'Salute Military Golf' Helps Wounded Get Back in Swing
May 8, 2008
By Tim Hipps
OLNEY, Md. (Army News Service, May 8, 2008) - The Salute Military Golf Association has helped hundreds of combat-wounded service members get back into the swing of life - both physically and psychologically - by providing free instruction, golf clubs, balls and practice facilities.
The association was formed in 2007 to help bring golf to combat-wounded service men and women as a form of mental and physical rehabilitation. Its mission is to provide rehabilitative golf experiences for wounded veterans in an effort to improve their quality of life.
Most of the wounded warriors who attend clinics at Olney Golf Club in Maryland come from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital, where they are recovering from severe injuries.
Some come on prosthetic legs. Some hold the club in one hand, while maintaining balance with a metal hook that serves as the other. Some have never played golf before. Some may never again play the game as well as they once did.
They all, however, seem to leave feeling more content than they came.
"You can feel sorry for yourself all you want, but it's not going to make your situation any better," said Spc. Saul Bosquez, who had his left leg amputated below the knee and lost two right toes after getting hit with an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq. "So why not try to do something'"
Bosquez has been rehabilitating since September at Walter Reed, where he learned about the SMGA.
"I figured I might as well do something while I'm here," he said. "If you're out doing stuff, it takes your mind off what happened."
A member of the Eastern Amputee Golf Association, Bosquez recently shot a 92 at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona. On a couple of local courses, he has posted nine-hole scores of 43 and 45. Not bad for a Soldier on one leg who fancies himself as "a big baseball player."
"Before, it was pretty much 'here's a ball, now go hit it,' Bosquez said. "Now there's a little more thought process going into my swing. Coming from a baseball background, all I wanted to do is just hit it as far as I could. Now there's a little more of a science to it."
Bosquez played catcher and third base for Adrian (Mich.) High School and a couple of seasons for Grand Rapids Community College.
"I can do other things but they don't have a lot of programs for the things that I want to do," he said. "I would like to start a baseball program and actually play in a league."
That kind of spirit is what inspired Jim Estes to create the Salute Military Golf Association. A former PGA Tour player and current director of instruction at Olney Golf Park, Estes launched the program last year.
"Most people, if they don't do it well, they quit," Estes said. "These guys, they don't quit at anything, so they've got a perfect mentality for it. You tell them how long and how hard and they'll do it. That's the sort of people we wish we had as students. Most people play golf for recreation. These guys play golf for therapy and recreation."
Just getting out and about and mingling with others is half the battle.
"It's good to get out and socialize because after physical therapy I just go home and really don't do anything," said Sgt. Randy Coggins of Fort Campbell, Ky. "It really helps with my depression. I found out recently that I'm not as depressed as I used to be."
While driving through northern Baghdad on Aug. 23, 2007, Coggins was hit by an explosively formed penetrator that severed his left leg below the knee and shredded the Achilles tendon in his right leg.
An eight-year Army veteran, Coggins, has come full circle back to Walter Reed, where he was born. Disabled Sports USA program services assistant Kat Poster approached him there about joining forces with the SMGA.
"Kat came to me at Walter Reed and asked if I'd like to learn to play golf. I said: 'Sure, I'll give it a try,'" Coggins said. "This is my second time out. I had never played golf before. It's kind of cool, actually. I'll try playing a round of golf and see how that works out, but right now I'm pretty content just knocking the ball around."
Those kinds of comments make Estes smile.
"I've seen it happen firsthand - how guys change their mind: go from depressed and drugged to the point they're almost reaching for medication and everything's negative because that's the environment," Estes said. "Every single day a doctor is telling them 'this is what's wrong with you' and pretty soon that's all they're thinking about."
"So let's get out of that medical atmosphere. Nothing against physicians, that's what they're trained to do is tell you what's wrong with you, but you can't play and have fun and be in a proper mindset with golf and think that way. So we just transform that," he said.
Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command program analyst Trace Kea, a nine-year PGA Professional, volunteered to help instruct the wounded warriors every Saturday from April 5 through May 24 at Olney Golf Park.
"It was a great way to give something back to these guys, who have given their all for us," said Kea, who also worked with the group last year. "Their attitudes are great. They love that someone is doing something for them and they love this program. They're happy to be doing something instead of being laid up doing nothing at the hospital."
Disabled Sports USA partnered with the PGA of America to support the Salute Military Golf Association.
"I went to the prosthetic clinic at Walter Reed one day, and it brings tears to your eyes to see 40 or 50 people going through their drills and their rehab for the day," Kea said. "And Kat from DSUSA rounds them up and says: 'Let's go.'"
Not only to the driving range - the Disabled Sports USA folks have taken the wounded warriors white-water rafting, biking, climbing, scuba diving and skiing, among other activities.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Sonia Williams struggles with a recurring hip injury originally sustained during a car accident in 2002.
"We worked out the kinks in my back and neck, but my hip is still off," said Williams, who's been on medical hold since having two screws inserted in her hip in January of 2006. "I started coming once or twice a week for lessons. It's very therapeutic for me because it has me focused on other things, not my injury or things going on at home or at the hospital. At Walter Reed, I was diagnosed with depression."
Everything seems to change on the driving range.
"When you look out there, everything is just open, and it just directs your focus elsewhere," said Williams, who played for the Iraqi Freedom team in the 2007 Brig Owens Celebrity Golf Tournament at Westfields Golf Club in Clifton, Va.
Estes began helping wounded warriors get their lives back on course four years ago.
"He's phenomenal with what he does and how he instructs and motivates and gets these men and women out there to play their best at golf," Kea said. "And their attitudes are phenomenal. They're happy to be alive. They're happy to be here. They enjoy what we're doing for them."
Funds generated online and at tournaments cover green fees, buckets of driving-range balls, equipment purchases and rentals, and time spent with golf professionals throughout the U.S.
Monetary contributions to help cover costs for the nonprofit organization can be made payable to Salute Military Golf Association at 11308 Willowdale Drive, Germantown, Md., 20876 or online at www.golfsalute.org. For more information, call (301) 802-5215.
(Tim Hipps serves with Family Morale,Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs)