Golf Supports Our Troops, a New Jersey-based nonprofit, is celebrating a decade of giving back to disabled veterans with possibly its biggest contribution yet: a dream golf trip to Ireland.
Since forming in 2006, GSOT has shipped thousands of donated golf clubs and balls to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, taken hundreds of vets to PGA Tour events and raised enough money to install six wheelchair-accessible synthetic putting greens at VA hospitals around the country.
All those programs have been successful bringing the joy of golf to soldiers, but the trip to Ireland from Sept. 6-12 -- featuring 20 disabled vets and two PGA Professionals -- will be extra special.
"The vets wake up every day and pinch themselves," GSOT founder Brian Coleman says.
Coleman has traveled extensively through Ireland, sometimes following arrangements made by Justin Farrell, a golf tour operator who founded Links of Ireland (linksofireland.com) in 2013. When Farrell offered to help organize a GSOT trip in 2014, Coleman was blown away by the Irish hospitality. Farrell says he has always been keen to give back, donating Irish golf vacations as fundraisers for The Tiger Woods Foundation and Self Help Africa.
"The veterans have given and sacrificed so much to help others," Farrell says. "It was an initiative Links of Ireland is hugely proud to be involved with."
Farrell recruited a handful of key Irish partners. Kerry Coaches will drive the bus along a portion of Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way, a west coast tour stopping for golf and/or overnight stays at Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort; The Beach Hotel Downings; Carne Golf Links; Mount Falcon Estate; Enniscrone Golf Club; Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, Galway; and the Galway Bay Golf Resort, all with the support of Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland.
Coleman worked to raise money for airfare and food and drinks on the tour. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer -- who donate tickets to their respective PGA Tour events in Ohio and Florida to GSOT every year -- have signed letters of support.
"A lot of people are amazed that the Ireland people will do this," Coleman says. "I am not amazed. This is the way they are. There is a strong bond between the Irish and Americans. I always feel welcome when I am there."
The veterans will travel from all parts of America, representing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Some former soldiers have earned Purple Heart medals for their sacrifices and others have lost limbs, Coleman says. Florida-based PGA Professionals Dave Windsor and Ken Juhn regularly work with disabled veterans through the Adaptive Golf Academy.
"There is no rank on this trip," Coleman says. "The only (military) order is you have to have fun. This is a trip to enjoy. If you want to take a day off from golf, do it. This is not a competition. This is just a payback for your service. I'm interested to see how the group melds together. I'm sure they will."