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WALTHAM, Massachusetts – Lynne Lazaro had been searching for years to build something in honor of her father.
Joe Lazaro was drafted into World War II, and while serving in Italy in 1944, he lost his eyesight after a mine blast. Despite facing numerous rehab challenges, Lazaro re-learned the game of golf, without sight, and became one of the most-accomplished visually-challenged golfers of all time. Lazaro died on Christmas Day 2013 and was inducted into the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame in 2016.
“I knew that I needed to do something to continue his legacy of wanting to help people of all abilities be able to learn how to play golf if they wanted,” Lynne Lazaro said.
After years of working with the City of Waltham, where Joe Lazaro was born and raised, Lynne’s dream came true. On July 16, Waltham saluted its hero when the Joe Lazaro Memorial Putting Green opened at Cornelia Warren Field, a $2 million renovated complex located less than half a mile down the road from Bentley University.
The all-turf facility is level to the ground, making it accessible to all. It includes 18 individual holes, stretched out over a mostly-flat service in the front, with thicker cuts to simulate the fringe and rough to practice chipping. On the back half is a more difficult 9-hole layout with challenging undulation designed to test more experienced golfers.
“I knew that it was going to be a big area, but I never really thought it was going to be this big,” said Nick Abruzzi, Director of Waltham’s Recreation Department. “Once we realized how big the area was, we decided to break it up into two.”
Abruzzi said he hopes to see clinics held for school children, including those with special needs and groups like disabled veterans. But it will be open to the public so long as the weather allows.
“I really think the sky’s the limit,” Abruzzi said.
Lynne Lazaro serves on the board of the United States Blind Golf Association and said building a putting green to honor her father was a perfect fit since the short game is the hardest aspect of the game for those who are visually impaired. Blind golfers work with a coach or guide who assists a blind golfer in addressing the ball and with alignment prior to the stroke.
Over the years, Joe Lazaro worked in tandem with coaches Peter Bourque, Guy Tedesco and many others.
“Blind golf is a team sport,” Lynne Lazaro said. “It’s a complete trust in each other’s judgment.”
Joe Lazaro’s legacy was immense within the blind golf community. Individually, he won the inaugural North American Blind Golf championship in 1954 and won the U.S. Blind Golf Association National Championship eight times (1962, ’64, ’67, ’68, ’69, ’71, ’73 and ’74). He also won the USBGA National Senior Championship in 2007, the year he was inducted into the USBGA Hall of Fame.
Growing up, he was a caddie at Weston Golf Club and played there for many years. He had a knack for mimicking other players’ swings and used it to adopt his own rhythmic swing that he kept for most of his life.
His best lifetime score was a 77 at Wayland Country Club. As he often quipped to others, “And if I can break 80, you can.”
Lazaro also traveled to Europe to introduce blind golf to various communities. In 1978, he wrote a golf instructional book, “The Right Touch”, including an introduction from his longtime friend Bob Hope.
“It did not matter if they were handicapped or not because my simplified method can be successfully adopted by anyone,” Joe Lazaro wrote.
Joe Lazaro also spent years raising hundred and thousands for youth charities across the nation, often through golf tournaments and speaking engagements.
“His story about overcoming adversity and finding your own path to fulfilling your dream was something that he’s done,” Lynne said. “He always wanted to make sure that people, whatever handicap that they had, were able to go and play golf. And if they were blind, all they needed to do was find somebody that was willing to help them be there for their eyes.”
And now, there’s a welcoming public facility for those who want to give the game a try. It’s already been a big hit with Waltham residents, several of whom sampled the facility within the first week it opened.
“I’m pumped about this because there’s not a whole lot of places in Waltham to practice golf at all,” Jared Owen said.
Brendon Distasio, who played golf in high school, said he’s thrilled to have a free facility to practice his game, instead of paying to go to the driving range.
“Now we can just come down here and it’s perfect,” Distaso said. “This is exactly what I’ve wanted for years and years.”