Barry Bonnell has always been a pretty good student, evident by the Ph.D. he earned in molecular and cellular biology at the University of Arizona.

In mid-October, though, Bonnell, a former professor of biology and genetics at Westminster College and the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville, proved once again just how good of a student he really is.

Feeling that his golf game was slipping a bit, particularly with the use of his irons, Bonnell decided to seek the professional help of Rick Tucci, the golf pro at and owner of Country Meadows Golf Course in early October.

“He had himself in a funk,” Tucci said. “His swing was a little flat, and he wanted me to help him get it back.”

On Oct. 16, the 60-year-old Bonnell rewarded Tucci for his efforts, hitting the second hole-in-one of his golfing career on hole No. 8 at Country Meadows. The hole-in-one, however, wasn’t only special because it culminated weeks of lessons and practice, it was particularly special because Bonnell did so despite being legally blind.

“We pulled up to the hole and as we were walking toward the tee I thought, ‘Well, this is the eighth hole,’ Bonnell said. “‘One more hole and I probably won’t play again until spring.’”

Bonnell approached the tee with his two partners, Tom McIntosh and Ray Overholt, placed his ball, took his stance and prepared to hit the ball. He eyed-in on the ball, followed through on his swing and “smack.” Away it went.

After the ball left the tee, Bonnell, who suffers from Stargardt’s Disease, a form of macular dystrophy, relied on his playing partners to follow his shot.

“Tom says, ‘It’s going straight. It’s nice and high, bending in right to left,’” Bonnell said. “‘It’s headed toward the green. It’s on the green. It’s … It’s in the hole.’

“I said, ‘Yeah. You’re pulling my leg. That’s not funny.’

“He said, ‘No, honest, it is.’

“We get up to the green, I look in the hole and there’s my yellow golf ball. I just kept looking at it. (McIntosh and Overholt) said, ‘You can pull it out now so we can hit our shot.’ I just kept looking at it.’”

When the news spread to Tucci, he was not but elated. Of course, it did take a minute or two for Bonnell to convince him.

“It’s a good thing Ray and Tom were with him,” Tucci said with a chuckle.

Hole No. 8 at Country Meadows is a 157-yard, par-3. Bonnell, ironically, carded the hole-in-one with a 6-iron.

The hole-in-one was a career second for Bonnell. His first came at the age of 22, years before his eyesight began to fail, at Powder Horn Golf Club in Bellmont, Mass., which has since closed to make way for condominiums.

Bonnell’s first hole-in-one, too, was a par-3. He hit it from 138 yards out with an 8-iron.

The one he notched in October, though, is a bit more special.

“It’s difficult to get a hole-in-one,” said Ken Pamatat, a friend and golf buddy of Bonnell’s. “Try being blind. I’ve been golfing for 51 years and have never had one.”

To Pamatat’s knowledge, Bonnell is one of only two legally blind golfers to record a hole-in-one this year. The other was Sheila Drummond, a resident of Lehighton, located just outside of Philadelphia, who carded her ace at the Mahoning Valley Country Club on Aug. 20. She is believed to be the first legally blind woman in the United States to record a hole-in-one.

“It just doesn’t happen,” Pamatat said. “This is a very special accomplishment.”

Bonnell has been golfing for several years. When asked how often he golfs, Bonnell answered, ‘Everyday in the summer. Well … It does rain a lot around here. I don’t golf those days.’”

And Bonnell’s golfing expeditions aren’t limited to Crawford County. In fact, Bonnell said he goes out of state two to three times a year.

This year, Bonnell, a member of the United States Blind Golfers Association, took first place in the B3 division at the Heather Farr Leader Dogs Classic in Arizona. He also finished in the top five in his division at the USBGA 62nd annual National Championship outing at Edgmont Country Club in Edgemont.

“I really just enjoy the game,” said Bonnell, whose wife, Danuta, serves as his coach at USBGA events. “I get to get outside and play a real sport, which isn’t something I can really do anymore.”

Bonnell said there are roughly 60 golfers in the USBGA. Of those golfers about 15 play in the B3 division.

The B3 division is for golfers who are legally blind. Bonnell said most can see, but not well enough to be allowed to get a driver’s license. The B1 division is for those who are totally blind and the B2 division is for those with 2200 vision in both eyes.

“People always ask, ‘How can you golf?’” Bonnell said. “I can see the ball, I just can’t read Titleist on it. I can see it sitting on the tee, but once it’s gone I can’t see it.

“I can watch TV. I can do those kinds of things. I just can’t read. I can’t read the newspaper. I can’t zero in.”

He sure zeroed in well enough Oct. 16, thanks to Tucci’s help of course.

“I went in and told (Tucci) and he said, ‘Did you do what I told you to with the iron?’ I said, ‘Apparently I did.’ He said, ‘Keep doing what I tell you,’” Bonnell said. “’I said, ‘See you next week for another lesson?’ Rick said, ‘I think I’m closing down. See you in the spring.’ So …”

So, in the meantime, Bonnell is working on another hobby, renovating and remodeling a home he recently purchased in Meadville. But as soon as the weather breaks, watch out.



Lisa Byers can be reached at 724-6370, ext. 277 or by e-mail at lbyers@meadvilletribune.com.

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