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  • Writer's pictureThe Beacon Today

Golf program gives veterans safe space to heal

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

Veterans gather on a Thursday morning to golf at Dyer Park. (From left to right: Tom Molloy, Bob Hall, Bob Massamini, Christina Olivarez, Zack Anderton, Larry Zaffuto, Homer Watts, Chris Short, Bob Rogers)

Throughout the week, the golf course at Dyer Park hosts retired veterans through a program called First Tee of the Palm Beaches. The program dates back to 1988 and was started by a man named George McGrory. McGrory had a heart for children with disabilities and special needs, and began First Tee to teach them the game of golf. The program has since expanded to serve the veteran community as well.

Zack Anderton, the program coordinator for the 12 Palm Beach locations, works with veterans at Dyer Park on most mornings. Anderton’s main roles include working with coaches, making sure they are trained and supporting the programs while helping start new programs.

Anderton said he believes this program gives veterans an opportunity to find community, and he believes golfing at First Tee is more like therapy for them than anything else.

“I mean there are some days I have come out and we don’t even hit golf balls – we just sit there and talk for an hour,” Anderton said.

Christina Olivarez is an ambassador for PGA Hope, a program that aids all veterans seeking emotional support by teaching them how to learn to play the game of golf. Olivarez participates at First Tee, as well, and said the community there has made an incredible impact on her life.

Olivarez was playing at John Prince Park when she heard of First Tee at Dyer Park. She was able to get herself out of the house after dealing with immense depression following her time in service. After meeting other veterans from the same situations, she was able to find a company where she felt comfortable.

“I had some comradery – people I knew who were like my family,” Olivarez said.

At first, she could not hit the ball, and would often get frustrated with the game. But, over time, and with encouragement from her colleagues and coaches, she slowly became a better player.

“When you learn the game, you learn that it’s a peaceful time where you can forget about your problems,” Olivarez said.

Having a sanctuary on the golf course has given each of these veterans a place to go and reconcile with their past, or confront their post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of the veterans said they have peace at First Tee, being away from everything else and being able to relate to their veteran friends. Having a community and a game they can focus on daily has provided therapy for them at no charge.

Veteran Bob Massamini, 96, said, “I go home from here and I’m smiling the whole way home because of things that happen.”

All ages gather at the tee for lessons and banter. Anderton, along with all the veterans at Dyer Park, encourages other struggling veterans to join them for a game. Finding opportunities for connection can be difficult for veterans after leaving the service, but First Tee gives them a judge-free place to be themselves and escape the stress of everyday life.

By Mckay Campbell

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