.

Retinitis Pigmentosa

She was just 50 when her sight started to deteriorate with Retinitis Pigmentosa, for which there is currently no known cure, and that she had inherited from her mother and father who were both carriers. Her sister contracted it too.

Having taken early retirement from medicine and suffering an increasing loss of vision, she was determined to keep active. She continued with tennis and was talented enough to be chosen to represent the visually impaired (VI) Great Britain women’s tennis team and for good measure, and thoroughly enjoying hitting a moving ball hard, was good enough to be selected for Lancashire Lions as well as the England and Wales VI women’s cricket team, both of which she has subsequently represented as treasurer and welfare officer.

To improve on that in 2018 and 2019 she won and retained not only the VI national women’s tennis championship but also the VI world title in the B2 sight category for women with under five per cent vision but are not totally blind. Then Covid came along.

Finding golf

“Everything just stopped,” she says, “and I spent a lot of time wondering what on earth I could do without being able to play any sport. It was my best friend of over 20 years, Jane, who had the idea of taking up golf when isolation regulations started to relax. So we went along to Bramall Park Golf Club and had a go.”

The golf club has been, “Just brilliant, with so many people willing to guide and help, even the club president.”

With lessons from the club’s former PGA touring professional, Oliver Whiteley, Mandi soon realised that her left handed back hand shot in tennis was almost identical to the full swing of a right handed golfer.

“I have lessons pretty much once a week and given how tactile it needs to be to coach someone who can’t see Oliver is regularly asking permission to put his hands on me to show me what he wants me to do.”

Her handicap came quickly down through the 30s and she now plays of 28.2 despite having ‘a nightmare’ in her most recent club medal competition.

England and Wales Blind Golf

It was at Trafford Park Golf Centre in Manchester that she first encountered England and Wales Blind Golf (EWBG) charity that was running a ‘have a go’ day to attract not only more visually impaired golfers and those wanting to learn but also guides for competitions without whom there would be no blind golf.

Suffice to say Mandi beat off all opponents to win the longest drive contest held on the day although she remains guarded over quite how pleased she was with her prize, a fluffy, toy dinosaur.

EWBG holds regular competitions around the country and it was at Kilworth Springs Golf Club in Leicestershire that Mandi first competed against members of the charity. Despite being one of only two women golfers she duly put all but one of the men to shame with her 37 points to finish runner up and picking up a cup rather than a cuddly toy.

More recently, at the Vale Golf and Country Club in Worcestershire, she went one better and topped the leaderboard, guided by her husband John, with a Stableford score of 42 points (top picture).

“The only disappointment,” she says, “is that there are not more visually impaired women who are involved. The response I have had at Bramall Park and with EWBG has been terrific. There must be some more women out there who want to have a go.”

Find out more about England and Wales Blind Golf by visiting their website here.