Charlie Meade knew he wanted to help out local veterans through the game of golf. He just needed help, and a fairly new program through the PGA of America showed the PGA golf instructor at Plantation on Crystal River the way.
The PGA HOPE program was started in 2016 and is the flagship military program of PGA REACH, the charitable foundation of the PGA of America. According to the PGA Reach website, “PGA HOPE introduces golf to veterans with disabilities to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being.
“The program introduces the game of golf through a developmental 6-8 week curriculum, taught by PGA Professionals trained in adaptive golf and military cultural competency. All programs are funded by PGA REACH and supplemented by PGA Section Foundations, so the cost of programming is free to all veterans.”
According to Meade, there are already more than 170 chapters of the program in the country and it continues to grow. Meade played a key role in bringing the program into Citrus County for the first time this summer.
“I worked in Tampa at Rogers Park (Golf Course). I was an instructor for the First Tee program. I became good friends with Kennie Sims and he was the director of golf there,” Meade explained. “Kennie started the HOPE program in Tampa. So he was a good resource for me. I contacted him probably a year and a half ago and asked him some questions. He got me started. It turns out that Kennie has been promoted to the director of PGA REACH. The HOPE program falls underneath the REACH program. So he’s been a great asset.”
The HOPE program is very special to Meade. His son, Caleb, is a veteran.
“The reason why my heart is in the program is my son was a Navy corpsman for 10 years. He served with the Marines in Iraq in ’09. His last two years he served with Naval Special Warfare Group 2,” Meade said. “I just saw the effects of deployment and the stress of all the responsibilities that all our service men and women have. It really impacted me where I wanted to do something.
“The program is for disabled veterans, but you don’t have to be physically disabled. PTSD is something I really observed and it really impacted me. That’s why I picked up the phone and started making some calls and got the ball rolling.”
Once he knew how to get a program started, Meade needed to find a place to hold the lessons and more instructors. He contacted good friend Tim Hume, the director of golf at Plantation on Crystal River, and the answer was instant.
“I’m very thankful for Tim to let us use the facility. He didn’t even hesitate. He said yes immediately,” Meade said.
With Hume on as an instructor as well, longtime golf teacher Mary Slinkard was also brought in to help.
“I worked at a golf school for four years in Tampa, Mary has taught for 30 years and Tim is an outstanding player and teacher,” Meade said. “We took all of that experience and applied it to this program. The format is very similar to a golf school. It’s a format that helps any skill level improve.”
Meade said Sue Doering, a member at Plantation, donated a $100 gift card to each veteran when he began the HOPE program.
“It takes more than one person to get a program going,” he said.
The trio of local instructors received lessons themselves about six months ago from Judy Alvarez out of the national office, who is one of the lead golf instructors in the country for veterans with disabilities.
After an introductory clinic where the trio of instructors got to know their students, their skill levels and limitations, the first lessons were held June 2. The six-week program will wrap up July 7 with a scramble tournament, lunch and awards.
Meade said as well as the first-time program has gone, he wants to continue building the local chapter.
“I’d like to continue. I need to contact our section lead and ask them questions about scheduling in the future,” he said. “How many programs can I do a year? I believe it’s four, but not sure. So technically there would be a spring, summer, fall and winter. I need to get an exact answer on that.
“I’m very happy with the success of the program and I couldn’t have asked for better instructors than Tim and Mary. Very fortunate. They’ve added so much to it. So thankful that I found a facility here in Citrus County that allowed us to do the program.”