The PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program hosted golf clinics for veterans at Windmill Lakes Golf Club in Ravenna, Ohio, and the Windmill Golf Center in Macedonia, Ohio, for six weeks in May and June. Dan Dauk, PGA Professional at Windmill Lakes Golf Club and Windmill Golf Center, says he found the clinics rewarding. “I’ve probably enjoyed these clinics more than anything I’ve done in my golf career,” Dauk says. Rick Fernandez, an Air Force and Army veteran, says, “The camaraderie is the good part about it and the coaches have been so good.” Dauk says the sites will host the clinics again in 2024.
A special program to provide golf instruction to military veterans recently took place at multiple golf courses in Northeast Ohio.
The PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program hosted clinics at Windmill Lakes Golf Club in Ravenna, Ohio, and the Windmill Golf Center in Macedonia, Ohio, for six weeks in May and June. PGA HOPE is the flagship military program of PGA REACH, the charitable foundation of the PGA of America. PGA HOPE introduces golf to veterans and active duty military service members to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being. There are 162 PGA HOPE programs hosted by 38 different PGA sections.
The Northern Ohio PGA hosted the recent clinics in Ravenna and Macedonia.
Dan Dauk, PGA Professional at Windmill Lakes Golf Club and Windmill Golf Center, supervised all three clinics and says he and his staff enjoyed hosting the program, and plan to conduct the sessions again in 2024.
“I think everybody has really enjoyed coming,” Dauk says. “They’ve enjoyed meeting people. They all talk amongst each other and… the goal of the whole program was just to get some camaraderie, make some friends and listen to different stories, and allow them to get together and play.”
This was the first time Windmill Lakes Golf Club and Windmill Golf Center hosted the program. There were 18 participants at Windmill Lakes Golf Club, and 12 veterans at each of the two sessions at Windmill Golf Center.
Instructors Received Special Training
Several months ago, Dauk went with 50-60 other PGA professionals to Washington D.C. to learn more about PGA HOPE. He met veterans, played golf with some of them, and heard many stories. After playing in a 9-hole scramble, Dauk noticed one of the veterans was crying and asked him what was on his mind.
“He says, ‘this is the first time in weeks that I didn’t think about anything other than golf for two hours,’” Dauk recalls. “My mind didn’t got anywhere else.’”
Dauk notes that exchange with the emotional veteran is an example of how PGA HOPE is “try[ing] to give people that are struggling an opportunity to get into the game of golf and to come out and do something.”
Once he learned about the program and how it can help veterans navigate their return to civilian life, Dauk says it was an easy decision to host the clinics.
“It wasn’t a question of whether I want to do it,” Dauk says. “It was,‘how can you not do it?’ It was just a phenomenal opportunity to get some of the veterans into the game to help them cope with some of the things that they’ve done…I feel like my freedoms in allowing me to work and do what I do is because of their sacrifices and what they did for our country. It’s nice to give something back.”
To prepare for the clinics, Dauk and his instructors went through special training provided by the Northern Ohio PGA. They learned how to work with individuals who have physical disabilities, as well as those who may be dealing with mental and emotional challenges connected to their military service. The training included hitting shots from your knees, hitting the ball while sitting in a chair and swinging the club with one arm, according to Ann Civarella, LPGA Professional at Windmill Lakes Golf Club. Dauk says the training included a lot of discussion about what people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are dealing with.
“Their minds on a daily basis cannot stop thinking about certain things,” Dauk says. “…I couldn’t imagine if I was at war, and somebody I’m running away with, was shot. How could I forget about that?”
Ned Weaver, a PGA Professional at Windmill Golf Center, says the training session also gave him some insight into what veterans were going through.
“They got a lot of stuff going on that we don’t know about,” Weaver says. “…To say they’re in dark places might be [an] understatement. They’re in places that we can’t even fathom.”
Weaver praised the PGA for paying the instructors, as well as covering the costs of the food and the prizes.
“Everybody wins,” Weaver adds. “I think that might be the underlying theme.”
Civarella says she’s enjoyed working with the veterans.
“It’s been fun,” says Civarella, who notes she accompanied the veterans on the golf course during the clinic and says she enjoyed watching them improve their skills throughout the clinic. “They’re great. It’s fun to watch how they’ve all become friends…They’re all so eager to learn…This has been a really special group.”
How The Program Worked
No previous golf knowledge was needed to participate and any length of military service made veterans eligible for the free program. There were 42 to 44 veterans who participated in the three clinics in Ravenna and Macedonia, with Dauk estimating the attendees had accumulated more than 300 years of time in the armed forces. Some served in Vietnam, while others served in Iraq or Afghanistan or in peace time. Dauk notes every branch of the military was represented at the clinics, as well as varying levels of experience and knowledge when it came to golf.
“We have some people that have never played golf before and we have other people that are as low as a 6 handicap,” he says.
Though he’s conducted numerous clinics in his career, Dauk admits he was a little anxious when he started his first interaction with the veterans.
“I’ve never really been nervous about doing clinics, but [for] the first [PGA HOPE clinic]… I was very, very nervous. I said this is kind of neat just because of the people that I’m teaching.”
During the course of the clinic, Dauk says veterans shared their appreciation for the program.
Dauk says he had a veteran tell him, “You have no idea how nice it is to get together with veterans again…I didn’t realize how much I missed being around my comrades.”
Rick Fernandez, an Air Force and Army veteran from Perry, says, “What I like as much as the golf is just getting together with the ex-military guys.”
He notes they enjoy ribbing each other in a way similar to what he remembers happening during his service days.
“We just fall right into it,” Fernandez says. “The camaraderie is the good part about it and the coaches have been so good.”
The veterans also appreciated being outdoors in a peaceful environment to learn the game. Dauk says a veteran who served in Afghanistan told him he was part of a group assigned to burn down marijuana fields; his unit would find abandoned houses to sleep in.
“You come back from something like that just to get out on to the golf course, you probably thank the Lord every day that you’re out there playing golf,” Dauk shares.
A lot of time was spent working with the veterans on chipping and putting, as well as fundamentals of the golf swing. With each passing week, Dauk and his team of instructors focused on a different component of the swing. Since there were many experienced golfers at Windmill Lakes Golf Club, an effort was made to get them on to the course as much as possible. With more novices at Windmill Golf Center, Dauk says more time was spent learning the fundamentals of the golf swing, including proper set-up and effective posture.
Fun was emphasized throughout all of the clinics.
“I think we’ve had a lot of laughs,” Dauk says. “They all know each other by now. There’s some camaraderie. I’ve seen people exchanging phone numbers and they’re going to get out and play golf together.”
Veterans Say Clinic Improved Their Golf Skills
Robert Zehnder, an Air Force veteran from Canton, says he bowls and plays softball, but had never learned to play golf. When he saw information about PGA HOPE, he decided to take advantage of the opportunity to learn how to play from the golf professionals.
Zehnder, who is a retired corrections officer, says, “When I hit the ball great, I’m feeling fantastic.”
He notes he learned where to position the ball in relation to his feet as he lined up chip shots and to be mindful of following through as he finishes his swing.
Fernandez says he’s golfed before, but not very well, and adds he learned some new techniques from the instructors. One helpful tip was learning to hit in front of the ball rather than behind it. He notes he never took a divot when he hit a shot, but learned the ideal shot should dig up a small patch of ground. In addition, he learned to position his hands in front of the ball — rather than even with, or behind the ball — when using a lob wedge.
“That was a big one for me,” Fernandez says.
Steve Downey, an Army veteran from Cuyahoga Falls, says the program has helped him improve his game.
“I’ve dropped probably two strokes a side in the last three or four weeks after getting some instruction on the Trackman,” says Downey, who shares he grew up playing golf with his father and grandfather.
After they looked at his swing on the Trackman, the instructor told Downey to keep his right elbow closer to his body as he made his swing. Once he made that adjustment, Downey says “it was perfect, every time.”
Mike Ozinga, an Army veteran from Burton, says he had not played golf for a long time and notes the instructors were very detail-oriented.
“[The instructors are] watching everything you’re doing,” Ozinga says. They made small adjustments on some aspects of his game, but his tee shots with the driver went through a major overhaul.
“It all kind of came together there,” he says.
Tom Adams, a Marine veteran from Cuyahoga Falls, says he’s “ learned so much…[I’ve learned] practicing putting or chipping is more beneficial than going to the driving range.”
Dauk gave credit to Danielle Nicholson from the Northern Ohio PGA for contacting the Veterans Administration to encourage veterans to take part in the clinic.
“She’s done a phenomenal job,” Dauk says.
He also acknowledged Herb Page, Director of Golf at Windmill Lakes Golf Club and former Head Coach of the Kent State University Men’s Golf Team, for supporting the program. Other instructors who helped with the clinic were Justin Long and Cary Bonham.
On a personal level, Dauk notes he’s found the clinics rewarding.
“I’ve probably enjoyed these clinics more than anything I’ve done in my golf career,” Dauk shares. “…These people are there because they want to be there and every time they leave, they say ‘thank you, thank you, thank you for your time.’”
Dauk says he’s planning to conduct the clinics again next year. During a cookout at Windmill Lakes Golf Club on June 7, he encouraged the participants to tell fellow veterans about the program.
Earlier that same day, Weaver told the veterans, “I can’t tell you how good it’s made me feel [to conduct the clinics]…Having the opportunity to give something back to the game, this is fun for us. This is something that’s so different than what we do every day because really, sincerely, we really, really appreciate what you guys have done and do for us. I can’t thank you enough.”