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Monday, March 14, 2016

Veterans on the Greens

Veterans on the Greens

Golf is an unbelievable vehicle to help assist America’s heroes

Story by Brian Hurlburt

Las Vegas resident Butch Harmon has quietly made a difference in the lives of veterans, and not so quietly made a difference in the golf games of some of the world’s best players.

First off, it is important to note that it was our idea to approach Butch Harmon about his work with veterans. Over the years, Harmon, who was inducted into the Golf Magazine Teachers Hall of Fame in January, has done a lot of behind-the-scenes work helping military personnel in a variety of ways.

Harmon, who operates the Butch Harmon School of Golf at Rio Secco Golf Club, prefers that his good deeds remain quiet. But because we are honoring the military within this issue, he was willing to share his experiences, and he hopes that everyone will be inspired to do something nice for a veteran.


Butch Harmon, the veteran

Harmon is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and first started working with the current-day troops in 2007 during a visit to the Middle East with David Feherty, Tom Watson and Tom Lehman.

“I got involved and created Harmon’s Heroes because when I visited Iraq with the Troops First Foundation, I met a lot of courageous and wonderful soldiers,” says Harmon, via phone immediately after watching his student, Brandt Snedeker, win the Farmers Insurance Open, the week after another one his students, Rickie Fowler, won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship. “I saw what Troops First was doing for disabled veterans and I thought I could really make a difference through golf. I thought golf would be a great tool to help get them back into the mainstream. We have had good success with that over the years.

“What I have done historically is each year get together 10 to 12 veterans who have had some problems and bring them out to Las Vegas and my school for several days, raise some money and simply do nice things for them. We get them involved in golf—or back playing golf—and show them that they can still play even with a disability. We just try to bring them a little more joy in life. I like to do what I do on a small scale without a lot of publicity and make sure we create the best atmosphere for the guys and make it very special for them.”

Harmon is compelled to help disabled veterans for a variety of reasons.

“If it wasn’t for the grace of God, there goes me,” says Harmon in a reflective tone. “I could have easily been one of those guys I now work with, but I was fortunate to come back healthy from my time in Vietnam. I remember when I came back home the country was in turmoil and veterans weren’t very well taken care of, not that I think they are doing a great job now, but it is a lot better than it used to be. It’s been good to see the smiles on their faces when they hit a good shot, and it makes you feel good to make a positive difference and help them feel like a normal person. That’s all they want to be is normal. Yes, they’ve been dealt a tough hand, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be normal. You look at the statistic that more veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have committed suicide back home than have died during the actual wars, and it is horrible. It’s gut wrenching. So I think anything that anyone can do to help make veterans’ lives better is worthwhile. I just try to do it on a small scale and do the best I can do.”


Butch Harmon, the Teacher

When you speak with Harmon, it’s a must to get a tip from this master, who has been voted by his peers in a Golf Digest poll as the world’s best golf teacher for more than 12 straight years. So amateurs, take heed and learn.

“Amateurs have big egos about how far they hit it,” says Harmon. “I tell amateurs that when they drive up to the course, leave the ego in the car because it will only get in the way. These days everyone is so enamored with distance and how far they can hit it, but the secret to getting the maximum out of your ability is to hit the ball in the middle of the clubface with the clubface square at impact. If you can make an easier and smoother swing you have a much better chance than the average golfer that I see who looks like they are swinging as hard as they can just in case they hit it. You can hit the ball farther if you just play within yourself and not try to kill everything.”

Harmon has worked with some of the best players in the history of golf. He opened up to this writer and shared the first sentence that came to his mind about several of those golfers.

Harmon on some of his students:

Greg Norman

“Probably one of the most gifted players I have ever been involved with and one of the hardest workers.”

Davis Love III

“Tremendous natural ability and a person who I think is very happy in his own skin. Probably perceived as an underachiever, but I think he did things the way he wanted to do them.”

Phil Mickelson

“Probably a guy that tinkers with his swing as much as anybody, but I had the most fun working with him out of anybody.”

Tiger Woods

“Without a doubt the most gifted player I have ever had the ability to work with.”

Adam Scott

“The only player who I ever worked with who had a swing like Tiger Woods, and that’s the way it was when I first started working with him when he was 18 so it made it easy for me due to the similarities.”

Natalie Gulbis

“Natalie is probably one of the nicest human beings I have been involved with and also a very hard worker. If it hadn’t been for all of the injuries she has had, she would have had even more success.”

Rickie Fowler

“Rickie Fowler is a man who keeps me young. I also love his desire to get better.”

Dustin Johnson

“He is one of the most talented players I have ever worked with and he has a very unusual swing.”

Jimmy Walker

“He is a real grinder. He’s a guy that is so much better than people think he is and he is only going to get better.”

Fred Couples

“The most laid-back guy who ever played golf and a guy with so much natural ability.”

Ernie Els

“Ernie is a very gifted player with beautiful tempo and rhythm.”

Harmon’s overriding thoughts on each of them as a group:

“The one thing that stands out is that they all want to get better. They have a tremendous desire to get better and they work very hard to do that.”

Harmon’s view on the state of golf:

“Golf is in the best place that it has been in a long time. You look at all of the young players and how good they are and how talented they are. They have changed the TOUR. You watch them in big tournaments walking down the fairways and talking to each other and having a good time. Then you compare that to Tiger Woods who during his best days was stone faced and didn’t talk to anyone. Jack Nicklaus was also stone faced in his prime. They were so into the concentration of what they were doing.

“But you look at these young guys and they are a product of the more natural way kids are today. They grew up playing junior golf together. Then high school and college golf together. They go on the TOUR together. They’re all on social media together and, quite frankly, I think it is fun to see.”


Henderson Treatment Court Gets Vet Back on Course

The Henderson Treatment Court was adopted by City of Henderson Judge Mark Stevens following an act of the Nevada Legislature, which established the court in 2009. Stevens is a veteran himself and wanted a way to reach out and give a helping hand to his fellow military men and women who have gone a little wayward on their path back into the civilian world. Stevens served in the United States Marine Corps from 1988 to 1994 as captain, company commander and judge advocate defense attorney (JAG).

It is one of many worthy charities and organizations in Southern Nevada that assist returning soldiers with the transition from combat service into life back in the United States. But it is arguably one of the most important even while it flies a bit under the radar.

“We work with defendants who are new to the court system to rehabilitate and hopefully prevent any further criminal activity on their part,” says Judge Stevens. “These veterans come back home and have a tough time adjusting to life outside of the military. Through my own service and experience I understand some of their challenges and work closely with a team of dedicated professionals to get them the help they need.”

The Henderson Treatment Court is getting more visible. The exposure can help it do more good. A recent adopter to assist the cause is the Southern Nevada Golf Association.

“Part of our mission at the Southern Nevada Golf Association is to promote and support worthwhile events and organizations, and the Henderson Veterans Court is one that is important to all of us,” says Ann Sunstrum, executive director of the Southern Nevada Golf Association. “Our soldiers and their families sacrifice so much for us that it is an honor for us to give back a little bit and help make a positive difference in their lives.”

The Henderson Veterans Court focuses on veterans’ underlying issues and provides access to resources that enable successful compliance with the court’s orders. Most of the soldiers are first-time offenders convicted of misdemeanor crimes that just need a helping hand to get raised up and then become productive citizens.

The veterans court system was created in 2008 by Robert Russell, a judge in Buffalo, New York. Justice For Vets is the national organization that assists all Veterans Courts. According to Justice For Vets information, “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken an unprecedented toll on our men and women in uniform. While most return home strengthened by their service, far too many struggle in their effort to readjust to life outside the military. Often, mental health issues are compounded by substance abuse, family strife, unemployment, and homelessness, ultimately leading to incarceration. Justice For Vets has developed a strategy to give veterans the care they have earned while keeping them out of jail and giving them the tools they need to once again live as productive citizens. Our holistic approach impacts every aspect of their lives, and is having a dramatic effect on the most pressing issues facing veterans today.”

There is an annual golf tournament to raise funds and support for the cause. Visit's-court for all court details.


Heroes in the Rough Group Making Friends, Helping Veterans

There is a lot of good and worthwhile stuff happening at Aliante Golf Club. Spearheaded by PGA of America professional Paul Cox, the course has opened its doors to veterans and is using the game of golf to heal mental and physical wounds.

Cox never served in the military, but several family members did and that is a driving force behind his work with military veterans through a few different organizations. Cox organizes weekly golf clinics for the local V.A. hospital in a program supported by the PGA of America Hope and Reach programs. Cox also serves as the instructional director for the Heroes in the Rough organization, a group that organizes sporting events and clinics for veterans. The Heroes Golf Tour was created in 2014 and included six events spanning through Las Vegas, Mesquite and Temecula, California. In 2015, the Tour expanded to no fewer than 15 events played at such Southern Nevada golf courses as Royal Links, Canyon Gate, Legacy, and several others. The final 2016 schedule is being finalized as this article is being written and details will be available at

The organization, which has another chapter in Southern California, also organizes softball, family and scuba events, and continues to expand in other areas. Cox has been one of the group’s biggest supporters.

“I never served so this is now my service,” says Cox, the head golf professional and instructional program director at Aliante Golf Club in North Las Vegas. “We are proud to be associated with these noble causes here at Aliante, and I am personally proud to be able to give back to those and their families who have sacrificed so much, and give to our future of not only the game of golf, but our country.

“What I most like about the program is that they reach out and try to help soldiers from any conflict, not just those from post-9/11. Golf is an unbelievable vehicle to help assist our heroes. In golf you have to focus very deeply to be successful, and some of the elements vital in golf are trajectory, wind velocity and a target, and those are similar to what the solders experience during their active duty. Also when they participate in the Wounded Warriors Athletics Golf Tour, the soldiers experience the camaraderie that they may be missing from their active duty days.”

To learn about how to become involved as a volunteer, sponsor or competitor, call Paul Cox at 702-399-4888 or visit

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