by Patrick Galbincea

One of the goals the Northern Ohio Golf Association (NOGA) Charities & Foundation set for itself last spring was to get more veterans involved in its Return To Golf® program.  Thanks to a connection made with the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center, the program has been busier than ever with group programming for amputees and individuals with traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

“Expanding our Return To Golf® programming for veterans has been a top priority for us this year,” said NOGA Charities & Foundation Director Frank Rihtar.  “It’s taken some time, but we’re starting to make the connections.”

Program Director Trevor Hazen took a key step with the Veterans Administration in May when he invited their newly hired recreational therapist Patricia Whitecotton to attend an upcoming open house at the Wharton Golf Center.

“Having Patty attend the open house was great,” Hazen said. “She was able to see our facilities and get a really good feel for how the Return To Golf® program could help her veterans.”

Whitecotton had been actively looking for a program like Return To Golf®.   “I had no doubts about getting involved with the program,” she said. “I had already heard about their outstanding program and our goal is  to introduce the veterans to a variety of community activities.”

Whitecotton scheduled an initial group visit with Hazen in late August to see what the program entailed on a first-hand basis.  “Only one veteran had ever played golf before, so the general reaction at first for the beginners was one of hesitation,” Hazen said. “But as time passed, and they progressed through our one-on-one clinics, all of them started showing signs of confidence.”

The three hour program consisted of short-game and full-swing instruction, followed by on-course play at the North Olmsted Golf Course.  “The Return To Golf® program made an awesome first impression,” added Whitecotton.  “Everyone is very knowledgeable and passionate about what they do.”

Whitecotton said one of her veterans, Bill Searles, an amputee, was so impressed with Return To Golf® program that he ended up trying every VA recreational program as a result of the confidence he gained from his visit.  “It is a very nice program and I had a great experience,” Searles said in an e-mail. “They helped me learn a game that I was never very good at. Would I do it again? Yes I would!”

Another younger participant, Colin Smith, also enjoyed the group clinic experience so much, that he later joined the Return To Golf® program as an individual.  “Colin’s mother told us she was very surprised that he showed interest in our program,” Hazen said. “and the fact he keeps coming every week tells us he’s really enjoying it.”

Veteran experiences like Bill’s and Colin’s are exactly what the Return To Golf® program is looking to build on in 2016.  “We see this year as a catalyst for growth,” said Rihtar.  “We’ve begun to open doors at the right places with the right people.  I’m so proud of our momentum!”