This week, veterans from across the country attended the National Golf and Wellness Week at Congressional Country Club as part of the Professional Golfers’ Association’s military charity, PGA HOPE. The program introduces golf to veterans with disabilities to enhance their well-being. Lessons are taught by PGA professionals and free to all who have served.
Many participants turned to golf for its physical and mental health benefits and its challenges.
Navy veteran Michael Moore says the program also brought him closer to other veterans who had shared experiences.
“It was a safe place.” Moore said. “I was around brothers and sisters from the armed forces and it just — like I could breath. It just felt easy.”
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Moore served four years onboard the USS John F. Kennedy in Norfolk, Virginia. He deployed during Operation Desert Storm and said he remembered feeling tense during his time overseas.
“We didn’t always see what was happening, but we knew the bombs were being loaded on the aircraft carrier and the aircraft were coming back without them,” said Moore.
Moore now helps introduce other veterans to the program so they experience similar benefits.
Carter Check works with veterans both on and off the golf course. He served in the Army for three years and now works with veterans affairs as a behavioral health chaplain. He’s also an active member of the suicide prevention team. Check said he sees firsthand how golf has helped veterans.
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“It’s that bond that really develops purpose. We all have problems. Everybody has problems,” Check said. “If you only listen to your problems that’s all you’re going to see. Something like PGA Hope gets you out and gives you purpose. And when you can give someone purpose, they can walk through every problem that they have.”
The group of veterans are now deemed PGA Hope Ambassadors and are motivated to recruit more veterans to participate. Army National Guard veteran Hollis Burkes has recruited an all-female veteran group to her Ohio PGA Section. She said many are sexual assault survivors and that golf has helped improve their lives.
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“A lot of women who have been victims of sexual assault are really not comfortable talking to a lot of people.” Burkes said. “It’s just nice to see them become more comfortable with other people. So it’s just been really great.”
Army veteran and Silver Star recipient Chris Cordova served through four deployments, but there is one he will always remember. Cordova worked as a combat medic and helped save dozens of lives when his post was attacked in Afghanistan. Hundreds of Taliban fighters ambushed combat outpost Keating in October 2009. Twenty-seven soldiers were wounded and eight were killed.
“My goal every day is to honor the sacrifices that those eight soldiers made.” Cordova said. “If it wasn’t for their sacrifices there’s a strong chance I wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t have a family. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the things that I enjoy today. So every single day I want to honor those eight soldiers. I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for them.”
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Cordova served another 11 years in the Army. When he retired he began golfing with his family. He said since getting involved in PGA HOPE, he has seen how the program has helped other veterans.
“I’ve been through some struggles, but I have a very strong support system but a lot of veterans who are estranged from their veteran community this helps bring them back in and find that comradery again,” Cordova said.
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If you are a veteran and want to get involved in the PGA HOPE program head to pgareach.org for more information.