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BROCKTON, Massachusetts – It’s just after 1 p.m. on Friday afternoon when Bob Beach and a handful of retired military veterans begin the process of setting up putting mats, portable nets with red trimmings, small strips of turf, golf clubs and buckets of golf balls inside the gymnasium at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Brockton.
Sun shined through the windows, but it was a blustery and frigid day outside. Though these golf sessions have moved indoors for the colder months, the mission of bringing the game to local veterans presses on, especially with Veteran’s Day just around the corner.
Every Friday afternoon, Beach runs the Brockton VA Hospital Program alongside former Blue Hills Country Club pro Vinnie Del Zoppo, 91, a decorated Army veteran who served in combat infantry during the Korean War. Together they help facilitate golf activities and instructions to those who decide to show up, regardless of their background and experience.
“Gotta keep moving,” said Jack Waldron, an 81-year-old Dedham resident who served in the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army during the 1950s. A former Boston College football player, Waldron shouts “dead center” after hitting each putt from the practice green.
Beach, who last year retired as longtime head PGA Professional at Braintree Municipal Golf Course, has helped numerous wounded veterans learn the game and given them a sense of worth and self-confidence since the early 1990s. He is now the Director of Golf for Golf For All, a Mass Golf allied organization that introduces the game of golf to people with physical and developmental disabilities as well as community members and veterans.
Beach and Del Zoppo said these clinics are a way of giving back, and they smile when they can see the veterans are enjoying themselves.
“A lot of times veterans, they want to get out but they can’t,” Beach said. “This gets them out because they want to see their fellow veterans. Golf is good for them because they get focused on the sport. They get lost in the game. They do it with their buddies, and they get immersed in the game like we all do.”
During Friday’s session, the spouses and partners of the veterans also join in and take a few swings. Even when the participants hit ground balls or miss the net, it’s all positive encouragement from Del Zoppo, who keeps reminding players, “the ball is in the way of the club.”
Beach spent a good portion of his time helping Mike Reardon, a retired Marine who now has early onset Alzheimer’s. Reardon, a former hockey player, had never played golf until two years ago when a VA social worker recommended the program.
During the session, Beach helps Reardon establish a proper grip on the club, adjusts his shoulders and provides positive encouragement. When Reardon makes a good shot, such as putting the ball right in front of the outline of the hole, Reardon says, “Bobby Orr,” a nod to his favorite Boston Bruins player of all time.
“It’s something he enjoys,” said Carmela, Reardon’s friend and caretaker. “Bob’s so patient with him. Bob’s been a big help by taking him and giving me a break.”
Reardon’s shining moment happened the week prior when he and Carmela got to play a round of golf with Beach and Corcoran at Ponkapoag Golf Course in Canton.
“As soon as he got out there he goes, ‘This is a beautiful place. It’s beautiful out there.’ He goes, ‘Stunning. It’s stunning,’” Beach said of Reardon. “When he was done, you could tell he had a good day, and that’s what it’s all about when you’re dealing with something like that.”
Beach continues running Veterans & Families Clinics at Ponkapoag and hosts Friday Veterans clinics at Cedar Hill Golf Course in Stoughton during summertime. There’s also artificial putting green outside the gymnasium at the VA, something that draws in new people in the middle of these clinics.
“When we’re outside, they’ll see us doing it and they’ll want to come over and try it,” Beach said.
“You feel privileged to be able to help our veterans,” added Fred Corcoran, the Executive Director and co-founder of Golf For All. “You’re giving back to them and giving back to the game.”
To learn more about Golf For All’s programs, Click Here.