South Dakota Veterans Find a New Community Through Golf and PGA HOPE
By Hayden Lewis, PGA
For the first time, PGA HOPE is leaving an indelible mark on Veterans in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota community by giving them an opportunity to learn and play the game of golf.
For many Veterans, PGA HOPE is not just an opportunity to play the game. It’s also a way forward in their own lives — a chance to step back and slow down, perhaps for the first time, at a point that can sometimes seem overwhelming and hectic.
PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) is 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 uses the game as a form of therapy – ultimately helping Veterans and Active Duty Military enhance their physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being.
Late last month, Elmwood Golf Course played host to the inaugural graduate class – and first in the state of South Dakota. For the 11 Veterans who decided to give golf a try, this a milestone along their own PGA HOPE journey.
The program is led by PGA Professionals Danny Sinksen, Eric Gannon and Tom Jansa who have served in the Sioux Falls golf community for over 40 years combined. All three grew up with golf ingrained in their DNA and haven’t let up on their mission of sharing their love and passion for the game with others.
“This is what it’s all about,” says Sinksen, the PGA Director of Instruction at Elmwood who started playing golf at the age of three, thanks to his grandfather who served in the Navy. “Between my grandfather and my father, my love for the game has only grown stronger since I was really young.”
While graduation marks the end of a PGA HOPE program, the Veterans’ golf journey is just beginning. PGA HOPE is built around the idea that Veterans will continue to use golf as a form of rehabilitation and healthy outlet for anything they need.
“I fell in love with golf a couple of years ago and PGA HOPE has become an outlet to expand on my skills on and off the golf course,” says Dan Lahammer, a U.S. Army Veteran. “It helps me stay social and gives me a chance to get outside and be around friends.”
For U.S. Army Veteran Jared Ageson, PGA HOPE has helped him find a new sense of belonging and a way to do something together with other Veterans.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to go through this program with other Veterans,” says Ageson. “For me, playing golf provides a really nice mental break from my day-to-day – it helps me to clear my head, and I’m just thankful for this chance to try something new.”
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Gannon, who currently serves as the PGA Tournament Director for the South Dakota Golf Association, says PGA HOPE helps pave the way for new players to come to the game, but also enjoy it in a non-intimidating environment. Plus, PGA HOPE still offers PGA Professionals opportunities to hone their skill as teachers by getting trained and familiar with adaptive golf techniques.
“One of the biggest pieces to the success we’ve seen here is how well the community has put its arms around PGA HOPE,” notes Gannon. “I think it's important we as PGA Professionals continue to be on the front-lines of welcoming those newcomers to drive the industry forward.”
“It’s such a great way to give back,” adds Sinksen. “With Sioux Falls being in such close proximity to the South Dakota Air National Guard, I grew up watching F-16 fighter jets race over our golf courses – it gives you great pride in our military.
I’ve always really wanted to lend a hand to the Veteran community, and doing so through the game of golf is just so perfect. Really it’s just a small token of what I can give back to them.
Danny Sinksen, PGA
The family connections through PGA HOPE in Sioux Falls run far and wide for PGA Professional Tom Jansa, who has served in the South Dakota golf community his entire career.
“It is a privilege to be able to give something back to those who have served our country and help them learn and improve on and off the course,” says Jansa. “Hopefully the game can open doors for them that may not have been there before.”
Jansa got his start at Elmwood Golf Course and now serves as the PGA Executive Director of the South Dakota Golf Association. His daughter Claire, also a PGA Professional, plays a pivotal role in the day-to-day growth of PGA HOPE. As the PGA HOPE Program Coordinator for the PGA of America, she was able to make the trek from Texas to South Dakota. It’s safe to say she wouldn’t miss this graduation for the world.
“To be in the position I am in now and to see this experience come full circle back to my hometown is amazing,” says Claire. “To have PGA HOPE hosted at the course I grew up on, and led by my dad and Danny, and Eric, I can’t put it in words how special that is for me.”
Just like Sioux Falls and Elmwood Golf Course, PGA HOPE continues to roll out the red carpet for new players and communities alike. This year, in addition to onboarding South Dakota, PGA HOPE will welcome new programs in hundreds of markets like Austin, Orlando, Wichita, and more.
And back in Sioux Falls, Claire believes this is just the beginning for PGA HOPE in South Dakota.
“We will have two more program locations in the western part of the state by the end of 2023,” notes Claire. “Adding three PGA HOPE programs in a state that didn’t have any a year ago is incredible – for it to all begin in my backyard, in my home state, just solidifies what the game of golf can do.”