On a recent cool April morning, 13 veterans from across Central Florida attended their third session of the Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA) Helping Our Patriots Everywhere (HOPE) program at the Royal St. Cloud Golf Links. Royal St. Cloud is the only golf course in the area to provide its facility and the staff members needed to conduct the program.
The Hope Program introduces the game of golf through a developmental six to eight-week curriculum, led by PGA Professionals trained in adaptive golf and military cultural competency. The program is funded by the PGA REACH foundation and is free to all veterans. Doug Holloway, Head PGA Professional for Royal St. Cloud, conducted the morning session.
One of the program’s veterans, Andres from St. Cloud, feels he gets benefits from the program on several levels.
“First of all, it is a no-judgment environment. You try your best, and if you get it, fine, but if you are struggling, everyone understands that,” Andres said. “Plus, it gets you outside, and it is a calm environment,” he continued.
That calm was broken for a time, as that morning an ambulance brought a patient to the golf course’s parking lot from a nearby accident for evacuation by a helicopter ambulance. Just as the sound of the inbound helicopter was barely perceptible, most of the veterans turned to look in the direction of the approaching aircraft, undoubtedly reminiscent of similar scenes they might have witnessed in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam.
Through coordination with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), VA medical and rehabilitative specialists can refer veterans to the program as part of their therapy. Christina Lafex, the Adaptive Sports Coordinator for the Orlando VA Medical Center, and a Certified Therapeutic Recreational Specialist, was on hand to observe and offer advice to some of the veterans she has placed in the program.
“There are a number of adaptive sports programs available to veterans in Central Florida. Spartan Race recently opened a corporate office in Lake Nona, and they are developing an adaptive program for veterans to participate in their endurance races” Lefex said. “We also have VA and other resources for adaptive sports equipment, nutrition, and wellness for adaptive athletes.”
Also in attendance from the VA was Dr. Christopher Meyering D.O., a Sports Medicine practitioner and retired Army colonel. He commented on the benefit of these types of adaptive sports programs to the veterans.
“The very fact that these veterans are willing to engage in activities that might be new to them, or they felt were lost to them, shows positive progress,” Meyerling said.
A fall session is scheduled to start in September 2023, and a registration link will be posted around July 26, 2023. There is also a Winter session planned. More information at the PGA Hope link: http://bit.ly/3zscTKi.
If you are veteran and already an active golfer, there is an informal “military” league already playing at Royal St. Cloud and you can contact the course for details.
For more information from the VA on Adaptive Sports Programs, call 407-631-6029.