With pomp, circumstance and moving displays of patriotism, the 4th Annual Patriot Golf Day Weekend at PGA Village in Port St. Lucie was a stunning show, as a preliminary total of $20,000 was raised for the Folds of Honor Foundation from more than 1,000 participants over Labor Day Weekend.
Patriot Golf Day events at more than 3,800 registered PGA facilities nationwide benefit the Folds of Honor Foundation, which provides scholarships to the families of military veterans disabled or killed in action. Since 2007, more than $5.3 million has been raised through these efforts, supported by The PGA of America and USGA.
"Golf is a sport that teaches great values," said PGA of America Chief Executive Officer Joe Steranka. "Throughout the 50 states, 140,000 times a year, golf facilities have outings that raise a total of $3.5 billion for charity. We're proud that this is bigger than all other sports combined, but what keeps us coming back is being able to make a difference in someone's life."
This year's event at PGA Village further showcased the charitable goodwill of golf, as Steranka; Maj. Ed Pulido, who lost his leg while serving in Iraq; and Ginger Gilbert Ravella, whose husband was killed in action -- and the first recipient of a Folds of Honor scholarship -- all served as Grand marshals. Following the annual parade down PGA Golf Club's Perfect Drive, United States Marine Corps members appeared on a hill along the driving range to raise the American Flag for the National Anthem, setting the tone for an opening ceremony that featured everything from riveting speeches to color guards to the PGA Golf Club's traditional "21 Golf Ball Salute."
"I am so incredibly proud of what The PGA of America and PGA Village have accomplished to bring awareness and honor to the brave men and women who have served so honorably in our United States Military," said Bob Baldassari, PGA general manager for PGA Village, which includes the PGA Golf Club, PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance and the PGA Historical Center. "For those who perished in the fight to protect our freedoms and gave the ultimate sacrifice, this is why we work so hard each year to make Patriot Golf Day a success."
Two lives undoubtedly touched by golf's charitable efforts today are those of Maj. Pulido and Ravella. "How great it is to stand in front of you so honored and humbled," said Pulido, as he addressed the crowd. "I miss my leg everyday, but I wouldn't trade the life I have now, as I stand in front of you with inspiration, drive and passion."
As tears rolled down the faces of many attendees, Ravella recounted the story of how military officers in dress blues knocked on her door four years ago and informed her that her husband (and father of their five young children) Maj. Troy Gilbert's plane had gone down in Iraq. His body was removed by insurgents and never found, yet DNA evidence confirmed his tragic fate.
"The moment war knocks on your door, your whole life changes," added Ravella, who has since re-married another Air Force Fighter Pilot, Jim Ravella, who lost his first wife to breast cancer. "The money these Folds of Honor scholarships provide proves that the sacrifices of our heroes were not in vein."
Afterwards, the John Shimkonis Memorial Medal Golf Tournament at PGA Golf Club, held in honor of the first PGA Professional to sacrifice his life while serving his country, hosted a sold-out field of 200 participants – filling up two courses. Other weekend events included: Charitable Flag Day and Stableford golf tournaments; 10-minute golf lessons in exchange for donations to the Folds of Honor Foundation at the PGA Center for Golf Learning and Performance; a golf trick shot show by 2008 PGA Distinguished Service Award honoree Dennis Walters and family events.
Meanwhile, approximately one mile down the road, both Maj. Pulido and Ravella simultaneously threw out the first pitch for the St. Lucie Mets on "Patriot Golf Day Night" on Sept. 3. The game launched the weekend-long celebration, as the Mets auctioned off 31 red, white and blue Patriot Golf Day jerseys that featured insignias from The PGA, Patriot Golf Day and the Florida Air National Guard. The uniforms were worn by the players during two games, autographed and then auctioned off to fans, raising $1,800 for the cause.
"It's an honor to put these jerseys on for Patriot Golf Day and to wear these colors," said Mets catcher Michael Morris. "It's very special to see people who have sacrificed for our country throw out the first pitch. Sometimes you think it is a big deal to play in baseball, but these people are doing a lot bigger things."