PGA partnership with VA helps veterans find hope

September 06, 2019 - 10:05 am
Twin Warriors Golf Club pro Allan McDermott provides swing technique advice to U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Phoebe Comeau during a golf outing at the Twin Warriors Golf Club, Bernalillo, New Mexico.

Staff Sgt. David Overson


By Staff Sgt. David Overson 

Physical fitness is important to all Americans, but at times it can be even more important to Veterans who may be getting older, or who suffer from physical or mental complications caused by service connected disabilities.

In order to combat these physical or mental complications, adaptive and recreational sports play a pivotal role. Thanks to the adaptive and recreational sports program at New Mexico VA Health Care System’s Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M., and VA’s partners – PGA HOPE and Sun Country Golf- Veterans were afforded the opportunity to get out onto the links at the Twin Warriors Golf Club in Bernalillo, New Mexico.

“Across the United States, brave men and women have answered the call. They have sacrificed, and they have done their duty honorably,” said golf legend and program spokesman Jack Nicklaus in a PGA HOPE video. “Now as they return home, it’s our duty to look after them. Our mission as Americans must be to ensure their continued support and wellbeing… we are here for you, as you have always been here for us.”

The eight-week program is aimed at introducing golf to Veterans with disabilities to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being. The curriculum was taught by PGA professionals trained in adaptive golf and military cultural competency. The program was funded by PGA REACH and supplemented by PGA Section Foundations, so the cost was free to all Veterans.

Laura Miller, PGA HOPE Program Specialist for PGA REACH, expressed her personal feelings about the program and the benefit Veterans gain by getting out and playing more golf.

“The game of golf has the power to change lives,” said Miller. “The positive feedback we receive from Veterans each year truly validates the impact of the program. Many Veterans have been in dark places, and after participating in the HOPE program, they’ve found a new purpose, a new reason to get out of bed every morning and assimilate within their communities.

“Veterans have selflessly served and protected our freedoms, and the opportunity to deliver programming that gets Veterans physically and socially active again is the reason for PGA HOPE. Since its inception, the program has helped thousands of veterans assimilate back into their communities, and it is humbling to know that we are contributing to healthy habits, while creating a positive impact on their lives.”

U.S. Army Veteran Henry Davis celebrates as his ball is about to go into the hole at the Twin Warriors Golf Club, Bernalillo, New Mexico.
Staff Sgt. David Overson

Catherine (Cat) Ivie is a New Mexico VA Health Care System physical medicine and rehabilitation recreation therapist at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M., where she coordinated the program with local Veterans and provided transportation when needed.

“Golf can help Veterans improve their health by becoming more physically active, lose weight, and increase socialization,” said Ivie. “By providing training, the pros are it can help reduce pain or physical conditions from effecting the quality of the Veterans’ golf game.”

Miller added that golf, like any recovery process, is a challenge by choice – It’s a game where the only real competition is yourself. Golf challenges and empowers Veterans to get outside of their personal comfort zones. It continuously challenges Veterans to take control of their own lives and embrace themselves at their level of ability.

“It has been proven that the game of golf serves as a therapeutic part of the rehabilitation process,” said Miller. “Veterans are happy to share their positive experience with fellow Veterans who may be struggling. Offering a program like PGA HOPE, keeps Veterans active and gives them purpose, which is integral to their overall health and sense of well-being.”

Approximately six local golf pros were generally on hand at each session throughout the program to offer the basics of golf to the beginners, or precise fine-tuning advice to those more experienced players.

“I think the benefit and access to the very knowledgeable golf pros are some of best aspects to this program,” added Ivie. “Veterans can become more active and social, and may increase participation in other programs, or gain golf buddies to continue golfing with throughout the year thanks to this program.”

Allen McDermott, a golf pro with the Twin Warriors Golf Club says helping Veterans either learn or relearn the game of golf with an adaptive approach is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.

“We wouldn’t be able to be out here running a golf course without our Veterans doing what they’ve done for our country,” said McDermott. “It means the world to me and all of us here at the Twin Warriors Golf Club.”

71-year-old Army Veteran Gary Sloan is one of many Veterans who previously played a lot of golf, but in recent years due to disability complications had been relegated to the proverbial sidelines.

“I was a very avid golfer,” said Sloan. “I practiced virtually every day. This has given me the opportunity to enjoy something that was so significant in my life that I would not have had otherwise.”

Therapy comes in many different shapes and forms; it clearly transforms the lives of those experiencing it, and its impact can have a lasting lifelong effect on individuals. To Gary Sloan, its impact was evident.

“I cannot tell you how important this is to me,” added Sloan. “Just being out here and being able to absorb the atmosphere and see people playing the game, and even in my own simple way of swinging a club, brings back so many fond memories of how much joy I’ve had playing this game.”

U.S. Army Veteran Joe Martinek uses an adaptive swing at the Twin Warriors Golf Club, Bernalillo, New Mexico, while participating in the New Mexico VA Health Care System’s adaptive sports program
Staff Sgt. David Overson

Some Veterans are limited to the amount of exertion they can endure, while others cannot swing a golf club with both arms. However, the golf pros teaching and assisting weekly found creative methods to enable each Veteran an opportunity to enjoy the sport in a unique but efficient fashion.

“First we figure out what the Veteran can and can’t do,” added McDermott. “We eliminate ‘Can’t’, and then we find a way.”

Approximately 25 local Veterans participated in the fourth year of the NMVAHCS’ adaptive sports golf clinic, and its success was palpable.

“It would be a real loss to not have this opportunity,” added Sloan. “Thank you, PGA, and thank you, VA.”