Jack Nicklaus Gives Military Veterans a Surprise Golf Lesson to celebrate PGA HOPE, Giving Tuesday and the Holiday Season
By Michael Abramowitz
For the second consecutive year, 18-time major Champion Jack Nicklaus surprised some special local military Veterans with a holiday golf experience of a lifetime at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Florida.
In celebration of PGA HOPE, Giving Tuesday and the Holiday Season, Nicklaus thanked the foursome of Veterans for their service and shared instructional tips, before sending them out as his guests for a fun day on the Nicklaus designed championship golf course.
PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) is a national program that introduces golf to Veterans to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being. The 6-8 week curriculum is taught by PGA Professionals trained in adaptive golf and military cultural competency. All programs are funded by PGA REACH and supplemented by PGA Section Foundations, so the cost of programming is free to all Veterans. PGA HOPE participants include Veterans living with physical or cognitive challenges, such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and amputees, among other challenges.
Among the golfers were U.S. Air Force Veteran Hinda Katz of Boynton Beach, Florida; U.S. Army Veterans Devin Shaw and Mary Anderson Kokell of West Palm Beach, and Joelle Kelly of Port St. Lucie. All four are graduates of the PGA HOPE program, the flagship military program for PGA REACH. Joining them for instruction and the round of golf was 2021 South Florida PGA Section Patriot Award recipient Bo Preston, PGA of Osprey Point Golf Club in Boca Raton.
The military Veterans knew they were going to receive a lesson from a PGA Professional at The Bear’s Club. However, they had no idea that one of those PGA Members would be Nicklaus who is the only sportsman and just the fourth person in history to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005), the Congressional Gold Medal (2015), and the Lincoln Medal (2018).
“It was an amazing surprise,” described Katz, who served as an Air Force Captain in the 1980s and 1990s. “They told me to go to The Bear’s Club. They didn’t tell me that the Golden Bear would be here. I can’t say enough about PGA HOPE. I’d be sitting at home if it wasn’t for PGA HOPE.”
“This is one of the Top 5 things in my life,” proclaimed Kelly, who served as an E-4 medic and copes with low vision in her right eye due to macular degeneration. “Nobody told me that Jack Nicklaus would be here.”
Nicklaus looked at each of their swings and offered some expert advice.
“Jack Nicklaus said I had a good grip,” exclaimed Shaw, a former Staff Sgt. in the Army. “That was awesome!”
Nicklaus has maintained a long-held fondness for the nation’s military and the incredible sacrifices made by service members.
“It’s been a special morning for me to come out with you all,” said Nicklaus. “You have no idea what it means to me, and for what you have done for our country.”
PGA HOPE has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which enables Recreational Therapists to refer Veterans to the PGA HOPE program as a form of therapy. Through a robust program strategy, PGA HOPE aspires to create a physically and emotionally healthier Veteran community by shaping and changing lives through the game of golf.
Vietnam Veteran Anderson Kokell choked back tears as she told Nicklaus what PGA HOPE has done for her and over 3,500 Veterans annually nationwide, some of which have publicly stated that the program saved their life.
“PGA HOPE has brought people back from the depths,” she explained.The rehabilitative golf program helps Veterans assimilate back into their communities through the social interaction the game provides. Led by PGA Professionals, it is currently offered at 165 PGA HOPE Chapters across the country. More than 1,200 PGA Members have been trained in military culture and adaptive golf techniques.“I never served in the military; I was married with kids when my time came,” stated Nicklaus. “But I have seen all the things they do to benefit my life and all of these people’s lives. I always feel strong about that. And it’s a pretty neat program the PGA of America started with PGA HOPE.”For more information on PGA HOPE and to make a donation on Giving Tuesday and beyond, visit PGAREACH.org.