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Salute Military Golf Association hosting state golf tourney in Canton

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CANTON - A group that uses golf as rehabilitation for wounded warriors will be hosting a state golf tournament Sept. 7 at the Partridge Run Golf and Country Course in Canton.

The tournament is open to anyone, according to Frank P. Dorchak Jr., Malone, regional manager for SMGA. Previously, players had to qualify to participate in the tournament.

“I put on five tournaments and you had to qualify to play,” Mr. Dorchak said.

Now, he said, “You don’t have to be a wounded warrior or in the military. Anyone who plays golf can be in the tournament.”

They’ll be vying for the SMGA-NY Wounded Warrior Perpetual Trophy, which is awarded to the winning foursome at each year’s championship tournament. The trophy is then put on display at their respective golf course for the upcoming season.

Mr. Dorchak advised registering in advance by calling him at (518) 483-6272 or the golf course at 386-4444. More information is available on their website, www.smga-ny.org.

He said the SMGA was founded by Jim Estes, a golf professional and director of instruction at Olney Golf Park in Olney, Md., who saw first-hand the positive effects the game of golf could have on combat wounded soldiers.

“In 2004 he took a walk through Walter Reed (Army Medical Center). He wanted to do something, so he started the entire program,” Mr. Dorchak said.

Mr. Estes hooked up with a childhood friend who had a master’s degree in business. Together, they put a business plan together and started with $600.

He said the SMGA’s mission is to provide rehabilitative golf experiences for combat-wounded veterans in an effort to improve their quality of life. The rehabilitative benefits of golf, he said, can improve the mental and physical condition of warrior returning from combat.

“We teach combat wounded how to play for rehabilitative purposes. To date we have taught over 900 combat wounded, including amputees, how to play golf and quicken their rehabilitation,” Mr. Dorchak said.

More than 100 Fort Drum soldiers have gone through the program, he said.

“It’s been proven that if it wasn’t for golf, they would still be laying in their bunks staring at the ceiling. It really helps these guys out,” he said.

Many of wounded warriors lettered in high school and college sports such as baseball, football and basketball, but after they lose an arm or a leg, don’t realize there are still options available to them, according to Mr. Dorchak.

“They think, ‘No sports? What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ Back here, some guy says, ‘I can teach you how to play golf,’ and they say, ‘You’re nuts,’” he said.

But they soon learn that golfing can be a relaxing and rehabilitating experience, he said. One first sergeant lost an arm, but shoots an 82.

“That’s a very good number. Most golfers shoot in the hundreds,” Mr. Dorchak said.

Wounded warriors take part in eight-week clinics that are taught under the expert guidance of local PGA golf professionals who have completed an “Adaptive Golf Certification Course” designed by Mr. Estates and Judy Alvarez in cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania.

The wounded warriors receive their equipment, meals, range balls and greens fees free of charge during their eight-week training period. At the conclusion of the course, they are awarded a set of golf clubs thanks to the generosity of a major golf manufacturer.

“When they’re done with the eight-week clinic, they receive a free set of tailor-made golf clubs,” Mr. Dorchak said. “When these soldiers play, most of them don’t make a lot of bucks. If they need golf balls they call me up and I give them golf balls.”

One soldier related how his shoes fell apart, but that was no problem, according to Mr. Dorchak, who told him to go to the pro shop and he would be fitted with a new pair.

The SMGA recorded a number of accomplishments in 2012, according to the group’s website. Among them were the staging of four wounded warrior golf clinics with 24 wounded warriors from Fort Drum and one from Manchester, Vt.

They also initiated two new golf clinic sites, Partridge Run in Canton and Highland Meadows Golf Course in Watertown.

In addition, they established the SMGA-NY Purple Heart Golf Association at five area golf courses, offering reduced rates for Purple Heart recipients.

During the year, three wounded warriors - staff sergeants Andrew Montgomery, Jeremy Simons and Erik Golden - were accepted at the American School of Golf in South Carolina and Sgt. 1st Class Roy Mitchell, who also completed the eight-week clinic, was invited to play in the President Bush Wounded Warrior Open in Dallas, Texas. He was also invited to play in the Simpson Cup Tournament in December.

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