PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- WE ARE GOLF, a coalition led by five of the game's leading associations and supported by a wide range of industry partners, met with key Members of Congress, April 13, as part of the fourth annual National Golf Day. The coalition was joined on Capitol Hill by representatives of golf's diverse businesses and employees, and delivered messages about the tax revenue golf creates, the tourism it spawns, the charity it generates and the environment stewardship it provides.
The coalition featured various "storytellers" – men and women across the country for whom golf is more than just a game – including PGA/LPGA Professional Renee Powell, the PGA head professional at Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, Ohio; PGA Professional Jim Estes of Olney, Md., the co-founder of Salute Military Golf Association (SMGA); Ret. Staff Sgt. Ramon Padilla, a student of Estes at SMGA; Jay Goughnour, owner, Raccoon Valley Golf Course, Jefferson, Iowa; Dan Clark, owner, Willow Creek Golf Course, West Des Moines, Iowa; and Vicki Miller, president, Virginia Association for Health and Physical Education.
"I think that our voices and messages were well received at this National Golf Day," said Powell, the 2003 PGA First Lady of Golf. "It was well worth my time meeting various members of Congress and their aides. It is so important for the lawmakers to realize that we are just small business citizens that are contributing to the welfare of our country through the sport of golf. I am so pleased that I was a part of this industry coalition to get the positive word out about the benefits and contributions of the game of golf to youth and seniors, to the able and the disabled."
Estes, who has appeared at previous National Golf Day meetings, said that he was uplifted by his latest visit with Members of Congress.
"I felt that the meetings we had were more substantive, we got to the heart of the people we met through the various stories and information provided," said Estes. "We pulled at the heartstrings through the issues of flood relief, the programs like GIVE in Iowa and SMGA that have touched and served so many veterans.
"What we are doing today in golf has a positive effect upon our economy, provided that our voices continue to be heard among our nation's leaders."
Estes said that Padilla's presence was invaluable when conveying what veterans may accomplish through the introduction to golf as a key rehabilitative and therapeutic tool.
"Congressmen like Joe Baca of California were touched by having met Ramon," said Estes. "I look at him and am amazed myself. Ramon had trouble speaking and remembering the smallest things. Now, he has developed into a great public spokesperson, is ready to tackle the next things in life and his academic progress is wonderful.
"I do hope that the veterans of our country and members of our industry can be heard before a larger body in Congress, perhaps a hearing, where we can advance to new steps of support. We have made an impact as an industry, and we look forward to the next steps."
Padilla, who is a survivor of a near-fatal attack while serving in 2007 in Afghanistan, lost his left arm and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Following his return to the U.S. and recovery in Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, he met Estes and began golf training in SMGA.
"It was a good day for me, and I felt the Congressmen I met were paying attention and getting involved in what we had to say," said Padilla. "I enjoyed the opportunity to tell my story, and also for those representatives from Iowa who spoke about how their golf courses were devastated by flooding in 2008 and did not get disaster relief."
Padilla, who joined Estes in a golf lesson and demonstration in the foyer of the Rayburn Building, said that he welcomes returning to Capitol Hill, where he may be joined by other veterans to speak about the values of golf in rehabilitation following serious injury.
"I'm happy to say that I am doing well now," said Padilla, who is attending classes at the College of Southern Maryland. "And, things are looking up for me in golf. I have averaged in the mid-80s, and turned in a 79 recently. Things are going great in school now, too. I had short-term memory loss and now I feel that I am progressing very well."
Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, the House Chairman of the Committee on Veteran Affairs, said he came away impressed from the meeting with Estes and Padilla.
"The golf community through organizations such as the Salute Military Golf Association is taking the lead on providing many of our wounded veterans with a preview of the full and productive life they have ahead of them, a life in which a battlefield field injury is not a disability, nor does it define the person," said Miller. "We see this world of the possible time and time again through the veterans who have benefited from Jim Estes' instruction on the golf course. Staff Sergeant Ramon Padilla is a great example of Jim's leadership in this field.
"We witnessed firsthand his smile of confidence as he teed off. And that smile was only the beginning. From achievement comes inspiration, and a desire to engage in life again to its fullest. It was an honor to watch on as Staff Sergeant Padilla gave us all a golf lesson, not only in golf, but in the game of life – you have to play the ball where it lands."
Miller said that he could foresee future meetings among his fellow Congressmen with Estes and other veterans, conveying the value of golf in veteran's rehabilitation.
"Organizations such as Salute Military Golf Association deserve a voice not only in front of Congress, but across the nation – in every hometown and state," said Miller. "Community-based programs, and the hard work of individuals who are stepping up to help veterans, are making a huge difference in the healing process and lives of America's wounded warriors. Golf is unique in that it allows the individual to compete against him or herself, and one good shot, as any golfer knows, keeps you playing on. Jim and Ramon in particular are two men setting an example for all of us and demonstrates the power of rehabilitative sports for our warriors."
Following a series of meetings, Rep. Billy Long of Missouri, issued an address from floor of the House of Representatives on the benefits of golf, and spoke about the experience he had witnessing Padilla and how golf "adds great benefits to our country in many ways," including the source of 2 million jobs, charitable contributions and as stewards of the environment.
The Rayburn Office Building foyer exhibits during National Golf Day also included swing analysis from PGA Teaching Professional Michael Breed, host of GOLF CHANNEL's "The Golf Fix," and a Republican vs. Democrat Putting Challenge.
Founded by the Club Managers Association of America, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, National Golf Course Owners Association, The PGA of America, and the World Golf Foundation, WE ARE GOLF is a broad-based coalition aimed at maximizing the industry's synergy and reducing redundancy. Its growing membership includes participation from association members, multi-course owners, manufacturers, and golf facilities. First and foremost, the goal of WE ARE GOLF is to get members of Congress to understand golf's contributions to communities across the country when they're developing and advancing important legislation - just as all small businesses want.
Golf industry leaders meeting with Members of Congress included PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka; World Golf Foundation CEO Steve Mona; Jim Singerling, CEO, Club Managers Association of America; Michael Hughes, CEO, National Golf Course Owners Association; and Rhett Evans, CEO, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.
"WE ARE GOLF is leveling the playing field for the thousands of small businesses that make up our industry," said Mona. "National Golf Day and our meetings with key Members of Congress today are a big part of that process, allowing lawmakers to hear some fascinating and diverse stories about golf's impact on individuals, families and businesses around the country."
Steranka agreed. "We're not asking for special treatment," he told Members of Congress. "We're asking for fair and equitable treatment. Our industry employs nearly 2 million Americans who want to help lawmakers do the difficult job they were elected to do. We want to be a resource, and we want a seat at the table."
Clark and Goughnour, both owners of golf courses in Iowa that were devastated by flooding in 2008, told lawmakers of their efforts to rebuild, asked the Congress to think twice before excluding golf from disaster relief legislation in the future. "I don't seek pity," Goughnour said. "We're hearty people. We will overcome what Mother Nature has dealt us. What I do ask is that golf be given the same status as other small business. We deserve the same access to aid and recovery programs that other small businesses have received."