Many U.S. military veterans struggle to assimilate back into society following their service, particularly following tours of combat.
In far too many cases, the results can be tragic.
According to a 2019 study for the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, approximately 17 U.S. veterans take their own lives every day. Other published studies have the number around 20 per day.
In Myrtle Beach, dedication to an initiative that is designed to assist veterans in their transition through the game of golf is making a difference.
PGA HOPE – HOPE is an acronym for Helping Our Patriots Everywhere – is a PGA of America program designed to provide veterans an opportunity to learn the game, share camaraderie with fellow service members, and have an activity that in many cases can serve as therapy and physical and/or mental rehabilitation.
It is being run locally in conjunction with Project Golf, the nonprofit grow-the-game initiative based at Barefoot Resort that was created by the Golf Tourism Solutions technology and marketing agency that promotes Myrtle Beach golf.
The Myrtle Beach PGA Hope chapter program consists of six two-hour sessions over six weeks on Tuesdays, from 3-5 p.m. during the winter months. There are seven sessions per year, and the next begins Oct. 4. It is sold out with 21 veterans, as many have been. The student-to-teacher ratio is generally 4-1.
Changing, saving lives
The PGA Hope program is administered in the Carolinas by PGA Reach, the nonprofit philanthropic arm of the Carolinas PGA Section. PGA Reach is promoting three pillars in particular – Youth, Military, and Diversity & Inclusion.
Veterans can only go through the classes once, but upon completion they can become PGA Hope ambassadors and attend the classes as graduate assistants, helping PGA professionals and their fellow vets.
Instruction includes the swing, putting, chipping, etiquette, history of the game, etc.
“We’re just affording our veterans an opportunity to get educated on the game of golf, introducing the game of golf to them,” said Chris Aranda, a veteran, outreach specialist with the Myrtle Beach Vet Center – which provides readjustment counseling to the veteran community – and veterans ambassador for the PGA Hope program. “. . . It’s a form of therapy for our veterans across our community, so with that why not introduce them to this game where it’s a very therapeutic environment for them.
“Good stuff is happening here.”
The local PGA Hope program began in 2019 and essentially more than a year was lost due to the coronavirus pandemic. Interest in the program was immediately strong.
“We were overwhelmed by our first year of 157 students,” said Project Golf executive director Gary Schaal, a past PGA of America president.
Project Golf’s role
Project Golf focuses on providing access to golf and instruction to beginners, disadvantaged youth and veterans, particularly those with disabilities. Approximately 400 students in the different categories are expected to participate this year.
As part of Project Golf’s outreach to veterans, it has partnered with the Eastern Carolina Housing Organization (ECHO), which oversees a bridge housing program for veterans, to identify candidates at John’s Place for the PGA Hope program. John’s Place is a transitional home for otherwise homeless veterans in the Myrtle Beach area.
“Veterans that struggle from the transition from service, you know they’re coming back from combat so they’re missing that formation, they’re missing that camaraderie that they’re missing out of their service, so we’re bringing it to them here on the PGA Hope golf courses,” Aranda said. “What we’re doing is integrating them back into that community environment and introducing them to the game of golf.”
The PGA underwrites the PGA Hope program and provides pay for instructors and supplies such as training aids, range balls, and a graduation dinner celebration, and Project Golf raises money for the program and helps provide equipment for graduates.
At a recent outing for donors and potential donors to Project Golf at Barefoot Resort, the Dustin Johnson Foundation provided golf bags with Project Golf and PGA Hope logos and stitched names to veterans, ambassadors and instructors.
Project Golf and PGA Hope organize golf outings and other get-togethers for veteran graduates, in addition to ambassadors returning to classes.
The Grand Strand golf community has a long history of supporting veterans and military causes. On Labor Day, a group of 20 Grand Strand golf professionals played 100 holes of golf at Rivers Edge Golf Club to raise money through pledges and donations for the Folds of Honor foundation. The total raised this year was approximately $300,000, according to participant Jarrin Josue of Golf Trek.
The pros have raised more than $1 million for Folds of Honor in the nine years of the golf marathon fundraiser, which accounts for 200 scholarships for the spouses or children of deceased or injured U.S. military service members.
During the competition, Dustin Powers of Myrtlewood Golf Club made a hole-in-one on the par-4 first hole, which was playing 287 yards. Josue made the most birdies with 43 to go along with an eagle, and the group made nearly 450 birdies and nearly 20 eagles.
Alan Blondin – Golf Trek – 9/22/22