PGA Hope participant Bill Wiegand on the driving range at Bellerive Country Club.

(Sam Masterson, KMOX)

Golf Program Gives 'Hope' To Veterans With Disabilities

The PGA Hope program in St. Louis is part of the reason why the 100th PGA Championship selected Bellerive Country Club to host the prestigious tournament, this August.

April 24, 2018 - 2:12 pm

LADUE, Mo. (KMOX) - Air Force veteran Bill Wiegand didn't take his first swing of a golf club until after losing his left leg in 2012. It was part of his therapy program and not only was hitting the ball long and straight a difficult task, but he could hardly stay on his feet.

"They would hold me up by my belt to keep me from falling over," Wiegand says. "After that I mastered standing up, not to say I didn't fall a few times afterwards. 

"But that was the beginning, and once it starts rolling then you start to get your confidence back and then you can be just like everybody else."

The people helping Wiegand were golf professionals from all around the St. Louis area who work with PGA Hope, which is an arm of the Professional Golf Association's chartiable organization, PGA Reach. In 2017 there were 80 chapters of PGA Hope around the country, introducing golf to "veterans with disabilities to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being."

Wiegand coordinates the lesson schedules and tee times for the St. Louis chapter, many of which are held in the gym at Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis county or Arlington Greens Golf Course in Collinsville, Ill. He says the program includes a wide age-range of younger men and women who served in the military in recent years and some veterans dating all the way to back to the Korean and Vietnam Wars. 

Some have a pretty well-rounded golf game, Wiegand says, but others not so much. 

"But the No. 1 thing is that we all have fun and we all help each other. I cannot say enough about PGA Hope," Wiegand says. "If you think about it, without these activities most of these people would be at home doing nothing. 

"We cut up a lot out in the field, we have a lot of fun."

Wiegand says on a good day he can hit his drive about 200 yards. He doesn't know his handicap and has no desire to find out what it is. But he has already been able to dodge the unpredictable St. Louis weather and find a few days to play a round this year. And he hopes he can find more veterans in the area to join him at the range or on the course. 

His time in the Air Force never took Wiegand overseas, his injury came in a construction accident and then an infection caused the need for amputation in 2012. He says he knows there are veterans a lot worse off than him and those are "the heroes who are most deserving" of PGA Hope's programs.

"Most people, when they go through something this severe it’s almost like, do you want to live again?" Wiegand says. "I mean it’s that severe because you feel so limited in what you can do anymore."

He was at Bellerive Country Club in Ladue, Monday, for the annual Gateway PGA Reach Charity Pro-Am. He didn't play, but did spend some time at the driving range and spoke to media about how much the PGA Hope program has helped him and others like him.

Here in St. Louis was where PGA Reach was born, thanks to MLB Hall of Famer and former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith. The man known as The Wizard is still the president of Gateway PGA Reach and was a participant in Monday's tournament. 

Bellerive is hosting this year's PGA Championship in August, a tournament which will celebrate its 100th anniversary. The bid by Bellerive and the St. Louis community, it could be argued, would likely have been passed over if not for what Smith and company at Gateway PGA Reach and PGA Hope have been able to create. 

Wiegand and about 30 other veterans in the PGA Hope program will be at Bellerive for tournament week, August 6-12. He says they'll be some of the on-course ushers, holding keeping patrons back at a safe distance around the greens, tee boxes and fairways.