By Ken MacLeod
It was a glorious morning for a golf tournament, and for most of the 48 veterans competing in the PGA Hope Secretary’s Cup at The Club at Indian Springs Monday, any day on the golf course is a blessing.
The tournament was comprised of 12 teams from across the country consisting of four veterans and the PGA Professional who runs their local PGA Hope chapter. PGA Hope and PGA Reach are two arms of the PGA of America’s charitable foundation, the PGA Hope program that works with veterans now helps more than 7,500 vets across the country, and there is an intent of growing the program considerably.
“We’re not putting a number on it, we’d like to help as many veterans as we can,” said PGA of America President Jim Richerson. “We’ve got millions of veterans around the country who could benefit from golf.”
Two teams from Oklahoma participated. Jim Young, the director of instruction at Gaillardia Country Club in Oklahoma City, was on hand with certified therapeutic recreational specialists Sarah Sands and Stacy Lawton from the Oklahoma City Veterans Administration. Together they have been running a program to help veterans through golf in the OKC area for more than seven years.
Young teaches the golf while Sands and Lawton are there to help with both the physical and mental issues that afflict many veterans. They will help with adaptive technologies and equipment, whether a special wheel chair is needed, altered golf clubs or grips, a wide range of custom solutions to help the vets enjoy the game. And since many suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they help them to enjoy the game for the stress relief it can provide.
Justin Cook, who served four tours around Iraq with the U.S. Navy, was one of the four OKC team members playing Monday, having been in the program for three years. He suffers from PTSD and said golf has been a great component in healing. Plus, after being an occassional player before joining the service, he has fallen hard for the game and loves the competitive and team aspects as well.
“It’s a way to bond just like the military was,” he said. “It’s a way to get us out, get us around other vets. For my PTSD, I’m not as hyper vigilant as I was. The ability to be out with other vets, we have that same brotherhood, camaraderie that we did in the military.
“The golf course also gives you a sense of serenity with nature. Golf helps with both your physical and mental health.”
The other veterans playing for OKC Monday were Chris Gayhart (U.S. Army), Luke Rice (Army) and Brian Fitzgerald (Air Force.) The Tulsa area team consisted of PGA Director of Instruction at Indian Springs Kyley Tetley and vets Waco Blakely (Marine Corps), Bud Loftis (Army) and Jonathan Shepherd (Marine Corps).
Richerson was one of many PGA dignitaries on hand. He said the PGA is pouring more resources into PGA Hope and trying to raise more funds to expand the program.
“We think golf gives them an opportunity to get their minds off some of the things they’ve gone through,” Richerson said. “There’s a calming effect. And there’s the concentration. Your really need to concentrate when you’re learning the game. We hear that from a lot of vets, they focus and are able to concentrate on the game. And they are with other vets, and can help one another as well just as they used to. All those aspects combined is why the program has been successful.”
The Oklahoma City program is unique in that it doesn’t graduate players in a few sessions but will work with the veterans as long as they want to participate.
“I think it’s been impactful,” Sands said. “We have six to eight per class and we have seen a lot of them really benefit. Our program is unique because it comes from a clinical component and it its integrating them back into the community and getting them comfortable. Our focus is bridging that gap and getting them out of the house and into a great game.”