Disabled Veterans Get the Royal Treatment
As Director of Golf Jason Ruffin worked with a young man named Storm on the practice tee at the Royal Tee Golf Club in Cape Coral, Fla., onlookers saw what appeared to be an instructor working with a new golfer to help him get his swing going.
In all actuality, he was doing something that many thought impossible. Despite being just 32 years old, Storm has a very limited range of motion due to back and spinal injuries resulting from his time as a member of the U.S. Army’s Delta Force Special Services Operational Unit.
Golf is hard enough to learn by those blessed with flexible, agile bodies. Try learning to swing a club when you are disabled. Perhaps you have no legs or are missing an arm; maybe a painful, screwed-together back after too many tough jumps from airplanes. If that’s the case, you know you are dealing with some serious uphill challenges. Challenges, though, that can be overcome.
Storm is just one of the many young former servicemen and women who are gaining a new perspective in sports participation thanks to Royal Tee’s new program for disabled veterans launched on May 16.
As part of the program, participants use complimentary equipment, get a golf lesson and lunch, and then attend an informative course on the business of golf, a curriculum that Ruffin created. They learn about various jobs in the golf business like groundskeepers, rangers, mowers and pro shop attendants.
At first glance, the veterans golfer group looks like any other foursome with their bags on their carts, ready to go. Only slight differences upon a closer look tell the full story. Some may walk to their ball a little different. Another may drive to his or her ball in a uniquely-designed cart with a swivel chair. This cart assists amputees in easily getting into position to take their swings.
Royal Tee recently purchased one of these golf carts specially equipped for wheelchair amputees. “It’s a piece of cake to show these men how they can actually get out there and play the game,” said Ruffin.
Having served on the board of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation in Fayetteville, N.C., home of Fort Bragg, Ruffin is not new to the desire to support veterans. He said he was inspired by U.S. Army Gen. Henry “Hugh” Shelton, former commander in chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command, who has done so much to champion the quality of life for military retirees.
The idea to create a golf program for disabled veterans was spearheaded by Cape Coral community members Hank Ellison and Jerry Siddel, who founded the Cape Royal Community Foundation in 2002 to support needs in the area through scholarships and charity donations. They wanted not only to introduce disabled veterans to golf, but to also assist in their re-entry into society and perhaps even help them get a job in the golf industry.
“The Royal Tee Program gets veterans outside where they can get some exercise and socialize,” Ellison explains. “Golf brings something fresh and new into their lives.”
Although the organization is less than two months old, one disabled vet, Storm, has already found a position working at the Royal Tee Golf Club. Another veteran quickly fell in love with the game and chose to join the Royal Tee Golf Club.
“We find these guys acquire a new sense of purpose when they come out here and play,” Ruffin explained. “It’s great to be able to introduce them to the game. In most cases, they didn’t even know they could play. It’s a joy.”
Individuals or other golf clubs interested in becoming involved or starting a veterans program of their own can contact Jason Ruffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fairways-Fore-FREEdom is also designed to benefit military men and women. Several courses, including 19 Marriott courses along with others like Falcon’s Fire Golf Club in Kissimmee, Fla., Hawk’s Landing Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. and Griffin Gate Golf Club in Lexington, Ky., provide active, reserve and retired military personnel with discount golf from Memorial Day through Veteran’s Day.
Featured image courtesy of 21st Century Digital Photography