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Military Veterans Poised to Graduate West Point PGA HOPE Program
Author: Paul Giordano
June 30th 2015 - WEST POINT, NY—Veterans from the Hudson Valley VA have been on a tour of duty at West Point Golf Course for the past six weeks to try their hand at golf with the PGA HOPE Program. On July 2nd they graduate.
 
PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) is a program with the mission to “utilize golf as a rehabilitation tool to improve our veterans’ quality of life by enhancing their mental, social, physical, and emotional well-being.” The program is a part of PGA Reach, the charitable foundation of the Professional Golfer’s Association, and exists in 20 states with 46 programs and over 1,000 veterans participating. The PGA HOPE program at West Point is the first in the Metropolitan New York area, and is being run by the Metropolitan Section of the PGA. The goal is to have a program in every state by 2016.
 
Met PGA HOPE is a six week adaptive golf program offered to veterans free of charge by PGA Professionals from the Metropolitan area. It is designed to introduce veterans to the game of golf in an effort to enhance their overall quality of life. The program is open to all veterans, but is geared specifically to those suffering from disabilities and is meant to help them assimilate back into their local communities.
 
HOPE is taught by dozens of volunteer golf professionals, some of who are military veterans themselves. Dave Carazo, a Vietnam War Veteran, and Paul Glut, a former Marine, are two such golf professionals who have been dedicated to the program since its start in the Met Section.
 
“These guys, a lot of them have spent a lot of time overseas and have been in some very, very tough situations, so when they come back home I want to make sure I do everything I can to help them out.” Said, Glut.
 
Met Section volunteer PGA Professionals have been specially trained to work with veterans of various disabilities by David Windsor of the Adaptive Golf Academy in Sarasota, FL. In late March of this year, Windsor took a trip up to Westchester Country Club in Harrison, NY to train the section’s golf professionals to work with veterans and adapt their approach to people of all disabilities, be it physical or cognitive.
 
Several months later, the Pros were able to put their abilities to use by teaching the veterans enrolled in PGA HOPE the various skills involved in the game, which will lead up to a friendly competition on the actual golf course once the vets graduate the program on July 2nd, just in time for Independence Day. The graduation day session will include a 6-hole tournament among the veterans, played on the challenging West Point Golf Course, and a graduation ceremony and dinner that will take place in the West Point Officers Club. Veterans who have attended four out of the six weeks will also receive a set of golf clubs donated by various members of the PGA community.
 
The graduation ceremony will conclude the first chapter of the PGA HOPE program in the Metropolitan area, but it will return again in the fall. The Metropolitan PGA is looking to expand its reach of the HOPE program to Long Island and is hoping to have at least 5 locations by next year.
 
The veterans have taken well to the game and have been raising questions as to what happens once HOPE has ended. The Metropolitan PGA is looking into creating a Veteran’s League at West Point so that they can continue to play golf together once they have graduated. The goal is create something that is long lasting that the veterans can continue to do for the rest of their lives.
 
“This is the one sport where I feel like I can focus just on that; it gets my mind to stop.” Said Robert Zawacki, a veteran in the program who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I believe it’s actually helping, so I’m very grateful for this.”
 
“It helps me stay in the moment. Sometimes my mind races a lot and golf is a great sport that’s been a blessing for me.” Shawn Huggins, another veteran dealing with PTSD, remarked.
 
The PGA of America’s tradition of commitment to the United States Military traces back to World War I, when the Association first purchased ambulances to support our nation’s troops. As well, during World War II, PGA members built golf ranges and courses at military hospitals and conducted war bond drives to further the cause.
 
PGA HOPE is an extension of the PGA’s Wounded Warrior Strategy that was implemented at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C.; Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio; and Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego is 2007. The PGA Foundation, regional PGA Sections and PGA Professionals nationwide are working with local VA hospitals to initiate this program across the country.
 
“This is something that’s going to carry over for me. In the coming years I plan to pursue this sport and be as best as I can be.” Says Ronnie Hansford, former Army.
 
For a short video of the PGA HOPE program at West Point visit: https://youtu.be/qk5OKv_buhY
 
For a short video of the PGA HOPE training at Westchester Country Club visit: https://youtu.be/Uu3I0USR2EA
 
For a brief article about the first day of the PGA HOPE program at West Point visit: http://www.met.pga.com/PGA-HOPE_WestPoint.news
 

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