Blind golfer could miss world title chance due to lack of sponsors
A blind golfer is in a race against time to secure a world championship appearance in Australia.
Billy McAllister, who is totally without sight as a result of diabetes, has made a quick rise to the top of his game.
Taking up his hard-earned place in the 2014 World Blind Golf Championships is unlikely, however, unless Billy can attract sponsorship by his August deadline.
The Carrickfergus man, who is now living in Bedfordshire, is the number one totally blind golfer in England and Wales.
It is the second time he has qualified for the world championships, but last year he had to forfeit his place because of a lack of finance.
The sports-loving former insurance salesman says golf gave him back a sense of purpose after the devastating loss of his sight four years ago.
Doctors had warned him of the possibility of going blind back in 2003, but when it finally happened after 27 years of battling type one diabetes, life as he knew it seemed over.
"I went to bed one night and when I woke up both retinas were detached," he said.
"I literally got on my backside and felt my way down the stairs and on to the sofa and waited for my wife to come home.
"It was frightening. After that there were tears, there was worry, I remember trying to make a joke about it. It was just the stress of it all. After a week or two I lost my job.
"All of a sudden my wife Elizabeth, who is a teacher, had to be the main breadwinner, do the housework and care for me. When they told me years ago I had diabetes I was quite naive. I was 16 and it was the wrong time.
"I had a few beers and was not mature enough to look after myself. I had poor diabetes control.
"The good thing about being warned about going blind in 2003 was that my wife and I decided to get married. I wanted to see her walking up the aisle."
Turning to blind golf was Elizabeth's idea.
"As part of my rehabilitation my wife said you need to play some kind of sport," Billy said. "I never played golf before but was involved in amateur snooker.
"I had to do something and I love sport.
"The two sports that were open to me were bowls and golf, and I used to watch golf all the time on TV."
Billy works alongside PGA coach Sam Smith who acts as his guide on the course.
Explaining how this special partnership works, Billy said: "He will say 'there are 150 yards to go', for example, and we use the clock face for aiming shots so he will say 'take a 10am swing'.
"If there's water there to overcome he won't tell me, though, as out of sight is out of mind."
He puts his rapid success in the sport down to sheer enjoyment of the game and many hours of practice.
"I just love the freedom out there," Billy said.
"I play golf twice a week and maybe practise 20 hours on the range.
"Last year I couldn't get to Canada due to a lack of finances and I have to hand over fees for the 2014 championships by August 1.
"If anyone can make any kind of donation or offer sponsorship it would be great if they got in touch."