PGA HOPE Honors Graduates with Inaugural State Tournament

  • Tuesday, April 30, 2024
  • Paul Payne

The transition for veterans from a career in the military into civilian life can be challenging for many. Where the military provided a sense of structure and identity, finding that same level of community in the outside world can be difficult.

But PGA HOPE is not only creating a gathering point for those with a military past, but it is also offering a place for healing and restored hope.

This transformation was evident Monday at Council Fire Club as PGA HOPE staged its first statewide event, gathering graduates of the program from across Tennessee to enjoy a spirited competition while celebrating a renewed outlook on life.

PGA HOPE is the flagship military program of the PGA of America charitable foundation. The goal is to introduce golf to Veterans and Active-Duty Military to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being at no cost through local six-week developmental programs led by PGA professionals.

The seven teams comprised of four Veterans and a PGA professional were treated to a dinner Sunday evening, conducted skills competitions and closed with a nine-hole scramble vying to win the Secretary’s Cup.

“This is a celebration of our Veterans and what they’ve accomplished going through the program,” said Clayton Hromadka, Executive Director of Tennessee Section PGA of America. “It’s also a celebration of our lead instructors, who are passionate with their time and efforts to make sure that the Veterans coming through the program have a chance to enjoy the game of golf and the camaraderie that comes along with it.”

The PGA HOPE team from Springfield comprised of PGA professional Dominic Stephens along with Veterans Van Canuto, Al Pond, Alan Williams and Jim Plemens claimed the trophy. They posted a round of 6-under, one shot better than the teams from Nashville and Chattanooga.

“This is the first time we've brought everybody together from every part of Tennessee,” Hromadka said. “For many of them this is the first time they've ever been to a private club and the first time they've ever been part of a team event. It’s just exciting to give back to them after they’ve given so much for our country through their service.”

Steve Mitchell was part of the first PGA HOPE class of 11 attendees in Chattanooga conducted in the fall of 2022. Being able to continue developing relationships through the program while enjoying the game of golf has been a blessing.

“Isolation is big in military people dealing with issues,” said Mitchell. “Being able to break the isolation with things like this is so helpful to people that are struggling. It gives them something to look forward to and people that they want to be around. Because a lot of times, you get service members that are dealing with crap, and they don't want to be around anybody and they turn to the wrong things.”

Angela Hammontree could certainly identify with these feelings of isolation following her career in the military, but PGA HOPE has provided needed community.

“I tell these guys that they’re making it hard for me to be a hermit,” Hammontree said. “But it’s been good. I used to go out to the lake on my Sea-Doo by myself. Now, I’m doing PGA HOPE, I’m playing with the ladies’ group on Mondays and I actually go play with my dad or other people I meet on the range. I’m like, ‘Wow. This is not me.’”

Casey Willett was around the game growing up in Louisiana where his parents ran a golf course. But his military career and some injuries put his golf game on hold for years. After hearing about the local PGA HOPE program led by Tennessee Golf Foundation regional director Lamar Mills, he felt compelled to resume playing golf

“Lamar and the guys that come out to teach us could be doing a thousand other things, but they take time out of their schedule to give us attention,” Willett said. “Whether you’ve been playing forever or just started, you get the same amount of attention. Lamar knows your name every time he sees you. You feel like a part of a family.”

With the completion of this spring’s PGA HOPE class, there will soon be more than 100 Veterans who have attended the Chattanooga chapter.

“We will have over a 100 people that have connected in this community and have created a network that continues to spread like a web,” Mills said. “We started having play dates for our graduates, and this year we'll have 12 play dates with 20 people coming out every month. We didn't want it to be just six weeks, but something that connects them year-round.”

Daniel Ferrere has personally experienced the benefits produced through PGA HOPE that would not normally be found through other support systems for Veterans.

“I've been all over the country, and programs like this that are not tied to the V.A. offers us the opportunity to heal in therapy that isn’t offered through the government,” Ferrere said. “Programs like this just bring you back and allow you to forget about all the other things in life.”

Regardless of which branch of military, PGA HOPE allows all Veterans to gain a sense of connection according to Willett.

“No matter if you served in the Air Force, Army or Navy, we all signed the same contract,” Willett said. “So, we all had that in common. When I got out, I was looking for my people because you become so used to what the military was like. Now going to a golf course where I can play with people with something in common being Veterans is special.”

For those interested in more information or desiring to register for the summer class that begins July 13, go to PGA HOPE Chattanooga.

Paul Payne can be emailed at paulpayne6249@gmail.com

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