There’s no oath to take when becoming a PGA professional, no pledge to do anything but what the mission statement has been for the PGA of America since it was founded in 1916: promote the game of golf to anyone, anywhere.
Nobody takes those words to heart more than Bob Beach, who has been the head professional at Braintree Municipal since 1991. But that’s just his formal title. To so many others, Beach is the one most responsible for bringing golf to those who had never seriously considered the sport, because either injury, enlistment, or life’s plight had left them disabled.
Beach doesn’t like that word.
“I call them a person with a different ability. Let’s look at what they can do, instead of what they can’t,” Beach said. “I don’t know all the answers. We figure it out together, they like to be part of that. They find a way to adapt.
“It’s like anti-bullying. They’re kind people, so nice to each other. They’re such a great fit for our game.”
Every week during golf season — and on many of those days every week — Beach gives clinics or group lessons to individuals who face challenges. He works with blind students, frequently at the First Tee of Massachusetts course, the MGA Links at Mamantapett. He teaches golf to special-needs students, and to those with autism. Pretty much anyone with an interest in playing golf, no matter the hardship, Beach is there for, ready to help.
Beach spends much of his time, though, with veterans. It’s a cause close to him. His late father, John, served in the Air Force. When Beach took the job at Braintree — he was an assistant there from 1976-79, after graduating from Norwich University in 1975, and before he spent nearly a decade at Newton Commonwealth — there was an annual tournament held for Vietnam veterans. Beach, 61, remembered how those veterans had been treated when they returned from service.
“I didn’t like it,” he said. “Before that tournament, it was my chance to thank them for their service, to ask if there’s anything I can do to help them. It started as lessons. Then lessons expanded into clinics.”
From the middle of April through Veterans Day, Beach offers a golf clinic for veterans every Saturday from 3-5 p.m. Like the other groups he works with, Beach doesn’t make a penny from the work, because he doesn’t charge them, ever.
“I don’t worry about money. I seem to have enough,” Beach said. “The reason I got into it, the reason I do it, is because I want to give back.”
Those on the receiving end are glad he has. Staff Sergeant Mike Downing spent 13 years in the military, mostly in the Massachusetts National Guard. While deployed in Afghanistan in 2008, he was seriously wounded, losing both legs to amputation. The 47-year-old Middleborough resident spent 18 months rehabilitating at Walter Reed Hospital, with golf, not surprisingly, the last thing on his mind.
“At Walter Reed there were signs, programs they offered. I looked at them and thought, ‘Golf? Me? No way.’ I figured being like this . . . I thought I can’t really play golf from a wheelchair, but I was poked and prodded a little bit from others about going, so I figured I’d give it a shot,” said Downing, who uses a special golf cart to play. “Once I got into the machine and Bob started working with me, I tried to swing the club, either one-handed or two-handed, and it felt pretty good. That first time there Bob worked with me for about a half-hour, and by the end of that I was hitting them pretty good.”
That was more than a year ago. Downing still goes to the clinics, and tries to play at least once a week. How has he benefited from playing again?
“A lot of it is the camaraderie of being back out there with your friends,” Downing said. “There’s a lot of things you can’t do anymore with your buddies. But when we’re out on the golf course, golf is golf, and you get just as frustrated on the course as they do. It’s helped me out a lot, given me a sense of normalcy.”
Ken Carson had never played golf, but started going to Beach’s clinic four years ago after hearing about it during his visits to a local VA hospital for a back injury, also suffered in Afghanistan. Like Downing, he was initially skeptical, but quickly discovered how beneficial the lessons have become.
“Bob gives so much, helping veterans get out and do things, being active again, feeling comfortable. I’ve never met a more supportive person,” said Carson, 50, who lives in East Bridgewater and was a 25-year veteran of the Massachusetts National Guard. “With golf, it’s a great environment, and Bob reinforces that. You’re outdoors, you’re with other people, you’re breathing fresh air. My golf game is lousy, but Bob has taught me.”
Him and countless others. Because of his work, Beach was recognized by the PGA of America late last year with the national Patriot Award, which he received in San Diego during the organization’s annual meeting in November. Deflecting individual praise, Beach called it a section award, noting the help he’s received from his fellow professionals, and from the people he works for in Braintree, saying they’ve always emphasized inclusion.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, winning that award. If I can bring attention to the veterans I’ve had a chance to help, that’s a great thing,” Beach said. “Golf can be therapeutic, golf can help them. We’ve got to get our veterans out of the house and back with their buddies, and golf does that. You can play even if you’ve been hurt.”