- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) - Jason Harris stood on one leg as he swung a club and hit the golf ball in front of him. First, he balanced on his left leg before switching to his right. Minutes later, he swung his club with one hand.

The exercise was harder than he expected.

Harris, the director of golf at Highland Oaks in Dothan, was trying to get a feel for what swinging a golf club may be like for an amputee. A small group of golf pros from around Alabama gathered Wednesday at Highland Oaks to learn how to work with veterans who have lost a limb or who have post-traumatic stress disorder.

The golf pros were in training to be certified with PGA HOPE, a national outreach program by PGA of America that uses golf as therapeutic rehabilitation for military veterans.

A local chapter, PROJECT HOPE Wiregrass, began in June with nine veterans. It is now working with nearly 40 local veterans, said Ty Andersen, a golf pro who started the local chapter after becoming certified by the PGA.

Andersen wants to further expand the local golf program.

“But to expand it I need to have people trained, who are certified to work with these people,” Andersen said.

Nearby where the pros were training, a group of veterans were hitting golf balls. They have been playing golf at Highland Oaks on Mondays with PROJECT HOPE Wiregrass, and Andersen hopes to see them become mentors to other veterans as the program continues to grow.

Wednesday’s training was divided into different modules. In the morning, there were sessions on how to work with veterans who have PTSD. After lunch, the golf pros hit the Highland Oaks practice facility to get tips on how to work with amputees. Along with one-leg and one-arm swinging simulations, the pros also used chairs to get a feel for how to swing a club from a seated position - such as a double-amputee would do.

“It gives you a feeling for what these guys have to go through,” Andersen said.

Judy Alvarez, a Florida golf teacher, has worked with physically disabled golfers since the early 1990s. She’s been a national trainer for PGA HOPE since 2007.

“No two amputees are the same,” Alvarez said. “But, this might just give them an idea or a better respect not to push them too much, to respect the fact that when you’re swinging on one leg you’re fatiguing fast and that’s what they go through.”

In some cases, golfers who have lost a limb can be helped with weighted clubs, lightweight clubs or clubs with chunkier grips. Adapted golf carts can help those with limited mobility. Special golf gloves with Velcro wraps can help a golfer swing with one arm by securing the club in their hand.

And while therapeutic golf programs for veterans may not be huge money-makers for golf facilities, Alvarez said the facilities that are open to these programs still reap benefits.

“When you give back to the veterans who have served our country, it’s a priceless payback,” Alvarez said.

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Information from: The Dothan Eagle, https://www.dothaneagle.com

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