Trail-blazing Pienaar hopes to inspire next generation

Charlene Pienaar hopes her appearance at the SADGA Provincial Challenge earlier this year will serve to inspire the next generation of female golfers in disabled golf, writes Craig Stirton. 
Pienaar’s selection for Team North in the last week of February was a historic moment as she became the first female golfer to play in the Interprovincial event. The ERPM Golf Club member repaid the faith Team North captain Joseph Phiri had shown as she downed Morne Els on the opening day 3&2. 
Their second encounter was nip and tuck throughout – Pienaar and Els All-square for much of the day. A holed putt from distance at the last allowed Els to clinch a hard-fought victory. Pienaar said she was honoured to represent the North outfit and spoke fondly of being part of a tight-knit team. 
“It was a huge honour and a privilege and I was extremely proud of my team as we were very close,” Pienaar said.
“You know the team is a very talented one as well.”
Central Gauteng Golf Union representative Pienaar hopes that her exploits at the Provincial Challenge will encourage the next generation of female golfers to conquer their circumstances. 
“You know you can show other younger women that they can still carry on with their lives despite what has happened,” she said.
“They shouldn’t let that be a stumbling block in their lives,” she added.  
Pienaar’s words carry extra weight as someone who has encountered her fair share of stumbling blocks. Prior to her 21st birthday, Charlene was involved in a car accident which left her with just five-percent vision. 
Reading texts – an essential for somebody studying towards a Bcom Marketing degree – became incredibly difficult and forced Pienaar to suspend her studies for three years. Of the immediate challenges she faced – Pienaar said it was the loss of day-to-day independence which affected her the most.
“It was extremely difficult because you were independent and now all of a sudden you are dependent on people to take you all over and you battle to see – especially when you need to go and read something for instance on a box – you cannot read it anymore. You need a magnifying glass or something which can enlarge it. Especially on your laptop as well – I’m actually using a software to enlarge text.” 
Despite having her life altered so drastically, Charlene maintains an admirable outlook on life. 
“Sometimes stuff happens in your life but at the end of the day God actually gives you the strength to carry on, to persevere and to push through.”
Having participated in both hockey and karate at school – her visual impairment appeared to have brought an end to her sporting endeavours. Some sixteen years after the accident, her parents happened upon a sport she could play even with her Visual Impairment – golf. 
“How I actually started playing golf is my parents actually watched tv news and they actually phoned me to say they saw the Blind people playing golf. My mom asked me why I don’t try it and yes that is how I started,” Charlene recalls. 
Unlike physically-disabled golfers, Blind players have the added challenge of relying immensely on guides to set them up as Pienaar explains. 
“Any visually Impaired person needs a caddy to assist them to check where their ball goes because I cannot see where my ball goes – or in which direction I need to hit the ball because I cannot see far and I can’t see close so basically I only see stuff that’s right on the ground,” she says. 
“They basically need to line me up and tell me ‘little bit more to the left, little bit more to your right’ and then they need to check where your ball is going. So yes, your caddy is actually your eyes. You’re totally dependent on them you know.”
As her game has developed over the years so she has established herself as a player to watch in both the SA Blind Golf sphere and the Disabled Golf realm too. In 2016, she won the Development Trophy at the SA Blind Golf Open and has also had a couple of solid showings at the Canon SA Disabled Golf Open.
As for her aspirations for the future, Pienaar hopes that incremental progress will help her earn national colours one day.
“It is important to enjoy every single moment and to strive to improve every single day with regard to your golf and eventually I hope to one day go and represent South Africa as well,” she says. 
With the strength of character she has shown in the face of some daunting challenges in her life – look for Charlene Pienaar to achieve that and more in the not too distant future.