Archive for July, 2015
Article written by Nickelle Smith WAGT News
AUGUSTA, Ga. – The golf course provides a welcomed change of scenery for some local disabled veterans.
“[It was] an IED. I had my ankle crushed in an explosion,” said Army veteran Jonathan Brasington.
He and other vets are finding a new way to cope with personal battles after coming home from service.
“The key to a lot of it is your proper stance and then, that helps us to remember that anything in life needs a proper foundation,” said U.S. Marine Corp veteran Elnora “Ms. Bea” Hart-Moss.
The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center is teaming up with the PGA and PGA Hope to teach disabled veterans about the game of golf at the Jones Creek Golf Course.
It’s an opportunity that hits close to home for fellow veteran John McAfee, coordinator for PGA Hope. “Golf brought me out of a lot of dark places,” said McAfee.
The PGA and its Hope program have been working with VA Centers across the country to get this program into all 50 states by 2016.
“It’s really just a natural next progression to be in Augusta – especially with a city with such a rich golf tradition as this and also such a rich tradition of service,” said McAfee.
Jones Creek Golf Course instructors have been serving up tips on how to drive, chip, and putt during the 8 week program that teed off on Masters Monday.
“If they miss it they just laugh about it. They don’t get frustrated at all so it’s been a joy teaching them,” said Jones Creek’s Director of Instruction, Noah Vinyard.
The veterans said it’s been a joy for them as well. “My disability limits me to doing only certain things and this has gotten me out and socializing with other veterans,” said Brasington.
Socializing on while competing in one of the most therapeutic sports. “It’s not a competition with each other even though you want to do your best. When you get out there you just love the fun of the game,” said Hart-Moss.
The program has been more than two years in the making, and its first class of disabled veterans graduated at the Jones Creek Golf Course Thursday.
Organizers say they’re trying to get more mobility impaired veterans involved as well when this ongoing program starts back up this Fall.
By Rich O’Brien
I would like to tell you the story of how the PGA HOPE Program here in Charleston is changing one local veteran’s life and giving him hope.
The story began about six weeks ago when I got an email from a man that was interested in playing golf again after not being able to play for almost two decades. I responded back to his email and asked if he was a veteran. Seconds after hitting “send”, my phone rang. It was then that I got to tell him about the PGA HOPE Program being launched in the Charleston area.
During our conversation, he proceeded to tell me that he used to love golf and at one time was about a ten handicap. Unfortunately, for the past 18 years he had been unable to play because the car he was riding in was hit by a tractor trailer. As a result of the accident, he was confined to a wheelchair for the better part of 15 years due to nerve damage in his back.
Numerous times he saw no end in sight and admitted to me that he contemplated suicide. His Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) started to get really bad about seven years ago. In that time, he never allowed more than one person in his house. He would avoid people and only go to the grocery store in the middle of the night. He, in essence, was totally shut in by his PTSD and tried to shut out the rest of the world.
Refusing to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair he fought for a surgery that would correct some of the nerve damage in his back with the hope of getting him up out of his wheelchair for the first time in 15 years. The surgery was successful and he was eventually able to stand on his own two feet for the first time since his horrific accident.
Things started to look up for awhile, but unfortunately his circumstances were about to get worse again. You see, six months after his back surgery his house burned to the ground. Things went from bad to worse when he suffered a stroke as a result of the added stress.
In the past few months he had finally recovered sufficiently from the stroke to begin doing some of the things he used to enjoy before his accident nearly two decades ago.
Then one day he went to Dick’s Sporting Goods to look at some golf equipment. While he was at the store he saw the stack of Charleston Golf News magazines by the counter. There was a story that caught his eye in the magazine about the Score Does Not Matter Golf League. It was then that he sent me the fateful email that I spoke about earlier.
Over the next 45 minutes he told me about his epic battle with disability, pain, the stroke and his PTSD. I guess I was the right person in the right place at the right time to help him. During our conversation I told him about my own battles with PTSD and chronic pain and my terrible addiction to pain meds. I also told him about Fred Gutierrez (The Partially Paralyzed Golfer) and the journey he had been on the past twenty years that had taken him to many of the same places emotionally and physically that he had been. I knew that Fred and he would connect immediately due to shared experiences.
I invited him to come out to PGA HOPE the next day to meet us and participate. He told me that our conversation that day had allowed him to see the light at the end of the tunnel and that for the first time in almost a decade he had hope. In fact, he said that when he hung up the phone he was going to go over to Wescott Golf Club and hit some balls on the driving range and try to meet Perry Green (the lead instructor for the program). Unfortunately, that night their paths did not cross.
As is often the case with Bipolar and PTSD, the next day catapulted him back to the pit of despair. When I called him to check up on him the following day I could tell immediately by the sound of his voice that he was extremely depressed. For more than a week I tried to call him and he would not pick up the phone. Fred also tried to call him and he later told us that he was too depressed to answer the calls.
I began to worry he might have committed suicide. So I looked him up on Facebook and saw that we had a mutual friend; at the time, in fact, she was his only friend. I asked her to make a special effort to talk to him. She agreed and told me that they had not spoken for almost a year.
When she called him, he finally picked up the phone. She was able to encourage him, told him that I was concerned about him and she even suggested that he go to PGA HOPE the next day. The phone call also allowed them to reconnect, and she invited him to spend the Fourth of July with her family.
A short time later, as fate would have it, Fred called him and the two of them talked for about an hour on the phone. Fred shared much of his own brutal journey and how much friendship, golf and acupuncture had improved the quality of his life. During that call, this man told Fred that before receiving the two phone calls he had intended to commit suicide that very day. The phone calls were literally in the nick of time.
The next day, a new man showed up to the PGA HOPE clinic. He had found not only the courage to drive to the course, but also to get out of the car and introduce himself to the group. He later admitted he waited 20 minutes before joining us; the steps he was taking were way out of his comfort zone. Once he was at the clinic we did our best to welcome him and not to overwhelm him. Perry provided one-on-one instruction and Fred and I took turns talking to him to encourage him.
A few days later he called Perry and asked if he could volunteer for some of the junior golf events at Wescott.
The following week he came back again and felt much more at ease. The previous week he had told us about how one of his clubs from the set was lost long ago. Based on Perry’s suggestion, he found a replacement 7-iron from his rare set of Toski clubs by calling up Bob Toski’s pro shop and he was able to order it for only $20. Immediately after buying the club over the phone he gave me a call and he could not contain his excitement.
The PGA HOPE Program has given this man a reason to leave home which has become his safe haven and fortress of solitude. Our goal is for him to continue to re-engage with the community and grow his circle of friends. During the past month, we have spoken on the phone a number of times and he is starting to make some progress. One thing that I shared with him during one of our conversations was trying to do at least one thing everyday to improve the quality of his life. That resonated with him and he immediately began to develop a list of goals for the next few months that he would like to accomplish. One of those goals is to follow through on his desire to help with junior golf by gradually building up to being able to help for a few hours at a time.
The demons and fears he faces on a daily basis from his constant battle with PTSD and Bipolar Manic Depression are still difficult to cope with, but with the support of some new friends involved in the PGA HOPE Program he is starting to cope better. A few days ago he told me: “The program has been tremendous and it has totally changed my outlook on life. For the first time in a long time, I am proud of myself. I still have scary moments, like meeting new people, but it is getting easier.”
Watching the progress that this man has made has been wonderful to see, and it reminds us that we can make a difference. Recently, however, we had a different sort of reminder. Another veteran in our program told us that earlier that day he had attended the funeral of one of his Marine squad members who had lost his battle to the demons and fears of PTSD. The participants of the PGA HOPE Program know the pain of that experience all too well. It was a clear reminder that each day twenty-two veterans in this country lose their battle with PTSD.
PGA HOPE places PGA members, administrators and therapists at the front lines of helping our nation’s heroes who fought to preserve and protect our freedoms. It lets us know that we can positively impact the lives of veterans through golf therapy. And that is what the PGA HOPE program is all about.
About the Author
Rich O’Brien writes a monthly Golf Therapy column for the Charleston Golf News. The column tells inspirational stories about players who have overcome injuries, disabilities and challenges to play golf.
He is also the co-author of the soon to be published book Better Days are Ahead; a Journey Out of the Deep Rough. For more information visit: www.betterdaysbook.com.
PGA REACH is partnered with Els for Autism as an effort to grow the game of golf and create a welcoming environment for new golfers. The Els for Autism Foundation was established in 2009 by Ernie and Liezl Els to focus on the issue of autism and giving people with autism access to the game of golf. The Els’ son Ben is profoundly impacted by the disorder which affects 1 in 68 children in the U.S. Watch a video overview of Els for Autism and listen to Ernie Els, talk about the positive impact his program has on the autistic community!
Summer is in full swing, and so are the campers at Everglades Youth Camp! As you may already know, PGA REACH strives to introduce youth to the sport of golf and give children access to the game as much as possible. Since mid-June, PGA REACH and the South Florida Section PGA Professionals have furthered this effort by hosting a golf clinic every Friday at Everglades Youth Conservation Camp in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The youth summer camp, which is located near the PGA of America headquarters, is comprised of boys and girls ages 8-13. While the camp’s main focus is to support the sustainability of Florida’s fish, wildlife populations and habitats, the children still get plenty of time to have fun in the sun and gain exposure to various sports.
Every Friday, PGA Professionals Dave Pesacov and Mike Jonges set up a blow-up hitting tent and allow every camper the chance to practice their golf swing. These coaches provide professional instruction to the children to make their swings the best they can be and, maybe one day, one of the campers will be inspired become a PGA Professional themselves.
A special thanks to our fearless leaders, Mike and Dave, and all of the staff and campers at Everglades Youth Camp!
PGA Junior League Golf, golf’s version of Little League baseball has seen significant growth since its inception as a pilot program in 2012. Through PGA REACH our goal is to have 50,000 children participating in PGA Junior League Golf by the year 2016. PGA REACH programming will ensure that cost doesn’t prohibit youth from entering the sport and will serve as a central role in the golf industry’s effort to introduce the sport to youth of all ages and backgrounds in a safe, fun environment.
Watch some of PGA Junior League Golf participants and instructors talk about their experience with the program, and how it has impacted their lives-
Gary York is one of the many Veterans participating in PGA REACH’s PGA HOPE program. Gary is a double-amputee with a strong passion for the game of golf. Determined to play golf with his friends, Gary was able to make his dream become reality through the PGA HOPE program.
Watch Gary’s amazing success story in the following video clip taken from a CBS Special on PGA REACH:
It’s graduation day for the Veterans participating in the Metropolitan Section’s PGA HOPE Program at West Point Golf Course. PGA HOPE graduation represents a new beginning for Veterans who are introducing the game of golf into their lives.
The following is an article written by Mike Dougherty of The Journal News
WEST POINT – There was a roar of delight followed by all manner of high fives and carrying on when a reasonably straightforward putt tracked eight feet up the hill and fell into the cup.
It was so much more than a routine par.
After completing a six-week adaptive golf program conducted by volunteer professionals from the Metropolitan PGA, carts loaded with 24 military veterans currently receiving treatment in the VA Hudson Valley Health Care System headed onto the West Point Golf Course for a graduation day scramble on Thursday afternoon.
They paired with the professionals for a six-hole tournament, and were able to brag a little over dinner in the Officers Club.
“Playing golf has improved my depression, for sure,” said Army vet Lawrence Blair, a Mount Vernon resident who also has a hearing impairment. “I’m very optimistic now about becoming the next Tiger Woods. I’m going to keep going with this, I love the game.”
The professionals now have a loyal following, and the game has a number of converts.
“Obviously it’s really rewarding to be part of this,” Sleepy Hollow head pro David Young said. “We have so much fun seeing how big of a kick these guys are getting from something we take for granted. After just a few lessons, they are not very good yet, but they have more fun playing golf than anyone I know.”
The program is called PGA HOPE and it’s offered free of charge to all veterans, but is specifically geared to anyone suffering from a physical or cognitive disability. All of the professionals involved spent a day earlier this spring learning how to work around the various real-life handicaps.
Nobody wasted any time lamenting bad shots on Thursday.
“I played other sports, but never golf,” said Cold Spring resident Susan Meyer, who is a Navy veteran. “Learning how to keep my drives under control was the hardest thing. I can’t play other sports now because of my knee, so this is something I’m really enjoying.”
The goal is simply to enhance quality of life.
And the pros had to start from the beginning, explaining terminology and etiquette, teaching swing mechanics and course management.
“Some of the veterans had no concept of the game,” said Fenway head pro and Met section president Heath Wassem. “We had to figure out what they could and couldn’t do because most have some kind of disability they have to work around. The best part is the support they give each other. Sometimes it was just a matter of somebody making contact and getting the ball in the air that had everybody cheering.”
Each of the participants who attended four sessions went home with a set of clubs.
All of the equipment was donated. Callaway and Titleist kicked in some of the basics, like golf balls, towels and bags. Clubs were donated by head pros at clubs across the region, including the Golf Club at Purchase, Wyakgyl, Fenway and Lake Isle.
Tim Connors, a member at Westchester Country Club, donated 15 sets of irons and drivers to the veterans.
“Everyone has been wonderful,” said Army vet and Yonkers resident Lawrence Hadley. “They have taken care of us every way possible. God bless them all. It’s taken a lot of time and patience on their part. I got my clubs now, so I’m going to be here next week, playing again.”
The funding is already in place to restart the program here in the fall, and expand it to Long Island and the Bronx.
For more information about the PGA HOPE program, or to sign up for the next session, visit the website at www.metpgahope.com or call the Met PGA at 914-347-2325 extension 323.
Read the full article here.