The professional golf community has been a steadfast supporter of the military throughout Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom – hosting golf clinics around the country for wounded warriors, baby showers for military wives, player visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center, USO tours to entertain deployed service members, and free admission to tournaments for military families.
Leading the charge? The PGA Tour, which has raised over $100 million for charities nationwide. But the PGA Tour especially cherishes its relationship with the military, founding the “Birdies for the Brave” program in 2005, spearheaded by Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy, to help wounded warriors and their families during their recovery.
Birdies for the Brave has expanded its mission to also bring the game of golf to military families stationed stateside by providing free admission to PGA Tour tournaments, including veterans, for bird’s eye seating in viewing stands from which to watch the action.
Over Columbus Day, troops and their families enjoyed a beautiful fall weekend to watch Mark O’Meara win his first Champions Tour event at the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in Maryland. Troops, families, and veterans were also able to participate in golf clinics and a free concert sponsored by the USO of Metropolitan Washington.
“A lot of people came to watch golf, but what these guys do, they are the real heroes, they give the guys on the Champions Tour the chance to play without fear and for the love the game,” said Kraig Kann of the Golf Channel of the military participation at Avenel.
Before Saturday’s concert began, guests were treated to a performance by the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team from Bolling Air Force Base. Kann, who served as master of ceremonies for the event, said that the PGA Tour was “proud to support our brave men and women in the military and their families.”
Then it was time to rock out. Better Than Ezra, a rock band with blues undertones from New Orleans, became popular in the early 1990s with the hits “Good,” “Desperately Wanting,” and “Extra-Ordinary,” and has supported numerous charities from aid for Hurricane Katrina to local schools in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
“We’ve had the BTE (Better Than Ezra) foundation for 10 years. [It has] benefited Katrina relief efforts and now the oil spill and the Gulf Coast community,” said lead singer Kevin Griffin. “Because we know how hard it is for charities, we are sympathetic to [these] groups and [try to] donate our time.”
The members of Better Than Ezra actively participate in numerous USO events as well and spend time at military hospitals visiting bedsides to raise morale.
“For us, its an honor to play for the troops. It’s never lost on us that we’re able to enjoy our lives and career because of the sacrifices they make for us,” said Griffin. “So whenever the USO asks us to do something, it’s a no-brainer.”
“It was an interesting opportunity for me as someone who hasn’t had a lot of experience with golf in the past, to hang out with some of the guys who are the best and get some great tips from them,” said Lance Corporal Joe Grady, USMC (Ret.), of Saturday’s military events at the Senior Players Championship. Grady, wounded in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2005, now lives in the Washington, D.C, area.
“To come out and relax for the day with my family and hear some great music like Better than Ezra was just fantastic,” Grady said.
Amy K. Mitchell is the executive editor of ON★PATROL and a vice president at the USO.