How a PGA Member Couple is Sharing Their Love for Golf With New Orleans' Veteran Community
By Hayden Lewis
PGA Professionals Matt and Morgan Williamson with PGA HOPE golfers.
Golf can find us in meaningful ways, in different seasons, and, at times, can surprise us in the best way possible. Similarly, the game can spark a love story, leading to a type of love that spills over and gets poured right back into those who need it most.
For PGA Professionals Morgan and Matt Williamson, golf is only where their story begins and has become a catalyst for so much more in their lives.
A mutual love for the game, and each other
The couple met at Mississippi State University, where Morgan played on the golf team while Matt completed the PGA Golf Management Program and received his PGA Membership. “The rest is history,” says Morgan. “We really just clicked and there was something special there that led us down a new journey together.”
After the couple married in Florida in 2014, Matt began working as a PGA Assistant Professional at TPC Sawgrass while Morgan dove into the insurance world. Fast forward four years, Matt received the Head Professional position at TPC Louisiana just outside of New Orleans.
When they first moved, Matt would volunteer at a local facility and help teach Veterans the game for free.
“It wasn’t anything super organized, but I always loved giving back time to those who served,” says Matt. “My family doesn’t have a lot of military background, but it was great working with the Veterans because they saw the game of golf as an escape.”
However, as the couple shifted into this new season, Morgan explains there was still something missing for her. The game of golf was calling and Morgan felt like she needed to answer.
“I really wanted golf back in my life and that’s when the Tournament Director position opened up at the Gulf States PGA Section office in New Orleans,” explains Morgan. “One thing led to another and thankfully I was able to be back where I wanted – it felt like this was where I was meant to be all along.”
Today, Matt serves as the PGA General Manager of Bayou Oaks at City Park just outside of New Orleans. Likewise, Morgan has transitioned into a new role with the PGA of America as a Recruiting & Member Engagement Specialist for the Southeast Region. As life has seemingly come full-circle for Matt and Morgan, they still thrive on that initial spark they had in the game.
“I was able to volunteer with the same Veteran program for a while,” says Matt. “But then in 2017, the lead professional moved away from the area, and with it, the program fell by the wayside.”
Helping through HOPE
The Williamsons knew there was a missing piece in the community and the Veterans who lived there, so they decided to take matters into their own hands. The duo ran across a new initiative appropriately named PGA HOPE – Helping Our Patriots Everywhere – the flagship military program of PGA REACH, the 501(c)(3) charitable foundation of the PGA of America. The 6-to-8 week program covers golf fundamentals to playing 9 holes, and it introduces the game to Veterans and Active Duty Military to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being.
Matt and Morgan created a brand new PGA HOPE program in 2018, the first in the Gulf States PGA Section. They began by hosting sessions not at a golf course, but at the VA Hospital in New Orleans. By bringing the game to where the Veterans already were, PGA HOPE became the No. 1 attended therapy at the hospital for two years before the coronavirus pandemic.
As the program grew from five, ten, to over twenty Veterans attending most sessions – Matt and Morgan have since moved the program full-time to Bayou Oaks at City Park. They do it with smiles on their faces and gratitude for the Veterans they serve.
“Our time with the Veterans and PGA HOPE are some of my favorite memories on the golf course,” says Morgan. “They deserve this and we often leave those sessions thinking to ourselves, ‘That was so awesome.’ You just can’t beat that feeling.”
For Matt and Morgan, they hold true to the initial love they have for the game which helped bond their relationship. As pieces fell into place with their careers, it was becoming more clear that they had a unique opportunity to share their love of golf with others.
“We knew we had to step up and keep PGA HOPE moving forward because there wasn’t anywhere else for the Veterans to go,” reflects Matt. “Morgan was gaining momentum in her new job at the Section so we thought to ourselves, ‘Why not us?’”
They were and still are the perfect team.
'All it takes is showing up'
For the Williamsons, they believe golf is becoming more welcoming and inclusive. As PGA HOPE instructors, they recognize the magnitude of being on the frontlines to keep those trends moving in the right direction.
“Golf can be intimidating,” says Matt. “For anyone who comes to the game with disabilities – mental or physical – it can be tough to even get your foot in the door. Now through PGA HOPE, these Veterans are finding that opening the door is so much easier.”
The Williamsons admittedly share there was some apprehension at first in starting a PGA HOPE program because many Veterans have such a broad range of disabilities.
“For the PGA Professionals who are nervous about starting a PGA HOPE program,” notes Morgan, “they need to know these Veterans are more similar to your average lesson than you probably assume – all it takes is showing up. Being a familiar face to them as they experience something new. It’s therapy, and golf just happens to be the vessel.”
Of the nearly 28,000 PGA Professionals in the country, it’s not lost on Matt and Morgan that they are one of the very few married PGA Professional couples – let alone a married couple leading a PGA HOPE program together. Matt and Morgan – now parents to their two-year-old son, Micah – have developed an unspoken appreciation for what each other does in their respective roles.
“To me it’s really cool to have Morgan in these different spaces of our professional and personal lives…we’ve created a really good balance,” says Matt. “At the end of the day, we help each other when we need it and we’ve just gotten better at it over the years.”
“It all comes down to family,” says Morgan. “It’s amazing that our son is taking a liking to the game at such a young age so working in these spaces, conducting PGA HOPE programs – all of it has become a family affair.”
The Williamsons admit PGA HOPE is changing their family. They say they have a renewed perspective on the life they do share. Those minor roadblocks or hard days at work become so small in the grand scheme of everyday life when they arrive to lead Veterans in PGA HOPE.
“It’s helped me learn to lead with compassion,” adds Matt.
PGA HOPE continues to make its mark in the Gulf States Section – expanding now to eight program locations across Mississippi and Louisiana. Today, the Gulf States Section ranks third in growth in the PGA of America thanks to the Williamsons leading the way.
“It’s remarkable to see how a simple game can have that big an impact on a person’s life,” says Matt. “And eventually help them get over a battle they’ve been dealing with for 40 or 50 years – that’s the power PGA HOPE can bring.”
This love of family and golf continues to spill over. For some, this may seem like a simple act but it’s clear the ripples are running far and wide for the Williamson Family.
To learn more about PGA HOPE in your community, click here.