WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?

BOSTON, Mass., November 11 — Jim Estes chucked his dream of playing professional golf to pursue a more fulfilling mission: helping U.S. veterans play the game he loves.
“Fifteen years ago, I was a selfish tour player who was just trying to make money,” Estes said during the PGA of America’s annual meeting in Boston last week. “I did not care who I ran over to get there.”
Life’s calling. For Estes, who had pursued a tour pro career between 1988 and 2001, founding the Salute Military Golf Association (SMGA) was “like a new calling in my life,” said the winner of the PGA’s 2010 Patriot Award.
SMGA works with officials of Walter Reed Medical Center, Disabled Sports USA, Wounded Warriors, and PGA pros in the Mid-Atlantic states to develop instruction programs and events to serve veterans and their families.
The PGA presents the Patriot Award to pros who “demonstrate unwavering commitment and dedication to the men and women” who serve and protect the U.S., according to a PGA.
High bar. “The pioneering spirit of Jim Estes comes through in his commitment to help hundreds of our nation’s heroes to find enjoyment and hope through golf,” said Jim Remy, outgoing president of the PGA of America and VP/GM of Okemo Valley Golf Club in Ludlow, Vt. “Jim has set the bar high by his work and passion, and we are proud to present him with the Patriot Award.”
Estes formed SMGA after working at Walter Reed with soldiers injured in the Iraq War. Following one particular visit, Estes called the owner of the golf  course where he was a teaching professional.
Have to do something. “I said, ‘We’ve got to do something for these guys,’” Estes, barely able to contain his emotions, recalled on the PGA stage Saturday.
He provides instruction at the Olney (Md.) Golf Park. There, Estes works with veterans on the facility’s 100 tee stations, 12,000-square-foot putting green, indoor heated bays, and 80-yard par-3 training hole.
The 46-year-old Estes has been a PGA member since 1993. He has spent a good chunk of the past 10 years researching and working with physical therapists and attending mental-training seminars. He has also teamed with the Eastern Amputee Golf Association to learn about the best prosthetics available to help physically challenged golfers.
Selfless service. To soldiers like 1st Lt. Matthew Levine, Estes is a true American patriot. “He doesn’t ask anything, doesn’t expect anything,” Levine said in a video prior to Estes’ award presentation. “Talk about selfless service.”
Golf at Olney Golf Park has provided Sgt. 1st Class (Ret.) Ramon Padilla with serenity. “If there was no golf in my life,” Padilla said. “I think I wouldn’t have a sense of peace right now.”
Sgt. 1st Class Sonia Williams echoed Padilla. “You just kind of leave your troubles at the door and just enjoy.”
Estes accepted the award on behalf of the soldiers and veterans he works with daily, but the only reward he really cared about was the joy of helping veterans.
Road to normalcy. “I’m really glad that golf has sent so many of them back on the road to normalcy,” Estes said.
Golf is so much more than a game for so many, as you realize when you watch this video about the only golf course in the country designed for physically challenged veterans, and the golfers who play there.
(Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. Check her out at the Boston Golf Examiner and National Golf Examiner websites.)

WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?