Cape Gazette
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The 19th Hole

Support the Wounded Warrior Golf Project

By Gene Bleile | Jul 04, 2013

I'd like to take a moment to wish everyone a happy and safe Fourth of July. It's one of my favorite holidays because it brings family and friends together for good food, drink and a relaxing time.

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I have a favor to ask. If you know a veteran or happen to see a vet (wearing a military hat) on the Boardwalk, in a restaurant or at a barbeque, take a moment to stop and thank him or her for their service to America. Just like Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the Fourth of July reminds us that freedom is not free.

Since I'm talking about patriotism and golf, I would like to introduce you to the Salute Military Golf Association or the SMGA.

Simply stated, the SMGA believes “the rehabilitative benefits of golf can improve the mental and physical condition of each post 9-11 wounded warrior.”

Founded in 2007 by former PGA player Jim Estes, the project strives to improve the quality of life for wounded warriors and their families, all of whom deserve to be called heroes.

The SMGA provides instruction for veterans who were wounded and/or lost limbs, as well as those who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Since 9-11, more than 1.9 million Americans have served in military operations in Afghanistan or Iraq and more than 57,000 have returned home with some type of injury, many of whom suffer from severe depression and a feeling of isolation from the real world.

The SMGA Golf for Life clinics are designed to help a wounded vet make the transition from a hospital setting to home life.

During the last eight weeks of hospital rehab, the veteran visits a local golf course for two hours of instruction and a luncheon with other wounded vets.

In an addition to the golf for life clinics, the SMGA also offers an American Golfer Program, which will help a wounded veteran (who is not close to a SMGA facility) find a local course and pro who will host his or her desire to play golf. The program also will provide golf clubs, golf course access and five private lessons from a pro.

If you're like me and feel you need to know more about their work, you can go to smga.org and see how Jim Estes has made the program a success through hours of hard work, dedication and help from golfers everywhere.

The SMGA is based out of Olney Golf Park, in Olney, Md., and has hosted many golf tournaments for wounded warriors over the past six years.  

They have numerous success stories to tell, but the one listed on the website about Sean Lewis will tug at your heartstrings. A high school athlete, he joined the Army, lost his right leg in Iraq and came home thinking his life was over at age 21.

Through the encouragement of another injured Vietnam veteran, Bill Bartlett, Lewis agreed to hit a few golf balls at the Olney Golf Park range.

Together, with the unending dedication of Estes, Lewis found a purpose and new direction in life.

The SMGA is  trying to expand its programs across the nation to reach out to more vets in need and vows “to continue to seek and build strong, strategic alliances with military, golf and private arenas to foster the hope of bringing the game of golf to our nation’s post 9-11 heroes.”

There are many ways to get involved. You can donate money, clubs and equipment or even host an SMGA Tournament, just by going to the website.

19th Hole

• SMGA has helped over 800 wounded vets to date.

• They have provided over 300 sets of clubs to vets.

• SMGA co-founder, Jim Estes, received the 2010 PGA Patriot’s Award.

• Funds benefit our wounded warriors.

For more golf images, fine art photography and a blog go to genebleilephotography.com.

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