BY ALAN BLONDINSEPTEMBER 20, 2020 02:45 PM
NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, Courtesy of the Sun News.
For Fred Gutierrez, the PGA HOPE program is more about improving lives and saving lives than it is about learning how to play golf.
And he believes that will be the case for many of the military veterans on the Grand Strand who take part in the Myrtle Beach chapter of the program, which launched Tuesday at the home of Project Golf at Barefoot Resort.
According to a 2019 study for the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, approximately 17 U.S. veterans take their own lives every day. Other published studies have the total around 20.TOP ARTICLES
Gutierrez tried to become one of those. But an unsuccessful suicide attempt with a gunshot to the head in 1996 left him paralyzed on his left side, so he plays golf one-handed.
“God said, ‘I’ve got a different plan for you. I need you to go back and help your brothers and sisters,’” Gutierrez said.
PGA HOPE has been one of his primary vehicles to fulfill that mission.
PGA HOPE – HOPE is an acronym for Helping Our Patriots Everywhere – is a PGA of America initiative designed to provide veterans with an opportunity to learn the game, share camaraderie with fellow service members, and have an activity that in many cases can serve as therapy and physical and/or mental rehabilitation.
“It’s trying to engage veterans, bring them back into society, give them some fun, learn a new skill in golf, meet some other people – particularly veterans,” said Gary Schaal, executive director of the Project Golf nonprofit grow-the-game initiative and administrator of the local PGA HOPE chapter.
The program is administered in the Carolinas by PGA Reach, the nonprofit philanthropic arm of the Carolinas PGA Section. PGA Reach is promoting three pillars in particular – Youth, Military, and Diversity & Inclusion.
Gutierrez is a founder of the Charleston chapter of PGA Hope, which has grown to become perhaps the largest chapter in the country with approximately 400 members.
He finds the lessons in golf correlate to the challenges in life, particularly for veterans.
“Forget about what you did wrong, learn to like yourself and forgive yourself and move on. That’s what golf has taught me,” Gutierrez said. “That’s why I think it’s so important that other veterans get with each other. They can teach each other how to move forward. . . . We do understand each other because we’ve been in the same foxhole.”
Gutierrez has a different meaning for the acronym PGA. “P stands for the peace I get when I’m around with other guys, the G stands for the gratitude I have sharing what we do and being on the golf course, and A stands for appreciation and my accomplishments.
“For me this program has been awesome.”
The initial Myrtle Beach chapter program began Tuesday and will consist of six two-hour sessions over six weeks from 4-6 p.m. Tuesdays.
The student-to-teacher ratio is 4-to-1, and the maximum class size was going to be 36. But because of the coronavirus, the PGA of America cut the allowable class size down to 10. The first group is filled and Schaal plans to add a second day of the week for another class.
Schaal said Project Golf will organize veteran golf days when the class is over. “Once these guys bond with one another we’ll move them around from golf course to golf course playing once or twice a month,” he said.
Participants only need to bring a mask. PGA Hope provides the equipment for lesson with donated clubs, and Schaal said TaylorMade offers deals to vets who have taken part in the program if they want to upgrade.