Nelson blind bowler Gordon Oldfield with director Roydon James. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Bowling over blind obstacles


Nelson blind bowler Gordon Oldfield may have lost his vision, but his competitive spirit is still clear to see.

Gordon was one of dozens of visually-impaired players taking part in a blind bowls ‘have a go day’ at the Tahunanui Bowls Club on Saturday.

Gordon was on hand to give a demonstration as an experienced blind bowler at a national level.

“We play with a director who does what our eyes can’t, and we do the rest.”

Blind bowls is the most widely played sport among visually impaired people, with about 5000 players internationally.

Gordon has presumed ocular histoplasmosis syndrome, a degenerative retina condition, which began to take hold in his late thirties.

A naturally competitive person, despite losing his vision his desire to play sport was still strong.

“It’s difficult to find something where you can be competitive against not only other blind players but also sighted players, this is one that allows that.”

He says you can play from a completely social level right up to international.

“It also gives you that opportunity of total integration with sighted players, we can play the same sport and quite often they are surprised when the blind player actually beats them.”

Gordon began his playing career 20 years ago in South Africa.

After emigrating to Nelson he saw there wasn’t much happening in blind bowls, so last year made a really concerted effort to get the sport going.

Gordon also attended nationals in Mt Maunganui in November last year. “I enjoyed everything about it, just a great experience.”

Gordon’s brother-in-law Roydon James helps guides him as to the set up on the green.

“He has a lifetime of experience as he started playing in his late teens, but sometimes think there are times that he just wants to take the bowl out of my hand and play it himself,”  Gordon says.

Gordon says, no matter what level of impairment, there will be a place for you on the green.

“Give it a go, you’ll be surprised at how good you are, don’t let anything hold you back, the bowling community is very accommodating.”

Canterbury Blind Bowls coordinator Kevin Smith made the trip from Christchurch for Saturday’s event to promote the game as a fun time for visually-impaired people.

“I have played for 45 years and had a lot of enjoyment out of it, if I can help others get some pleasure from the sport then that is fine by me.”

Kevin says he has worked with some incredibly special people.

“They are heroes, to play a sighted person when you are blind is incredibly brave.”