Five years ago, with those devastating statistics in mind, three visionary community members in Northern California identified a growing need for veteran support. It was clear that the region’s nearly 377,000 veterans were underserved, and they set out to create a therapeutic golfing program that could change the narrative - and with it, the lives of thousands of at-risk veterans.
The trio teamed up with PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) and created the first Northern California chapter. It was, shall we say, a slow start. Despite aggressive recruiting and partnership with professional PGA instructors, the three founders launched the first golf clinic session... with one veteran in attendance.
It’s hard to make a big difference when the numbers aren’t working in your favor, so they did what any good veteran support group would do: they connected with the local VA Hospital Centers.
Now, the Presidio Golf Course in San Francisco is home to one of the largest clinic sites, serving a demographic that is mainly low-moderate income and fighting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other brain traumas. Since Spring 2016, Presidio has hosted 221 veterans.
It works a little something like this:
Each clinic has about 30 veteran participants. Over the course of six weeks of professionally-led classes with PGA instructors, they learn the game of golf. Veterans are split into three groups -- Alpha, Beta, and Charlie -- with stations like chipping, putting, and a full swing driving range. Understandably, many golf balls are shanked and divots created, but that’s half the experience of golfing.
For the veterans they serve, though, there are more benefits than simply learning the game. PTSD, in particular, can be a very debilitating and isolating condition. Many individuals struggling with the disorder have difficulty getting out of their homes and socializing with others. Through programs like PGA HOPE, they’re connected with other veterans facing similar challenges or hardships. They’re connected with a community.
One of those veterans is Bruce Bourne. Bruce served in the Army and has been a fixture at PGA HOPE since his own graduation from the clinic in 2018.
“I’ve been blessed in my life with a lot of positive things. But there are men and women in this program who have physical and mental health issues, or social issues, or lack a group of friends they can call, or who aren’t active enough,” Bruce said.
“The opportunity to get free, professional instruction; to participate in organized play days with fellow vets; to build a skill, a network, and a routine of periodic social and physical activity – I know what it has done for me and have seen what it can do for others. [E]ven though it is a free program for me – I myself have donated to support it. I sincerely commend the program to anyone who wants to help improve the lives of the men and women who have served in uniform.”
In addition to the powerful community he’s cultivated, the clinic has clearly benefited his golf game, too. Look at this form:
Air Force veteran Joe Papadakis (“Big Joe”) has also gotten more than good technique from the clinics. He calls it Paradise Presidio and wrote a poem with the same name. The poignancy of his words is awe-inspiring:
“I'm not going to be filled with a memory of sorrow.
For you see, I'm at Paradise Presidio.
For I have seen the gates of hell open and release my frozen heart.
I'm living proof, as I run on the beautiful green grass with the tall grand trees and their majestic splendor...”
The therapeutic and mental health benefits of the PGA HOPE clinics are apparent, and for veterans like Bruce and Big Joe, it’s the catalyst for life-changing impact. This year, it was almost taken away.
At Chive Charities, we knew of PGA HOPE through a former veteran recipient, Ryan Brown. He truly loved the program, and shared that it “not only helped him improve his golf game, but connected him with veteran golfers of all abilities and skill levels, and provided the camaraderie veterans rarely find outside the military.”
That might have been our only direct connection to the organization if it weren’t for the global pandemic that struck this year. The impact of COVID-19 has been far-reaching, and it affected PGA HOPE and its efforts to provide ongoing veteran support.
On average, it costs around $250 to get a veteran through the six-week clinic, with about 25-30 vets per session. The math adds up. Typically, PGA HOPE funds its programs through foundations, corporations, and enterprises; however, with the lack of funding available to them, their overall budget for the year has been severely limited.
The problems are two-fold. Do you know what doesn’t help with feelings of isolation? Mandated directives to quarantine and self-isolate. PGA HOPE is unable to provide programming specifically created to combat isolation because of a global pandemic that demanded isolation.
Thankfully, the power of community played a role again.
Call it a hole-in-one, an ace, or just being on your A-game -- Chive Charities donors stepped up to provide PGA HOPE and the veterans they serve with a $10,000 grant to fund the participation of 40 vets at the next Presidio fall clinic. We’ll call helping our patriots everywhere a job well done.
But supporting the brave men and women who sacrificed so much for this country isn’t something that can be checked off a list. The job is never over. This one grant item will impact 40 deserving veterans. What could $5, $10, $100 do for another person in need? We’re here to help you find out. DONATE HERE.
And, if you’re a veteran in Northern California interested in joining the program, connecting with other veterans, or learning more about the services and clinics offered through PGA HOPE, please visit https://www.ncpgafoundation.org/hope.