By Paul Gessler

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Dozens of Maryland military veterans have been introduced to the game of golf through the PGA Middle Atlantic’s PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program.

“Whether they’re recently back from deployment, maybe they’ve been inactive for a long time, they’re constantly looking for that connection and that’s what we hope to offer them,” Daniel Vigus, a recreational therapy supervisor with the Maryland V.A., said. “When they’re out on the golf course, they kind of forget about everything they have going on.”

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PGA Middle Atlantic hosts Maryland veterans at Forest Park Golf Course in Baltimore and Furnace Bay Golf Course in Perryville.

“There’s a great deal of socialization going on out here,” PGA Professional Brett Oliver said. “Golf takes your mind off all the other things going on in the world.”

At 36, U.S. Army veteran Shawn Redden of Baltimore City is the youngest participant. He started hitting golf balls at a driving range last year when he saw an ad for PGA HOPE.

“Suicide rate for veterans are 25 a day, so it’s very dangerous for me. It’s almost more dangerous for me to be outside the military than for me to be in the military,” Redden said. “There’s times when I have sensory overload because I can’t be around too many people. You know, when you spend 37 months in a combat zone, you have to expect there to be some lasting effects.”

Redden deployed three times to Iraq. As a former drill sergeant, he says golf teaches him patience.

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“If I wanted something to happen, I just have to go out and yell and it’ll happen right then and there, but in the civilian world, you can’t yell,” Redden said. “I’m not around veterans every day. I don’t know anybody here, but you probably couldn’t tell because I was up there laughing and joking. I don’t even know a person’s name here—not one person’s name.”

U.S. Army veteran Deborah Bridgeforth picked up the game similarly.

“I (saw) the flyer and I said, ‘Oh, golf? I’ll try that. It sounds good!’” Bridgeforth said. “Golf is more relaxing. It clears your mind. I mean, look. You’re out here with nature. It’s you and the ball.”

Bridgeforth says golf helps with services injuries she sustained in the military in her knees, back, and hip.

“If you’ve met one veteran, you’ve only met one veteran, because everyone has different things they’re dealing with,” Vigus said. “There may be things they’re going through that we may not understand because we’re not in their shoes.”

To learn more about PGA HOPE, click here. 

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Paul Gessler