PGA Hope provides a safe place to help acclimate, enjoy the game

PGA Hope fall 2023 program graduates. Photo courtesy PGA Hope

By Dorie Sugay

Those who enlisted in the Armed Forces were eager to serve their country, fulfill a purpose, travel, or continue a family tradition. They were likely not thinking of what the end of deployment would be like.

What they didn’t realize is that re-entry into civilian life can be challenging, even overwhelming.  Adjusting to one’s new reality can be daunting — the key to your home still works, but you walk into a home furnished with unknowns. Deployment changed them. Deployment changed those they loved and the world they once knew. The good news is many found a way to adapt to civilian life. The sad news is that 22 veterans commit suicide daily in the United States, and many others struggle to free themselves of the nightmare they experienced.

The Professional Golfers’ Association of America, through its charitable arm (PGA Reach), has stepped up to help by creating PGA Hope — a flagship military program designed to help veterans with their new mission — to survive and thrive in their new life. It has helped several Morgan Hill residents and offers veterans a chance to be with other veterans, to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of the outdoors, engage in a fun, social, safe environment where the only requirement is to participate and be open, and to give this assimilation and rehabilitation tool “a shot.” PGA Hope offers veterans free adaptive golf lessons.

How is golf going to help a Veteran devastated by the loss of a limb, or someone who no longer feels like they belong? PGA Hope’s classes encourage social connection which is a remedy for isolation. Like other forms of exercise, golf can be a stress-reducer. In golf it is important to focus and physically prepare before “deploying” the ball flying through the air to its “duty station.” This seemingly simple process requires focus, determination, patience, strategy and a good sense of humor — all beneficial life skills.

For Morgan Hill resident Robert A. Olaires, U.S. Army (retired), the program provided multiple benefits.

“PGA Hope has given me a sense of purpose, belonging, and a chance to give back to my fellow veterans by getting involved,” he said. “In doing so, hopefully making their day a little bit better and quieting the war within through the game of golf.”

Morgan Hill resident, John “Snapper” Snopkowski, director of instruction at the Santa Teresa Golf Club said for a golf professional, sharing the great game of golf to give something back to our veterans is an absolute honor.

“We need to take care of veterans, and to give them space and places like this to commune and heal together.”

Launched in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, PGA Hope is a national program. There are other organizations that offer golf to veterans, but PGA Hope is the only adaptive sports program. Classes are conducted by PGA professionals who are trained in military cultural competency and adaptive golf for veterans with varying levels of capabilities and disabilities. A seven-week program, veterans are provided equipment, access to a golf course, refreshments, prizes, a Pro-Am tournament, graduation launch and logo golf shirt.

Golf is not for everyone but this program’s emphasis is in the social connection, not the competition. As one veteran put it, “whether you are good at this or you are bad at it, we want you to join us, your comrades.” Another said, “if you don’t even check it out, you are missing out. A life-changing experience, this could be a lifetime tool.”

Dorie Sugay is the executive director of Visiting Angel and involved with senior issues in Morgan Hill. She can be reached at (408) 846-2988 or email here at [email protected].