Golf, it’s been said, is analogous to life. It’s a game of triumph and heartbreak, of hope and frustration. And just when you think you’ve figured it out, there’s usually something waiting to humble you. Just ask Jared Forest.
Forest enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2010, saw combat and ended his six years of service with a chest full of medals, a head full of life lessons and a bad back to show for it. After getting out he returned home to civilian life in New Jersey. Things weren’t perfect – finding work proved difficult – but at least he had his family, he had golf and he had his best friend – his father, the man who’d taught him to swing a club.
Then, over the span of a year, beginning in 2019, Forest lost both parents to illness. He landed his dream job working in professional football, only to have it ripped away when the start-up league folded. A guy who’d always tried doing the right things, who’d selflessly sacrificed some of his best years for his country, Forest turned bitter.
“I was angry,” he says. “I thought it wasn’t fair to me, it wasn’t fair to my family. I felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.”
His father’s passing was particularly hard on Forest. Golf was their thing, and when he didn’t have his dad to share it with he swore off the game. Forest enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Florida studying sports management and put his nose to the grindstone academically. Between his studies and family life – Forest and his wife welcomed their first child in 2021 – he stayed busy and battled through the darkness. Still, he was in a lot of pain. That’s when golf reentered the picture.
In the summer of 2021 Forest was asked to join the New Jersey Golf Foundation and lead the organization’s PGA HOPE initiative, a rehabilitative golf program for disabled veterans. At the time golf was in Forest’s rearview mirror, but it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Right out of the gate he began meeting with HOPE participants and listening to their stories. Many were like him: veterans who looked fine on the outside, but who were quietly struggling physically and emotionally. Quite unexpectedly Forest found himself benefitting from the conversations and the experience of being on a golf course just as much as the men and women he was serving, and that lit a spark within him.
When Forest joined the New Jersey branch of PGA HOPE there were around 60 active participants. Four months later, through sheer effort and enthusiasm, he’d helped increase that number to around 150, and had grown the program’s footprint from three golf clinics across the state to seven.
One of the biggest drivers behind that is something called the HOPE Tour. After brainstorming the idea Forest worked with the generous PGA professionals in his section to secure spots for veterans at some of the most prestigious golf clubs in New Jersey, free of charge. Over an eight-week season the veterans played their rounds, kept score and competed for the title of Jersey’s best.
“And I’m happy to announce that [in 2022] we’re doing a full 34-week season, where we’ll hopefully incorporate other PGA sections, so we’ll have some cross-section competition,” says Forest. While the competition is great, what’s better is the time the veterans spend on the courses talking to one another about what they’re going through. Forest is usually one of the first ones to share in hopes that it will inspire others to open up and start the healing process. One of his best pieces of advice for those who ask how he’s weathered his own storms is this: approach life like you approach golf.
“When you’re out there and you hit a bad shot, you’re not going to walk off the course,” Forest says. “You’re going to walk to the ball and you’re going to hit it again. Hitting bad shots are just like the obstacles in life. You have to experience them, and they’re inevitable. But it’s about how you take those steps to the next shot, to the next moment in life, and how you recover. If you approach it with a negative attitude, you’re going to hit another bad shot and you’ll never recover. It’s really up to you.”
In that spirit, Forest dusted the cobwebs off his clubs and picked the game back up, thanks to his work with the veterans and some encouragement from his wife. “The bonding that took place between my dad and me will never be duplicated,” he says. “But because of him I loved the sport, and I am back to the point where I love the sport again.”
PGA of America
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