By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., April 16, 2014 – Known for its plush landscape and daunting 17th-hole island green, the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour headquarters here also boasts a flourishing military outreach program for total force military members and their families, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday.
Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia visited Tournament Players Club Sawgrass to meet officials from “Birdies for the Brave,” which offers complimentary admission, lessons and more for active duty, Guard and Reserve and retired service members and their families at select PGA Tour, Champions Tour, and Web.com Tour events.
John Flaschner, public relations and community outreach director for The PGA Tour and the Tournament Players Club network, said Birdies for the Brave fundraising efforts have benefitted nine military homefront groups supported by PGA Tour players.
“Our entire mission is just to say ‘thank you’ to military men, women and their families, Flaschner said, adding that in 2012, as part of the Joining Forces initiative, the White House named Birdies for the Brave among the top 20 military-friendly charities in the United States.
Pro golfer Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy, originally created Birdies for the Brave to support troops who suffered combat injuries, Flaschner said, noting that Mickelson pledged to the Homes For Our Troops and Special Operations Warrior foundations $100 for each birdie and $500 for each eagle he makes.
Today, the PGA Tour has more than 100 tournaments on all three of its tours, including the Web.com Tour for up-and-coming players and the Champions Tour for players over age 50.
And Birdies for the Brave is at 32 tournaments out of 45 on the PGA Tour, with a presence of six each on the Web.com and the Champions tours, Flaschner noted. “Our goal by 2018 is to have a presence at all of these tournaments,” he added.
Birdies for the Brave has partnered with organizations such as Operation Shower, a charitable program out of St. Louis that coordinates with base ombudsmen and local stores to set up surprise baby showers for expectant mothers whose spouses are underway or deployed. Donations include cribs, dressers and other necessary baby supplies.
Battaglia commended Birdies for the Brave’s connection of role-model athletes to military veterans and their families. Flaschner said his main motivation is to give back to service members who have committed their lives to freedom and bravery.
“Whether it’s mortgage-free home donations to wounded service members and their families or the donation of service dogs to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, our fundraising events have raised more than $13 million for military homefront charities that directly benefit military members and their families,” Flaschner said. “And to see their gratitude for us when they’ve given so much is just overwhelming.”
The nine military homefront groups and their supporting Tour players are:
-- Homes for Our Troops and Special Operations Warrior Foundation: Phil Mickelson;
-- Operation Homefront: Corey Pavin;
-- Navy SEAL Foundation: Jerry Kelly, Vijay Singh and Frank Lickliter II;
-- United Through Reading: Rory Sabbatini;
-- Military Warriors Support Foundation: Ted Purdy and David Toms;
-- Green Beret Foundation: Bubba Watson;
-- K9s for Warriors: David Duval and Bob Duval; and
-- Feherty's Troops First Foundation: Rod Pampling.