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Military and Golf: Rich History, Challenging Future

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It’s my turn to tee off in the match I’ve got going with my buddy on the course at Fort Bragg, N.C., where we’re stationed with the 82nd Airborne Division. And since I don’t have an ice pick handy, I grab some of the fallen pine needles to make a little “bed” for my ball to lay on. No way a tee is going in the ground. It’s freezing outside and the ground is rock hard, but we’re playing golf anyway. Because we love it, the course is open, and it keeps us out of trouble.

Fort Bragg is in the Sand Hills region near Pinehurst and Southern Pines, otherwise known as The Home of American Golf. And while our modest little military base track pales compared to the sprawling, iconic Pinehurst courses, it’s as good as Augusta National to us. It’s our course, we can play it at a bargain-basement rate, and it provides almost everything the elite courses do – fun, competition, camaraderie, tradition, the great outdoors, and a place to make birdies.

And it’s responsible for one of my favorite and most enduring golf memories – watching Jack’s back-nine charge to his last green jacket with a clubhouse full of fellow service members. The roars emanating from our little building raised the roof. Nothing like sharing a special moment with kindred spirits. That’s one of golf’s great charms. But I digress…

Golf and the military have a long, rich history in this country. For as long as the game has flourished in America, military members have embraced the game, perhaps none more so than our Commander-in-Chiefs. Ike was an Augusta National member, and Gerald Ford skulled more than one spectator while playing (poorly yet avidly). Donald Trump owns courses and reportedly mixes rounds with running America, as did Obama, Clinton and the Bushes before him. When was the last time the POTUS didn’t avidly play golf? Jimmy Carter? Ronald Reagan?

Leave that to the fact-checkers, and it doesn’t matter. The point is that golf and the U.S. Military are deeply interwoven – from the highest level to the rank-and-file troops who comprise the vast majority. There are 145 American base golf facilities globally (111 in the U.S.). That portfolio makes it one of the largest collections of courses in the world. Add that there are tens of millions of past and present service members who golf, and countless generations to come, and it’s clear that military golf is, pardon the pun, a force to be reckoned with – good and bad.

The Good

The spectrum of courses ranges from modest, municipal-type tracks to top-notch layouts combining outstanding design with spectacular locations and views. Think Hawaii, California and Colorado, Virginia, Texas and South Carolina. As an Army vet who has worked in the golf industry for the past 20 years, I’ve experienced both first-hand, and I can honestly say that I got as much benefit from playing the military courses as from the swankiest resort or private club course.

Benefit is the key word when it comes to judging or evaluating military golf, which falls under the military’s department of Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR). Those three words perfectly describe the benefits that base golf facilities provide service members past and present, as well as their families.

Many service members – former and current – suffer from significant stress and physical disability. It is well-documented that they experience relief and enjoyment while they’re on the golf course, practice range or putting green. It helps them cope, heal and recover — to experience life as fun, hopeful and free from mental anguish again, even if for a short period of time. In many cases, these golf experiences serve as springboards to enhanced wellness. That’s good for their mental health and physical well-being and that of their families, as well as our military readiness overall.

The Bad

Since 2011, there have been zero funds appropriated for stateside golf courses. Most income base golf courses receive comes from green and cart fees. This creates annual revenue shortfalls as many base courses provide very low rates for service members past and present. Hence, many are falling into disrepair – both on and off course (practice facilities, on-course accessories, restrooms, additional accessibility, cart barns, maintenance equipment/facilities, clubhouses, etc.).

Left unchecked, this scenario spells, if not doom for military courses, certainly a slow, steady decline, and along with it the benefits afforded our selfless, patriotic soldiers.

The Solution

Operation Support Military Golf (OSMG) is a non-profit organization that was formed to address this challenge. To understand OSMG is to understand Founder Jennifer Poth and her father, Lt. Col. John E. Poth. USAF Ret. Jennifer was born with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, a condition that prevented her from following her father into military service, which was her dream.

After playing junior golf four years in high school, she signed with Texas A&M University. Its strong academics, athletic standards, and military presence inspired her. Jennifer left competitive golf after college and focused on using her Sports Management degree. Her goal was to work for the PGA Tour, so she packed her truck and drove from College Station, TX, to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. She spent her first six months in Florida scrubbing clubs, working the bag drop, and in the pro shop at TPC Sawgrass, ultimately earning a position traveling 26 weeks per year as a Shotlink Producer for the Tour. After seven years with the Tour, she parted ways, earned her master’s degree in Sports Management, then founded JP Golf Consulting and Design.

While working for herself was rewarding, bettering Florida golf courses did not fulfill her lifetime desire of serving her country. Shortly after the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings in 2013, Jennifer realized a way to serve our military through the game she loves. Since then, she has devoted her professional career to combining her love and passion for our United States Military and golf through OSMG.

OSMG is dedicated to “Reviving the Golf Courses that Revitalize our Heroes.” They are green-space havens that at some overseas bases are the only safe and/or affordable recreational space for service members and their families. Who does OSMG serve?

  • Active Duty & Reserve Personnel – as a means of R&R and unit bonding
  • Medically Retired, aka Wounded Warriors – in their life adjustment recovery process
  • Retired Veterans after an honorable career – as a well-earned perk for their service
  • Future Generations of service members – investing in our future and our people
  • Families of all the above – providing service members the knowledge that their dependents have a safe environment to learn and play a game that teaches positive, lifelong lessons, such as the values of integrity and tradition. This is especially important during deployments or as a means of reintegration upon their return.

With $1 million targeted per course for renovations and many facilities falling into disrepair, the Poths need many people and groups to rally together.

After five years traveling the country, putting countless pieces together (and using their personal savings to do so) – from navigating the protocol required to get military approval at the highest levels, to recruiting leading golf organizations to pledge their support – Jennifer and Lt. Col. Poth have built the runway. Now it’s time to fly. Work on OSMG’s inaugural project – at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, FL – is scheduled to begin this spring.

Arnold Palmer Design Company has made the in-kind contribution of providing the architectural drawing for a practice facility, and MacCurrach Golf Construction is scheduled to implement it this year. And several leading industry organizations have answered the call and pledged support though in-kind services to OSMG, including Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, American Society of Golf Course Architects and the Golf Course Builders Association of America.

There are not enough funds to replace the cart barn and two on-course restrooms at Mayport, but OSMG is striving to secure them. The second upgrade project will occur at MacDill Air Force Base, assuming funds are secured to complement the generous in-kind services already donated.

With the support of individual and corporate donors, Military Golf will have a solid future. That’s good for everyone.

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A University of Maryland graduate, Dan is a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic, now residing in Northern Virginia. Fan of the Terps and all D.C. professional sports teams, Dan fell in love with golf through Lee Trevino's style and skill during his peak years. Dan was once Editor of Golf Inc. Magazine.

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The Gear Dive: Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Mike Yagley and Chad DeHart of Cobra Golf Innovation on Cobra Connect, new ways to evaluate good play, and the future of golf improvement.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Mondays Off: U.S. Open wrap-up | Steve plays against the new assistant pro

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Would Woodland have won the U.S. Open if he had to hit driver on the 18th hole? Knudson doesn’t think so. Steve loved the U.S. Open, but he didn’t really love the commentator crew. Also, Steve tees it up with the new second assistant pro at the club, how did he do?

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: What’s your short game handicap?

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Well, that was a U.S. Open for the ages, in my book. Hallowed Pebble Beach held its own against the best players in the world and proved that small greens can really give these guys fits. Kudos and congratulations to Gary Woodland for putting on quite a show and outlasting all the others. And to Brooks Koepka for giving us reason to believe a three-peat could really happen.

To me, of course, what stands out is how Woodland elevated his short game for this event. Coming in he was ranked something like 165th on tour in greenside saves but went 16-for-20 last week. Of course, that also means he hit 52 of those small greens in regulation, which certainly outdistanced most of the field. Justin Rose was putting on a scrambling clinic for three days, but his inability to hit fairways and greens finally did him in. So that brings me to today’s topic – an honest assessment of your own “short game handicap.” Regardless of skill level, I have long believed that the key to better scoring is the same for us as for these tour-elite players – improving your ability to get up-and-down.

Almost all reasonably serious golfers have a handicap, just to allow us to keep track of our overall improvement with our golf games. But wouldn’t it be more useful if that handicap was such that it told us where we could improve the most? Unfortunately, that’s not the purpose of the USGA handicap program, so I’ve devised my own “Short Game Handicap” calculation to help golfers understand that this is where they are most likely going to improve their scoring.

The premise of my short game handicapping formula is the notion that once we get inside short iron range, the physical differences between golfers is increasingly neutralized. For most of us, our physical skills and abilities will never let us hit drives and longer approach shots like the best players. But I believe anyone can learn to execute good quality chips and pitches, and even full swing wedge and short iron shots. It really doesn’t matter whether your full-swing 9-iron goes 140 or 105, if you can execute shots from there on into the green, you can score better than you do now.

So, the starting point is to know exactly where you stand in relation to “par” when you are inside scoring range…regardless of how many strokes it took you to get there. Once your ball is inside that range where you can reach the flag with a comfortable full-swing 9-iron or less, you should be able to get up and down in 3 strokes or fewer almost all the time. In fact, I think it is a realistic goal for any golfer to get down in two strokes more often than it takes more than three, regardless of your skill level.

So, let’s start with understanding what this kind of scoring range skill set can do for your average score. I created this exercise as a starting point, so I’m encouraging you guys and ladies to chime in with your feedback.

What was your last (or typical) 18 hole score? ______

_____ Number of times you missed a green with a 9-iron or less
_____ Number of times you got up and down afterward
_____ Number of other holes where you hit a chip or pitch that ended up more than 10’ from the cup

Subtract #2 from #1, then add 1/2 of #3. That total ______ is your short game handicap under this formula. [NOTE: The logic of #3 is that you can learn to make roughly 1/2 of your putts under 10 feet, so improving your ability to hit chips and pitches inside that range will also translate to lower scores.]

I believe this notion of a short game handicap is an indication of how many shots can potentially come off your average scores if you give your short game and scoring clubs the attention they deserve.

I would like to ask all of you readers to do this simple calculation and share with the rest of us what you find out.

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