ATKINSON, N.H. – If you’re a PGA Professional, you know the rewarding feeling you get when a student experiences a major golf breakthrough. It might be the reason you got into the business, or maybe the reason you stay in it. But have you ever dreamed there could be something even bigger? Something that dwarfs the excitement of guiding an eager student to success? More than a dozen golf professionals spent a chilly April Tuesday at Atkinson Resort & Country Club and learned just that.
Participants at the PGA HOPE Training session, ranging from past NEPGA Presidents to Level 1 Associates, were hopping on one leg, swinging with one arm, giving lessons without speaking, and – while hitting balls with their eyes closed – seeing a world of golf they never imaged. The world many Veterans experience day-in and day-out.
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Through the training program, PGA Professionals became certified to host a PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) Program at their facility, or assist at one hosted by another facility. The full-day event, led by National PGA HOPE Trainer Brian Oliver, PGA, and furnished by the NEPGA Foundation, was broken up into classroom and on-range sessions. The day’s goal was to equip PGA Professionals to work with Veterans who may be battling physical or mental disabilities. But the reach far overshot a typical day of education.
“My biggest takeaway, today or with the Vets at home, is how much we take for granted,” said Alex Kirk, PGA, who is the recipient of the 2019 NEPGA Patriot Award for the work he does with Veterans at Hanover Country Club at Dartmouth College. “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 tournament golf and members and worrying about having the perfect swing. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be so technical.”
Oliver, who is one of four national PGA HOPE Trainers, performs roughly 7-10 trainings per year and brings a passion for helping others to each training. When a training session ends, he knows the attendees leave with more than a new tool in their toolbox. They take a new perspective with them as well.
“I feel like I’ve opened their minds to a different avenue of golf,” he said. “Helping our Veterans who helped us. It’s rewarding when you see other professionals get something out of a program that maybe they weren’t anticipating. It’s pretty cool.”
PGA HOPE introduces golf to Veterans through a developmental 6-8 week curriculum, taught by PGA Professionals who have completed PGA HOPE Training. Programs are funded by PGA REACH, the charitable foundation of the PGA of America. PGA HOPE aspires to create a physically and emotionally healthier Veteran community by shaping lives, changing lives, and possibly saving lives through the game of golf.
“We want the Veterans to feel that as golf professionals, we are here to give our services to help them learn to play golf and use the golf platform as a form of rehabilitation to get them out of the house to where they’re not thinking of any negative thoughts or suicidal thoughts,” Oliver said. “It’s been proven that when they come through this program, they start to limit any flashbacks or any negative thoughts. That’s our goal in the program for the Vets.”
The NEPGA is organizing PGA HOPE programs in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine in 2019. Check out more information online.