Jorge Torres sat near the Cobblestone Golf Course putting green with his service dog, Ruey, waiting his turn for one-on-one time with a golf pro.
Torres, 38, from Dallas, is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who suffered traumatic brain and spinal injuries from an IED blast in the Iraq war. “I came back alive, and that’s all that matters,” he said.
Torres joined more than a dozen local military veterans recently for weekly golf lessons from seasoned professional golfers as part of the Professional Golf Association Georgia Hope for Veterans Golf Clinics.
“It’s only my third time with this golf thing. All I knew about it before was from the movie ‘Caddyshack’ and playing miniature golf with my kids. It took one of the other guys to get me out here. I think I like it,” he said.
“We encourage disabled veterans to come and learn the game of golf while overcoming physical and cognitive issues,” explained David Windsor, a Marietta professional golfer who leads the Georgia State Golf Association Adaptive Golf program and coordinates the clinics. The free clinics are taught by PGA/LPGA golf professionals and veteran peer mentors to help veterans transition into the community while enhancing positive values, fun and new social settings, he said.
Any veteran with a specific physical, cognitive and or sensory disability is invited to sign up for the clinics. Sensory disabilities range from back-spine injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, limb loss, vision impairment and strokes, among others, Windsor said.
The clinic is each Wednesday afternoon through Aug. 28 from 4-6 p.m. at Cobblestone Golf Course. At the final session, veterans will receive a graduation card, which features golf-related benefits in their region.
“I always had a passion for teaching,” Windsor continued. “I worked at a golf club in Florida in 1999 when I was introduced to people with cognitive and sensory issues. I worked with Korean War, World War II and Vietnam vets, and it stuck in my heart. It made total sense to show patriotism and take better care of the men and women who served our country.”
The game is is an immense help to veterans’ emotional wellness, Windsor said. “You can just see their new sense of hope and thinking more positively. Every golf shot needs that positive outlook. You can’t be worried about that last shot or dwelling on ‘how did my ball find the woods like this?’ You have to get it behind you. You get the ball in the clear, finish the hole and complete the mission. It takes their minds off what happened years ago.”
The camaraderie with other veterans and healthier lifestyle makes golf “the best therapy,” he said. “There’s no pill or spin class that gives them that escape for four or five hours. The veterans’ outlook on life is so much better and they get excited about something new to focus on.”
For Army infantry veteran Mark Mosley, teaching golf is a way to give back. “This gives us sense of ‘brothers in arms’ and brings back that sense of a unit and the friendships we had in the military,” he said.
“I saw 3,000 killed and wounded in eight months in Afghanistan, and I suffered brain and spine injuries and hearing loss. I came back on 17 meds and I was really messed up. Teaching golf gives me a way to get back into life. It’s service for service — Army, Navy Air Force, Marines, we’re all here. We help guys get into the game and improve their game.”
Michelle Bennett, 57, a six-year Marine Corps veteran with PTSD and a survivor of military sex trauma, enjoys the camaraderie and the ‘no judgement zone’ the golf outings provide. “I like being with other Marines and those who served now. A lot of other people don’t recognize brain injury or PTSD. I finally feel safe to come out and interact with others because we all speak the same unspoken language. We all suffered in different ways. We all recognize, love and accept each other and care for each other,” she said.
Don Towers of Canton lost his left leg below the knee in 1970 when he stepped on a mine, “southwest of Da Nang in Vietnam,” the 73-year-old Marine veteran said. “I started playing golf in college. Playing with this great bunch of guys is — well, words just don’t do it justice. It’s reconnecting. We have a really good friendship.”
Stanley Clayton was 18 years old when he was deployed to the Korean war in 1951. “I got there when it started. I last three months before I was shot in right thigh and spent 10 months in a military hospital, and I started playing golf when I was 30. It’s addictive and it’s been good for me,” the now 87-year old Kennesaw resident said. “Only a veteran can understand how another veteran feels. Out here, I’m making new friends. A couple of Vietnam vets said to me, ‘We know you’re alone, but you’re one of us now. That means the world to me.”