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A New Hope

Golf program at NMSU helps build support for military, veterans

For some, stepping foot on the green may just be another day of swinging clubs and hitting aces. For others, especially veterans like Lori Kuczmanski, it has become a newfound safe space with the chance to grow connections with others who are seeking belonging through a special program at NMSU.

“This support system is not just advantageous; for many of us, it’s a lifeline,” she says.

Kuczmanski is one of many local veterans who joined the PGA Helping Our Patriots Everywhere, or HOPE, program at the NMSU Golf Course. The initiative offers free golf programming to veterans and active-duty military members. 

“I became a part of the PGA HOPE program with the dual purpose of seeking camaraderie among fellow veterans and indulging in my passion for golf,” she says. “Being a retiree, I was particularly in need of that sense of connection, and the golf program presented the ideal opportunity to fulfill both desires.”

The nationwide program is a flagship military program of PGA REACH, the charitable foundation of the PGA of America. The NMSU Golf Course was awarded a grant through the Sun Country Golf Foundation to deliver and execute the PGA HOPE programming in Las Cruces.

“Being out in nature and soaking up some vitamin D always helps bring up anyone’s mood. We were able share our experiences and struggles which sometimes civilians are unable to understand, so having an empathetic ear is much better,” says Heidi Blair, who served in the Air Force reserves and Arkansas, North Dakota and Maryland Air National Guard. 

With the opportunity to sharpen up their golf skills and learn new tricks, participants found common ground to open up, share some laughs, but also empathize over certain struggles and relatable growing pains.

“I decided to join the PGA HOPE program because I’ve golfed since I was 7, but with all my injuries to my back and knees in the Marine Corps, I lost my swing and every time I went out, I was in a lot of pain,” says Logan Real, a Marine Corps veteran and NMSU student. “I figured maybe they can teach me a new way and that’s exactly what happened. Everyone at NMSU helped me, and now I’m part of the Veteran

Golfers Association and playing almost every weekend with several vets that were in the same position I was.”

Many share that the program was an opportunity to accept that life may not be what it once was, and new experiences are worth the effort. 

“Mental health struggles can have a profound impact, and for many veterans, finding solace among their fellow service members is essential,” Kuczmanski says. “Engaging in activities like golfing, even if just for a few hours, can help lift individuals out of their darkest moments and provide a sense of camaraderie and support that only fellow veterans can truly understand.”

“After getting too old to continue breeding and training horses for 40 years, I needed another outlet,” says Charlie Otero, a Vietnam veteran. “Golf is strictly recreational, and military life can be stressful, especially for those who have bravely served on the front line. Any activity that can bring a light to their life is welcome.”

“We need programs like this as veteran issues are different than others and only another veteran will be able to even remotely understand the struggles,” Blair says. “We can seek assistance from counseling or therapy, but sometimes it is just better and easier to talk with someone who had similar experiences.”

The program in Las Cruces has served about 100 veterans and active military service members.

“PGA HOPE is more than just golf,” says Jason White ’03 ’10, NMSU Golf Course director and PGA member. “It gives the opportunity to introduce and teach golf to veterans and active-duty military to enhance their physical, mental, social and emotional well-being.”

Dan Hon, ambassador for the Sun Country Golf Foundation and participant of PGA HOPE, encourages fellow veterans and active-duty military members to consider joining future programs.

“We help veterans who don’t have a happy home life and try to make their days brighter so they will reach for their tomorrows,” Hon says. “It’s a cushion for the rough days, a blanket for when we feel cold and alone, PGA HOPE is there when we need it for any reason.”


Veterans and military members participated in the first PGA HOPE class at the NMSU Golf Course. 


Among the particpants is military veteran Dan Hon, Sun Country Golf Foundation ambassador.