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PGA professionals to help veterans at American Lake Veterans Golf Course

Down Range Golf Clinic to help veterans improve their health through sport

The American Lake Veterans Golf Course is the only golf course in the country designed specifically for the rehabilitation of wounded and disabled veterans. Courtesy photo

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Monday, July 28, the American Lake Veterans Golf Course will once again host disabled veterans from around the country for the second annual national Down Range Golf Clinic, a therapeutic program for disabled veterans coordinated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

Research has proven that through the social interaction and development of motor skills associated with golf, veterans can often rediscover self-confidence and begin on a therapeutic, healing path.

Last year, the VA developed the Down Range Golf Clinic and ran it as a pilot program at the American Lake course, where they had been conducting their own similar First Swing clinic for over a decade. As they work to expand the program, the upcoming Lakewood session will be the only one to occur in 2014. During the clinic, PGA professionals will be paired with veterans dealing with a range of disabilities and diagnoses, from spinal cord injuries and visual impairments to traumatic brain injuries and amputees. The goal is to deliver one-on-one golf instruction, resources and support so that these veterans can improve their health through sport.

"We do lots of work and it just keeps getting better," said Roger Gatts, assistant course manager at the American Lake Veterans Golf Course. "We are expecting between 50-60 veterans and at least 14 PGA pros to take part on Monday."

The day, which begins at 8 a.m., will include instruction on the driving range, putting and chipping practice, an overview of golf etiquette and the opportunity to play several holes on the course. Afterwards, the veterans will be served a barbecue lunch.    

"Some of the PGA instructors have never worked with vets and even connecting with the ball can be more difficult with a physical disability, so we pair them with our instructors because then they are more likely to succeed," Gatts said.  

To that end, many of the golfers will use Solo Riders or Paragolfers, both of which are adaptive carts that enable golfers with mobility issues to get out on the course. With these devices, even veterans who are paralyzed from the waist down can play a round of golf. 

"I know that last year some of the PGA professionals took the information with them and spoke to their own local courses to add such rehabilitation and options for veterans, which is really great," he added.

Furthermore, during this year's clinic, all of the VA rehabilitation staff in attendance will also receive training, education and management materials to facilitate their own future clinics at VA medical facilities around the country.  

During the event, potential donors will also have an opportunity to tour the grounds and see the course expansion, a.k.a. the ‘Nicklaus Nine', which has been personally designed on a pro-bono basis by the golf legend Jack Nicklaus and will be entirely ADA-accessible. 

"If all goes well, we seed the course in September so that it will all be operational by next June and coincide with the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay," commented Bruce McKenty, the course manager

The American Lake Veterans Golf Course, located on the grounds of the VA Hospital in Lakewood, is the only golf course in the country designed specifically for the rehabilitation of wounded and disabled veterans. The course is run entirely by volunteers and receives no federal financial assistance. To contribute money to the Friends of American Lake Veterans Golf Course, click here.

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