Trail Blazing Pienaar Hopes to Inspire the Next Generation

Team North’s Charlene Pienaar hopes her appearances at the SADGA Provincial Challenge will serve to inspire the next generation of female golfers in disabled golf, writes Craig Stirton. 

Pienaar’s Team North selection for the 2020 SADGA Provincial Challenge was a historic moment as she became the first female to play in the interprovincial event. She followed it up by playing her way onto the team again in 2021. 

Pienaar hopes such achievements show other young women that their disabilities don’t define who they are. 

“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 [their disability] be a stumbling block in their lives.”

Pienaar’s words carry extra weight as someone who has encountered her fair share of stumbling blocks. Prior to her 21st birthday, she 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 software to enlarge text.” 

Despite having her life altered so drastically, Pienaar 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. 

“My parents actually watched the tv news and they phoned me to say they’d seen Blind people playing golf. My mom asked me why I don’t try it and that’s how I started,” Pienaar 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.”

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 future aspirations, 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 represent South Africa,” 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.