PGA HOPE brings veterans to the course

Todd Boucher has played golf for about a decade, beginning in New York. But on Tuesday, the Horry County resident was taking tips from fellow veterans and golf pros at the PGA HOPE (Help Our Patriots Everywhere) kickoff event at Barefoot Resort. The eight-week program provides veterans with lessons and camaraderie. “It’s fun until you start doing the same thing over and over wrong,” he laughed as he tried to pull the club closer to his center so he wouldn’t reach for the ball in the swing. “Then you want to throw your clubs someplace to see if they can swim.” Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Todd Boucher settled over the ball. He flexed his thigh-size arms and pulled the iron slowly back.

After a swish and thunk, the ball sped toward a pair of sprinklers on the driving range at Barefoot Resort late Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ll take it,” the U.S. Marine Corps veteran said grimacing. “It’s not where I was aiming, but I’ll take it.”

Boucher and about 20 other local veterans gathered at the resort golf course driving range for the beginning of a free program designed to build camaraderie while honing their golf skills.

PGA HOPE (Help Our Patriots Everywhere) is an eight-week program open to veterans of any skill level. It teams the veterans with golf pros to help with the swings and fellow veterans to help with the understanding.

Boucher joked with fellow veteran Chris Collins a few feet away on the driving range as each watched the other’s shots sail towards the sprinklers.

Boucher stretched his back, pulled the club closer to his center so he wouldn’t reach for the ball in the down swing. He listened to a pro explain the club should be about 10 inches from his midpoint.

“It’s fun until you start doing the same thing over and over wrong,” the former infantry assaultman/demolitions veteran smiled. “Then you want to throw your clubs someplace to see if they can swim. It just makes me feel like I’m fighting with my arms.”

Collins nodded and stared at Boucher.

“I wouldn’t want to fight your arms,” he said.

Chris Aranda knows the struggles the men are dealing with – in golf and life after service.

“We’re out here to help us with our combat experiences,” he explained taking up golf after coming back from Iraq in 2004. “I needed to find something that I could connect with and I found the game of golf. The game of golf has changed my lifestyle to where now I’m helping veterans.”

Aranda is a veteran outreach program specialist for Veterans Affairs in Myrtle Beach.

“It’s a sense of relief for me. It rejuvenated me. When I did retire, when I was looking for that formation that I couldn’t go to anymore,” Aranda said. “Now I’m in a formation again and I’m around people that I need to be around and that’s veterans.”

Aranda said although the program only lasts eight weeks, it builds friendships and support foundations vital to the veteran’s life.

Myrtle Beach-based Project Golf is hosting PGA HOPE, which is line with its mission to bring people to the game.

The PGA HOPE program is funded by the nonprofit arm of the Professional Golf Association so it’s free to all veterans. It has served more than 2,500 veterans nationwide.

One of the largest PGA HOPE programs is held in Charleston, which Aranda described as “platoon size.” But he said with confidence during the first class, Myrtle Beach’s program will grow and change lives.

“It’s therapy,” Aranda said. “And golf.”

Janet Morgan is the editor of the Myrtle Beach Herald. Contact her at 843-488-7258 or at janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com.

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