This story appears in the May 2019 edition of Full Swing, the NEPGA monthly news magazine.
by Nick Heidelberger, New England PGA
Alex Kirk, PGA, gives much more than just a handful of golf tips when he welcomes Veterans from nearby White Junction VA Medical Center to Hanover Country Club at Dartmouth College each summer. He gives them joy, hope, and a much deserved thank you. For his dedication to those who served our country, Kirk is the recipient of this year’s New England PGA Patriot Award.
The Patriot Award is presented to a PGA Professional who personifies patriotism through the game of golf and demonstrates unwavering commitment and dedication to the men and women who have valiantly served and protected the United States of America.
Each summer Kirk offers a six-week PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program where Veterans can learn and practice golf fundamentals, etiquette, and enjoy some time outdoors with peers. Kirk’s program includes weekly golf sessions for six weeks each summer, with 20 or more Veterans attending each session. Depending on their golfing ability, participants can enjoy a variety of stations, including short-game contests, target practice on the driving range, or even heading out to the course for a scramble. Kirk’s program reaches 50-60 Veterans each year.
“The impactful thing is really embracing them and thanking them for what they do, that’s what they seem appreciative of,” Kirk said of the Veterans who participate in his program. “Sometimes I think they just get pushed to the side. They served the country doing all kinds of things that none of us probably ever imagined, going places they never thought they’d go in the world, and then they get discharged and nobody wants to take care of them.”
While the typical weekend warrior may be fixated on finding one or two more strokes to shave off his or her game, many Veterans use golf to bring a brand new purpose to life.
“The first year we did it one of the Vets got up at the end and literally start crying about how much golf meant to him,” Kirk recalled. “He was an alcoholic and golf gave him something else to do. It was so eye-opening to me, the impact that this could have that I didn’t even expect.”
Kirk, who is trained in teaching Veterans and golfers with physical and mental limitations, utilizes adaptive golf tool as necessary. For many Veterans, PGA HOPE program’s like Kirk’s at Hanover CC are about life just as much as they are about golf. Veterans who participate in the program not only know they have a place to feel appreciated and welcomed, but also a place to experience the meteoric highs golf can provide, even from seemingly routine occurrences.
“My biggest thing is how much we take for granted,” Kirk said. “Just contact, or hitting the golf ball, or making a putt is a big deal to them. We get stuck watching Tiger win the Masters and members worrying about having the perfect swing. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be so technical.”
It’s fitting that Kirk will take home this year’s NEPGA Patriot Award, as it was two-time Patriot Award winner, Bob Beach, PGA, who helped inspire Kirk’s passion for working with Veterans. Beach won the NEPGA Patriot Award in 2012 and ’13.
“I’d have to credit Bob Beach, just watching what he had done and hearing some of the things he had done,” Kirk said of his inspiration. “It’s just a different way of growing the game.”
Kirk will receive the Patriot Award at the annual NEPGA Awards Banquet, Nov. 2, 2019 at Cyprian Keyes Golf Club in Boylston, Mass.