PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The Michigan PGA Section, a longtime supporter of the military, took another step in its efforts to thank veterans by launching a chapter of PGA HOPE on Patriot Day, Sept. 11, at Custer Greens Golf Course in Battle Creek, Mich.
The 9-hole course lies on the grounds of the Battle Creek VA Medical Center, where PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) participants can feel at home while receiving the friendship and free golf instruction from PGA Professionals.
PGA Professional Bob Bales, the PGA head professional at Sauganash Golf Club in Three Rivers, Mich., is a leader of the team of PGA Professionals serving the veterans. Bales, 53, is chair of the Michigan PGA Education Committee and past chair of the Section Growth of the Game Committee.
Veterans use golf as part of their rehabilitation.
"It is a great experience to be among our veterans and find how strong a component golf is to their rehabilitation," said Bales. "It was a very special opening for us on Sept. 11. The veterans were treating us like we were heroes. I did not feel worthy, and want to emphasize that we were working to thank them for their service."
Bales said that PGA Professionals benefited from their own training prior to the PGA HOPE debut by a training session on Aug. 24, from PGA/LPGA Professional Judy Alvarez of Palm City, Fla., who spent the previous four months as director of player development at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind.
"It had to be one of the most amazing visits that I have had to help train PGA Professionals to work with veterans," said Alvarez, whose golf career began by working with the physically challenged. "The chemistry between the PGA Professionals, the VA, and the veterans themselves was awesome! It was a tremendous honor for me to be there."
PGA HOPE, funded by the PGA Foundation, has spread to eight states. Scott Ferguson, the director of therapeutic recreation for the Battle Creek VA Medical Center, said that he was uplifted by the results of the first PGA HOPE class.
"We had 15 veterans in the first class and they were excited to be there," said Ferguson. "The response was better than what we had anticipated. It is so special to see the benefits of golf for our veterans."
Bales took over the reins of the PGA VA Tournament in Battle Creek, an event that originated in 1954 as the Veterans Rehabilitation Hospital Championship. That championship is now a model for similar competitions following Memorial Day in three PGA Chapters within the state. The PGA VA Tournament began 58 years ago under the leadership of current PGA Life Member Ron La Parl.
"It is great to see this enthusiasm for helping our veterans taken to a new level," said Michigan PGA Executive Director Kevin Helm. "The pieces were already in place in Battle Creek, with Bob Bales working so closely with a proactive VA staff. We hope that more will come to support it and that we can spread it everywhere."
About PGA HOPE
In a sport where relationships are everything, PGA HOPE delivers a new level of enjoyment through golf that enables our nation's heroes to once again be active and participate in a game that enhances their mental, social, physical, and emotional well-being. PGA HOPE builds this foundation through PGA Sections and their PGA Professionals, who partner with local Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals.
Modeled after the GIVE (Golf for Injured Veterans Everywhere) program, which debuted in 2007 in Iowa, PGA HOPE introduces golf to men and women who have served our country by assisting them to assimilate back into a normal routine and lifestyle.
PGA HOPE currently features programs in Atlanta, Battle Creek, Mich.; Los Angeles; Bethesda/Olney, Maryland; Fort Belvoir, Va.; Akron, Ohio; and San Antonio. In 2010, Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, Ohio, launched the first women's veterans program - Clearview HOPE.
About The PGA Foundation
Founded in 1978, The PGA Foundation enhances the lives of individuals through the game of golf, with specific focus on America's youth, persons with a disability and minorities. The PGA Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) public philanthropic foundation, maintains The PGA of America's mission to elevate the role of PGA Professionals and promote interest in participation in the game of golf.
The PGA Foundation creates opportunities to learn to play the game, and offers educational scholarships leading to employment in the golf industry. Through these efforts, the PGA Foundation seeks to contribute to a spirit of inclusiveness within the game of golf.
The philanthropic initiative focuses on partners from two distinct areas - those who play golf and have a means to give back to the game, and the corporate world whose community and civic initiatives align with the PGA Foundation.
The PGA Foundation programming supports the following three strategic initiatives: the Boys & Girls Club of America, PGA Diversity Golf Management Scholarships, and PGA HOPE.