Birmingham blind golfer shot three holes in one

Charley Boswell
Charley Boswell (Photo courtesy Alabama Sports Hall of Fame)

By David Sher.

This column is about one of the most amazing Birmingham men I ever met.

I’ve written columns in the past about crazy times at the old YMCA and about incredible Birmingham people like Fred Sington, Jr.

When I think about Charley Boswell, I get a smile in my heart and a tear in my eye.

Mr. Boswell was a blind golfer—which you will agree is quite startling.

I saw Mr. Boswell regularly at the old downtown YMCA for many years until his death.

He enjoyed getting massages and he came there often to get them from Neal Norris, a blind masseur (massage therapist) who worked there for many years.

Mr. Boswell knew his way around the YMCA as well as any sighted member and he could move around the locker room, massage room, or showers seamlessly.

But what was truly remarkable was that when people walked by him and said ‘hello’ he would respond without hesitation. “Hi Harold, so good to see you.” “Hi, David, good to see you.”  He was able to recognize peoples’ voices instantly and he always responded ironically “Good to ‘see’ you.”

I always felt I should tell him my name so he would know who I was, but he never needed nor wanted the prompt from me or anyone else.

And he always had a big smile on his face—just to be around him made people happy.

Charley Boswell was born in Birmingham, Alabama on December 22, 1916. He graduated from Ensley High School in 1936 and earned a football scholarship to the University of Alabama. He played both football and baseball.

In 1941 he won a minor league baseball position with the Atlanta Crackers, but was drafted into the Army in 1941 to fight in World War II.

According to the American Junior Golf Association, “While helping a fellow soldier out of a burning tank, the tank exploded leaving Boswell blind. During his rehab, Boswell was introduced to the game of golf and became heavily involved in the United States Blind Golfers Association. He went on to win 16 United States Blind Golfers Association National Championships and 11 International Blind Golfers Association Championships. With his success, Boswell was able to fundraise and create awareness for blind golfers.”

On October 21, 1970, Boswell made a hole in one on the 17th hole at Vestavia Country Club. The club has a room in the Men’s Grill named after him with great memorabilia that represents his success playing golf and annually hosts an event called the Boswell Cup to honor his name.

Boswell shot three hole in ones in his lifetime and was inducted into the Alabama Hall of Fame in 1972.

In 1995 at the YMCA, we heard that Charley had fallen in his home and was not doing well. Everyone was heartbroken.

According to the New York Times, Boswell died at HealthSouth Medical Center. “He had been in failing health since suffering a blood clot on the brain during a fall… He was 78 years old.

“‘‘I’ve often said that it took a lot of courage to go back into that tank and get that soldier,’ said Alston Callahan, development director at the Eye Foundation Hospital. ‘But all of the things he did after losing his sight, they took real courage.’

“Along with founding an insurance company, raising a family and serving as Alabama State Revenue Commissioner, Boswell learned to play golf despite the loss of his sight…He became well known as host of the Charley Boswell Celebrity Golf Classic, which raised $1.5 million for the Eye Foundation Hospital.”

According to Elliot Jones, Vestavia Country Club Director of Golf, Boswell said blindness “wasn’t a handicap to him, simply an inconvenience.”

I will never forget Charlie Boswell and neither well anyone else who met him.

David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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9 thoughts on “Birmingham blind golfer shot three holes in one”

  1. Charley was a great man and enjoyed saying “good to see you” as his little joke. He and my father were old friends, and I met Charley when I was a child. I actually played golf with him at the golf course that later bore his name, now Highland Park golf course in Southside Birmingham. He had a “caddy” who would lay out his golf shots in description and direction. He would point Charley physically in the right direction and Charley would swing away. It was amazing to see his shots and especially his putts. Of course, a lot of credit had to go to his caddy, because he could read the greens well, but Charley was a natural golfer. My funniest memories of Charley Boswell were later in life at my parents cocktail parties. Charley would come and always be the life of the party. When he met someone new, he would feel their face and often their physique/figure. With a smile on his face, he would always complement whomever he had met, often saying, they ”looked fantastic”. He was one of a kind.

  2. Great piece, David! One has to be of a certain age to appreciate and remember Charlie Boswell. I never met him, but—thanks to two fine local newspaper—I followed his career. That career, along with his his incredible life, were always surreal to me.

    Thanks for bringing Mr. Boswell back to us for a brief moment!

  3. I would say that I remember Charley well and the whole world thought highly of him. You might want to do a follow up story on his friendship with Bob Hope (though I doubt that the younger folks would remember him), and the fact he would come to play in Charley’s tournament.

  4. I had the opportunity to play with Charley several times. One of his “caddys” was my good friend, Steve Person. Saw him make a birdy on a long par 4 one day in Houston… we all made 5’s! Loved Charley,
    Eddie Webster

  5. David, that you for posting this article. Couple of Tweaks–Dad only had one Hole in One, although he would have loved to have had three. It was the 14th hole at Vestavia Country Club. The Club was gracious and named the hole in Dad’s honor in 1970. Second, blind golf is a two-man sport–the golfer and his coach (there is usually a traditional caddy involved, carrying the golf bag). The coach indeed describes the shot, then crouches behind the ball and aligns the club head for the shot, holding it in place while the golfer grips the club, address the ball and prepares to swing. When the golfer is ready, the coach steps aside and the golfer swings and hits the ball. Final tweak, the blind masseuse at the Y was not Neal but rather “Six Finger” Jack, a large, strong African- American with huge hands. He had a small spur of a finger on the side of each of his hands below the pinkie finger that earned him his nick name. Dad did enjoy his time at the Y.

  6. Wonderful to pay tribute to one of Birmingham’s finest. I was privileged as a teenager to have numerous opportunities to meet this outstanding gentleman. He was one of a kind in so many different positive ways.

  7. I grew up in Birmingham from 1943 to 1969 and all my life I have never admired anyone more than Charley. Never met him but followed him from newspaper articles. I have great vision still at age 79, but have never had a hole in one. I tell my golf friends about Charley Boswell to this day and chide them that Charley could have beat any of them.

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