Golf clinic for wounded vets finds good home at Suffolk G.C.

Published 10:12 pm Thursday, June 4, 2009

When Isaac Baker first heard about golf clinics and tournaments for wounded, amputee, and vision-impaired military veterans two years ago at a Disabled American Veterans meeting in Pennsylvania, he made up his mind to bring such an event to Suffolk.

After Wednesday’s Wounded Veterans and Amputees Golf Clinic at Suffolk Golf Course, Baker’s even more sure the clinic should become an annual event in Suffolk.

“I think we’ll try to divide up the day next year. We’ll have a clinic in the morning, and everyone will go out and play nine holes in the afternoon,” said Baker, who’s a Suffolk native and a veteran of the Marines and the Army, who served in Cuba and Vietnam.

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Groups from Hampton and Richmond came to Suffolk Golf Course for the day-long clinic. Bob Buck, the executive director of the Eastern Amputees Golf Association, traveled down from Pennsylvania to be the main instructor for the day.

The clinic is meant both for veterans who played golf prior to their injuries, and are looking to get back into the sport, and for veterans who have never tried golf before.

“We get guys who are thinking, ‘it’s the end of my golf game,’ and we say to them, ‘absolutely not!,” said Buck, who is a Vietnam veteran who had to have a leg amputated after an auto accident after returning from Vietnam.

“Golf is also the perfect game for someone who was an active athlete, but never played golf before,” said Buck.

The satisfaction Buck gets out of teaching the clinics and running tournaments is nearly instant, something which Baker now knows first-hand.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’ll have them saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this’,” said Buck. “They’re in shock. They come out for the first time, and they think, ‘I can’t hit the ball. I can’t get it down the fairway. I’ll just sit and watch.’

“Especially for those guys who’ve played before, I’ve had some of them come to tears,” said Buck.

Golf, with its handicap system of scoring in many tournaments, with its natural ability to be a family sport and with its fit for anyone at any age, said Buck, is an ideal sport all the way around. Of course competition and improvement is something every golfer wants, but there are more important lessons Buck hopes his association provides.

“These guys might be disabled, but they’re not handicapped,” said Baker while heading over to the practice putting green at Suffolk Golf Course where four blind or impaired veterans were practicing with the help of therapists from the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond.

“A coach stands behind him, puts the ball in play and lines up the golfer. From there, they can do very well,” said Baker. “They were making me look bad this morning.”

Even though the clinic was the main part of Wednesday’s plans, there were two groups of golfers who were out on the course playing nine holes, during the 90-degree afternoon heat nonetheless, said Baker.

Eddie Luke, the PGA professional at Suffolk Golf Course, was already asking Baker about bringing this event back to his course.

“Mr. Luke, he’s really opened his doors for us. He has a two-year-old son with a disability so he really understands what we’re doing,” said Baker.

Buck works with rehab hospitals to start their own programs, or at least put together golf outings a few times a year.

“Especially if they can get something going which turns into a group event,” said Buck.

Buck’s working with Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. with amputee and vision-impaired veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I was blessed. I’m not blind. I didn’t have my arm or leg taken from me. But my heart goes out to these guys because I had friends like them and I had friends who lost their lives,” said Baker.

“It’s great because they haven’t given up. They could sit at home and moan about all their aches and pains, but this is what it’s all about. Veterans, we’re all a family,” said Baker.