Lens Choices

Prescription lenses for golfers

By Brian P. Dunleavy

As the home of professional golf’s most prestigious tournament—the Masters—Augusta, Ga. is the mecca of the sport in the United States. With the 68th Masters scheduled for this month, the eyes of the golf world will once again be focused on the town’s Augusta National club. But for local eyecare practitioners, caring for golfing eyes isn’t limited to tournament time.

“This is obviously a big area for golf,” notes Shannon Singletary, an optician at the ophthalmology practice of Eye Physicians and Surgeons in Augusta. “And we have a lot of golfers come in here looking for help with their vision. Most of our retired patient base plays golf. For them, it’s a hobby. We have professionals come in here, too. Vision is extremely important in golf—no matter what level you’re playing.”

Andrew Wodecki, OD, a sports-vision therapist based in Monterrey, Calif., not far from the famous Pebble Beach, another hallowed ground in golf, agrees. “The eyes play an integral part in the game,” he explains. “Golfers need to read greens for slopes, gauge distances, etc. It’s much more than seeing static 20/20 in the exam room setting.”

As important as vision is to this patient base, it doesn’t begin to describe the importance of this patient base to dispensaries across the country. Golf industry estimates peg the U.S. golfing population at roughly 26 million to 30 million—approximately 10 percent of the country—and growing. From equipment to shoes to hats and other apparel, products designed specifically for the sport abound. And eyewear?

“There are definitely a few particular products that work best,” says Singletary.

Acknowledging that looks are almost as important as performance out on the links, Eye Physicians and Surgeons is one of many dispensaries across the country that retrofits fashionable plano sports styles from companies such as Oakley with prescription lenses. The Rx lenses they use in these and other frame styles for golfing patients will often include one or more of the following options:

Polarization. Polarized filters help reduce problematic glare from reflective surfaces such as water hazards and even sand traps on the course. However, says Singletary, “they can be a bit pricey. Most golfers will make the investment in their eyes, but they want options.” A polarized lens with the right tint (see below) is ideal for the course.

Many dispensers recommend “spot bifocals” for golfers.

Photochromics. Photochromics offer an alternative to standard tinted sunlenses, particularly in climates where the weather changes quickly or golfers frequently find themselves playing in overcast conditions. Quality photochromics adjust well to changing light conditions and with recent line extensions increasing product availability in different tints and materials, there are more and more photochromic options for golfers.

Anti-reflective (AR) lenses. Whether an AR coating is applied to the front or back surface of a lens (in the case of polarized and some tinted lenses), AR is essential for golfers. According to Dr. Wodecki, the added “visual acuity AR provides” is of particular importance to golfers. “Their lenses should feature everything suited for optimal optical performance. Not having AR can be the difference between making or missing a putt or misjudging the distance on a pitch shot.”

A sports specific tint. Researchers still disagree on the impact of tinted lenses on the playing field, but studies have shown that some colors do have an impact on visual performance. Tints applied for sports-specific applications should act as filters, reducing the overall amount of visible light reaching the athlete’s eyes while, in some cases, filtering out specific wavelengths of light. Some lens tints also enhance contrast sensitivity, allowing the eye to see greater definition between colors. Dr. Wodecki says amber seems to effectively enhance contrast sensitivity in areas where there is “a lot of green,” including the golf course. Singletary also favors amber polarized lenses—or at least and amber-tinted sunlenses—though she does fit golfers with gray-tinted lenses (particularly in polarized) as well. “Anything to help their ability to see contrast,” she explains.

Plano sunglass manufacturers have incorporated many of these same elements into their designs. Although Singletary fits a lot of patients, including golfers, in contact lenses coupled with plano sunglasses, she’s not sure the combination offers optimum vision for many involved in the sport.

“Golfers really need good distance vision and they need to be able to read the scorecard,” she explains. “Stopping to put on reading glasses doesn’t make sense.”

As with other sports, impact-resistant and lightweight lens materials such as polycarbonate and Trivex are the best options for golf. “Eye protection is important, no matter what the sport,” says Singletary. “You never know. Polycarbonate is also lightweight and it usually comes with a scratch warranty. Plus, it blocks UV, which is particularly important in a sport like golf where UV exposure can be high.”

One of the areas where dispensers will stray from “standard” practice when working with golfers is in the area of multifocals. While progressives are standard in dress eyewear, many dispensers believe “spot bifocals” work best for golf. Spot bifocals are designed to allow the bifocal segment to be moved to match the visual needs of a specific activity. For example, skilled dispensers can place the segment in the upper left portion of the right lens of a right-handed target shooter so he can use it to look through the sight on his rifle; the distance portion is kept around the nasal area of the lens so as not to affect the overall vision of the wearer. For golfers, the segment is usually placed lower and off to one side (right or left, depending on whether the golfer is right-handed or left-handed), according to Dr. Wodecki.

“With a lower line, the line is not in the wearer’s view when they drop their head to putt,” agrees Singletary. “But, the segment is there for when they need to read the scorecard. I actually feel bad saying this, but most golfers here prefer bifocals. Of course, we try to get them to wear progressives off the course.”

The peripheral distortion issues with progressive lens designs have also proven problematic for golfers in the past. But that hasn’t stopped some innovative labs from, as one expert says, “playing around with the add, with the segment or where they locate the distortion” in order to apply the spot bifocal concept to the new, no-line bifocal form.

“Fitting athletes with eyewear, whether they are amateurs or professionals, is about finding the best options for them,” notes Dr. Wodecki, who doesn’t admit athletes into his sports therapy practice until they have been fitted with appropriate eyewear for their sport. “Day-to-day, most people are looking for 20/20 vision and that’s it. Athletes want to work with their 20/20 vision and maximize it by improving hand-eye coordination, reaction and response times and other performance factors. It’s two different worlds, and as eyecare professionals, we need to understand that.”