The perfect shot off a golf tee can be one of the most elusive parts of the game for some players. Anyone who has played the game knows it’s one that can bring you great frustration and great satisfaction at the same time. The PGA’s non-profit arm PGA REACH is hoping the game of golf can provide disabled and non-disabled veterans an outlet with their PGA HOPE program.
“PGA HOPE is open to all veterans, but it primarily does focus on disabled veterans,” said Matt Starr, Head Golf Professional at Meadow Links golf course.
Meadow Links is part of the Hamilton County Parks system and has hosted PGA HOPE for the past four years.
On the PGA REACH website, the organization says 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."
“All of our PGA golf professionals are specifically trained on adaptive golf,” Starr said. “So we kind of understand that people are going through a lot of challenges. They may be very visible, they may not be visible at all, and we’ve been able to adapt our teaching and our instruction to be able to help those individuals."
PGA HOPE gave free professional golf lessons nationwide to approximately 2,500 veterans in 2019. The sessions run one day of the weekend between six to eight weeks. This will be the fifth year Meadow Links will host the program, and Matt Starr admits that, with the pandemic, this year’s class will be shorter and more socially distanced.
“Typically we can have our whole group gather together and it really builds camaraderie for our group, but this year we’re going to stagger the start of the program so that some groups are starting a little earlier, some groups starting a little later,” said Starr.
Navy veteran Joe Wattenhofer went through the PGA HOPE six-week program and said, aside from the ribbing that takes place between members from different branches of the service, it’s a place to get your mind off things for a couple of hours.
“It takes a lot of concentration, so you’re not thinking about a lot of things when you’re taking lessons and playing golf,” he said.
Wattenhofer built a bond with some of the veterans he went through the program with and now plays golf regularly with them, creating a lasting friendship outside of golf, too.
Starr said he's seen veterans in past sessions go through a change over the several weeks of either trying golf for the first time or just knocking the rust off their swing.
“If we can give them a couple hours outside of their normal where they may be struggling with some inner demons,” he said, "it certainly means the world to us as golf professionals to be able to help somebody out and provide that for them.”
Starr said he’s had vets break down in tears and thank him for giving them a different outlet.
“We’re really trying, out of this PGA program, not to just grow the game of golf, but to grow the veteran community,” Starr said. “Kind of create a physically emotionally more healthy veteran community out of this program.”
At the time of publishing, there were a handful of spots remaining. Veterans interested in finding out more information should contact Matt Starr at Meadow Links golf course.
This year’s shortened session runs two hours every Saturday from Aug. 8 through the 29th.