Veterans get On Course with golf

On Course Foundation (OCF) supports the recovery of wounded, injured and sick Service personnel and veterans with help from the golf industry. As well as training and teaching golf skills to build confidence, OCF looks to create work experience and employment opportunities for veterans within the sport. Glyn Pritchard spoke to Steve Holt, who joined the OCF as managing director last August, about this important work.

Rick WebbOCF came into being after John Simpson made a visit to Headley Court, the Defence Services Medical Rehabilitation Centre, as Holt explains. “John was a vice-president of the IMG sports agency and worked with some top golf stars including Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Greg Norman and Vijay Singh. In 1997 he set up his own company John Simpson Associates. It was while visiting Headley Court that he was inspired to establish the On Course Foundation. John had polio as a child and the plight of the injured service personnel struck a chord with him.”

The charity launched in 2010 and has grown rapidly since with 351 service members, 85 percent of whom had never played golf before their injury. OCF not only helps veterans suffering from physical injuries, but also those suffering mental trauma. “Golf provides a very tranquil atmosphere and it also requires a high level of concentration, so when you’re playing golf it’s hard to dwell on other darker thoughts.”

But the work of the OCF is not only concerned with golf as therapy, as Holt confirms. “Golf helps to instil self-confidence and a sense of purpose after an injury, but following that process, OCF aims to find work placements and full-time employment opportunities for our veterans in the golf industry. That’s the crucial difference between us and other service charities. Nearly 80,000 people work in the UK golf industry and former Service personnel have great transferable skill-sets to offer.” At the end of 2014, OCF had succeeded in facilitating 34 work experience placements and twelve permanent jobs.

Rob HansonCertainly the charity is benefiting from a lot of positive support from the good and the great of the golf industry and beyond. HRH The Duke of York and Arnold Palmer are both patrons of the charity and Neil Coles is a trustee along with founder John Simpson. The R&A has been a proud supporter of the charity since its inception. Holt says that the British and International Greenkeepers Association, GCMA and many other golfing organisations have also been strong advocates.

In operation OCF offers one-day introduction courses to golf where Advanced PGA pros provide coaching for free. For those veterans that want to do more than play golf, there is a follow-up three day event. “On the first day there’s some golf tuition, followed by a dinner with a guest speaker. They will play a round of golf on the second day and for the new members there is one to one counselling with our employment managers about their work aspirations after service life. From that we will identify appropriate work taster sessions. For example Richmond Golf Course has run an introductory green keeping course for us. There’s a Texas scramble on the third morning followed by a final session with our employment managers to get feedback and draw up an action plan for each individual.”

The three-day events are held monthly for around 24 participants and so far OCF has run over 80 such events for nearly 1,000 attendees. Not all are held in the UK, with warm weather events held over the winter in Orlando, Portugal and Menorca. Service women also benefit and the scheme is open to veterans of all ages. “Typically half the participants will want to pursue a career in golf, but many more are attracted to the game. We don’t know where the journey will end for our members, but we’re here to support them every step of the way with the lifelong challenges they face”, says Holt.

Steve HoltOCF has attracted a lot of support from the golfing community. “One of our main sources of funding has been Captains’ Charities. We’ve also been helped with equipment donations from Callaway, Mizuno, Ping and Titleist and that’s saved us a considerable amount of money for clubs, balls and apparel. The R&A have been great supporters. They have featured us twice as their Christmas card charity and they allow us to use the Working for Golf logo on our communications.”

For those members interested in playing golf to a higher level, OCF is adopting England Golf’s ‘Passport to Golf’ process with accreditation by PGA pros on proficiency levels. “Golf’s handicapping system means that for many wounded service people, it’s the one sport that they can really compete in and we help them with joining local clubs”, Holt advises.

But it’s as a gateway to employment opportunities that Holt sees as the essential role for OCF and key to that is fundraising and growth. “We’ve put in place a seven year plan called 20:20 Vision to ensure we have fundraising in place to expand and support our members. We want to be more proactive in our fundraising and come the new financial year, we will be able to announce a major corporate sponsor for our events. Fundamentally it’s about the members and literally getting them back on course.”

If you think your golf organisation could provide work experience placements or employment opportunities for the Service men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country please call OCF on 020 8334 2010, or visit: www.oncoursefoundation.com