VA Salt Lake City Health Care System
Golf program helps keep ‘Veterans on Course’
Envision a small hole, about the size of a quarter, two feet away from your left eye. Now imagine that this is the only portal through which you can see the world. This is reality for Kevin Beus, a Navy Veteran and golfer with the Utah Golf Foundation’s “Veterans On Course” program.
Kevin has a rare condition called Behçet's disease, an inflammatory disorder which affects multiple parts of the body, including the central nervous system. The degenerative and incurable illness has steadily staked its claim on Kevin’s eyesight, rendering him legally blind. Yet, Kevin continues to participate in VOC tournaments that are open to all U.S. Military veterans.
“I’ve participated in a lot of the VA’s different programs,” Beus said. “But this is the one I’ve stuck with because my body won’t let me do anything more intense anymore.,”
Kevin D. Beus, a legally blind U.S. Navy Veteran, takes a golf swing lined up for him utilizing his white probing cane at the Utah Golf Association’s “Veterans On Course” golf tournament.
Beus was one of 65 veterans of varying skill levels who donned their best golf attire for the VOC’s August event at The River Oaks golf course in Sandy. For each event, three to five Professional Golfers Association volunteers provide veterans instruction on chipping, putting and driving the ball. Veterans rotate through different stations and then play nine holes.
“It’s a very low-stress game,” said Dean Cottle, president of the Utah Golf Foundation board of directors f. “We use a scramble format so it's focused on fun and camaraderie. Then we have some hors d'oeuvres, listen to a speaker and give out some prizes for ’closest to the hole,’ ’low score‘ and things like that.”
To bring the VOC to life, the UGF works extensively with medical professionals at Salt Lake City’s George E. Whalen Medical Center create a program where veterans can experience healing and connection. The program supplies everything a beginner golfer could need, from an online registration program to prizes to keep players motivated and coming back for more. UGF organizers quickly noticed that improved golf scores weren’t the only benefit Veterans were seeing.
“When I took this job, I had no idea what I was getting myself into - in a positive way,” said Megan Huntsman, program director of the Utah Golf Foundation. “These veterans say that we are changing their lives, but really they are changing ours. We get the privilege of seeing their growth and development. To see and hear about their improvements make it more worthwhile than it already is. We are getting emails and phone calls from veterans all the time telling us how much fun they had or about a new friend they made in their foursome.”
Dr. William R. Klinger lines up a golf shot for U.S. Navy Veteran Kevin D. Beus, a legally blind Veterans On Course participant at River Oaks Golf Course on Thursday.
The Utah Golf Foundation serves as the non-profit arm of the Utah Golf Association. Cottle, and his board of directors, began VOC four years ago with just an idea, no prototype. The overwhelming community support and Veteran participation has evolved into more than they could have hoped for in the beginning.
“You see a group and think they must have known each other for years, but come to find out they just met here a few hours ago,” Cottle said. “At some of our events we have Korean War Vets and Vietnam Vets who have created successful lives and careers. These younger generation veterans who are struggling - they are great role models for them to golf with.”
The UGF encourages both Veterans and those looking to work with the Veteran population, to get involved and do everything in their power to either support or attend events that bring Veteran and civilian populations together.
“These are tremendous men and women who have given a lot for all of us,” Cottle said. “Get involved and do everything you can to help and get to know them. Our plan is to continue to grow it. We would like to eventually hold state-wide tournaments.”
Huntsman echoed Cottle’s sentiments.
“Take the leap because in the end it's going to be worth it for you,” she said. “We have such a friendly and inviting group of people out here that you’ll be able to meet a whole new group of friends - while also partaking in the greatest game ever played.”