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Wells Fargo Championship Salutes the SMGA’s Contribution to Veterans and the Game of Golf

When the Wells Fargo Championship chose to host their 2022 tournament at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in the Washington, D.C. area, tournament officials knew that military outreach opportunities would be available as the tournament sought ways to impact its new community. Among other popular charitable organizations in the military capital of the country, Salute Military Golf Association is a booming operation that focuses on teaching the game of golf to veterans struggling with PTSD or injuries sustained during their time in the military. This year, the Wells Fargo Championship presented a check to SMGA to support its efforts in growing the game in the military community.

In 2006, lifelong friends and co-founders Jim Estes and James Winslow began SMGA after realizing the impact the game can have on post-9/11 veterans suffering from mental or physical limitations. Local to Maryland and Washington, D.C., SMGA focused on a mission to create a therapeutic outlet for veterans undergoing prolonged treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.

According to Winslow, “golf can serve as a sanctuary for anything that you’re going through in life.” For over 16 years, SMGA has provided a sanctuary to wounded and struggling veterans through their Adaptive Golf Programs like Warrior Golf Clinics and the American Golfer Program, which, according to their founders, empowers wounded veterans “one fairway at a time.”

While many of SMGA’s participants struggle with physical limitations, there are several veterans who are dealing with the mental and social struggles of returning to civilian life. Winslow notes, “16 years ago, PTSD wasn’t really well-known, and the game really changed their personalities and that’s when I knew we were on to something.”

Warrior Golf Clinics is SMGA’s pilot program and their most successful venture. Each year, SMGA commits to host over 50 clinics at local clubs to provide adaptive golf lessons and custom club fittings. Over the past decade and a half, SMGA has expanded to provide lessons and fittings in 9 different locations across the United States: Maryland, New England, NY-Adirondacks, Colorado, Pacific Northwest, Carolinas – Ft. Bragg, Carolinas – Camp Lejeune, and Hawaii.

Through all their success, the SMGA team saw a missed opportunity knocking. Knowing that veterans are spread across all of America, they wondered how they could connect veterans to their clinics if they were hours away from the closest SMGA chapter.  

Their solution? The American Golfer Program. The AGP has been tremendously successful over the years in connecting out-of-market veterans with local PGA Professionals to provide private lessons to individuals or small groups of veterans, so they don’t have to travel hours to the nearest SMGA chapter. The Wells Fargo Championship donation will be used to help fund the cost of lessons and club fittings for veterans who will participate in the American Golfer Program.

“You can really see golf change the severity of PTSD and the struggles these veterans endure,” says Winslow with a smile.

Each June, the SMGA hosts their annual Charity Golf Classic at Manor Country Club in Maryland (the course Winslow learned to play golf as a youngster) to raise funds and awareness for SMGA and their programs.  Over a hundred sponsors, donors, and participants show up for a wonderful day of golf and fundraising, witnessing SMGA’s lifetime donation total eclipse $1.5 million dollars over 16 years.

This September, SMGA will put on a few charity tournaments around the country – one at Washington D.C.’s Argyle Country Club and one at Seattle’s Chambers Bay Golf Club – where each participating group will play with an SMGA Purple Heart veteran that has gone through the adaptive golf program.

You can sign up for an event near you when registration opens on July 1 for certain events, with more to be added along the way.

For more information on SMGA or to donate/support, please visit their website at www.smga.org.