Charles A. "Charley" Boswell (1916-1995) was a blind national and international golf champion whose accomplishments on the golf course and advocacy beyond it helped establish golf as a competitive game for the blind. Boswell was born in Birmingham on December 22, 1916. Attending Ensley High School, he lettered in three sports. Boswell graduated from Ensley in 1936 and earned a football scholarship to the University of Alabama, where he played under Coach Frank Thomas. An all-around athlete, Boswell eventually won a place with baseball's Atlanta Crackers in the minor leagues in 1941. He married Kathryn "Kitty" Lacey, with whom he had three children.
That same year, however, the United States Army drafted Boswell and sent him to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Boswell was made a captain and placed in command of the headquarters company of the Third Battalion, 335th Infantry Regiment, 84th Infantry Division. Boswell and his men were sent to Germany during World War II. During a battle near the town of Lindern, Boswell rushed to pull a wounded American soldier from a burning Sherman tank. The tank exploded in Boswell's face, throwing him clear of the vehicle but leaving him permanently blinded.
Evacuated to the United States, Boswell underwent rehabilitation at the Valley Forge General Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a U.S. Army facility that specialized in eye injuries and rehabilitation of sight-impaired soldiers. Despite his disability, Boswell still wanted to compete athletically. During his rehabilitation, he tried a number of sports. None satisfied his need to compete until, under the instruction of rehabilitation specialist Corporal Kenny Gleason, Boswell tried golf. Boswell had not played golf even when he could see and, according to his memoirs, he approached his first swing with skepticism. However, after Gleason helped him line up his stance, a 200-yard drive down the middle of the fairway convinced him otherwise.
Boswell rapidly improved in his game. In 1946, he placed second at the National Blind Golf Championship, held in Inglewood, California, behind famed blind golfer Clint Russell. The following year, Boswell won the championship at the Northland Country Club in Duluth, Minnesota. The victory at Northland launched a remarkable career in which Boswell won 16 national championships (the last in 1970 in Greensboro, North Carolina) and 11 international championships (ending his international run in 1967 in Hamilton, Ontario).
After his retirement from the army in 1946, Boswell settled in Birmingham, where he founded the Boswell Insurance Agency. Boswell served as the agency's president for more than 40 years, complementing his work at the agency with a stint as Revenue Commissioner for the state of Alabama from 1971 to 1979. A committed advocate for the blind, Boswell also served as the first chair of the board of the Helen Keller Eye Research Foundation from 1990 to 1995. Additionally, he founded, and for 15 years chaired, the Charley Boswell Celebrity Golf Classic, which raised some $1.5 million for Birmingham's Eye Foundation Hospital.
Boswell also served as the president of the United States Blind Golfers Association (USBGA) from 1956 to 1976. Today, tournaments for blind golfers continue to be held, with the USBGA championship now partnering with the Lions Clubs International and moving from state to state. Additionally, the International Blind Golf Association, organized in 1998, holds a world championship biennially that rotates among the association's nine member nations.
Over the years, Boswell received numerous accolades. After he shot an 81 at Highland Park, his hometown golf course, on October 5, 1956—a world record for a blind golfer—Birmingham renamed the course after him. Other honors included receipt of the Ben Hogan Trophy by the Golf Writers Association of America in 1958; selection as a Sports Illustrated Silver Anniversary All-American in 1964; induction into the Birmingham Golf Association Hall of Fame (1965), Alabama Sports Hall of Fame (1972), and the Alabama Academy of Honor (1983); and induction into the inaugural class of the United States Blind Golf Association's Hall of Fame in 2007.
Throughout the course of his golfing career, Boswell befriended such celebrities as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Hope, who served
as the honorary chair of Boswell's celebrity golf classic, once called Boswell "America's greatest inspiration." Boswell also
authored the memoir Now I See, which was first printed in 1969 and later reprinted in 1987 and 1991. When Boswell died on October 22, 1995, at the age
of 78, he left behind an inspirational legacy that reached far beyond the fairway.
Boswell, Charles A. Now I See. 1969. Reprint, Birmingham: Highland Press, 1991.
"Charley Boswell, Blind Golfer, 78." New York Times, October 25, 1995.
Noles, James L. Hearts of Dixie: Fifty Alabamians and the State They Called Home. Birmingham, Ala.: Will Publishing LLC, 2004.
James L. Noles Jr.
Published September 24, 2008
Last updated May 30, 2013