Article by PGA of America Media Center
Nobody is sure who built Newtown (Conn.) Country Club, a cozy nine-hole facility that opened its doors in 1915. But, in this proud New England town, a golf club easily identified those who reacted without hesitation to the tragedy last Dec. 14, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
On May 5, Newtown Country Club hosted the First Responders Golf Outing to pay tribute to 68 individuals representing the seven first responder organizations at the site of the elementary school tragedy. Coordinated by Newtown PGA head professional Paul Miller, the outing attracted 130 guests and featured a golf clinic by 2012 PGA Teacher of the Year Michael Breed, host of Golf Channel’s “The Golf Fix,”and an address by PGA President Ted Bishop.
“As a parent or grandparent, like many other Americans, the events of last December in Newtown transcended for everyone across the country in whatever town you may live,” said Bishop. “We cannot comprehend your sacrifice. We just want to say thank you on behalf of all members of The PGA of America.”
Miller said that he had wanted to do something for those that served his community at a time of extreme need, and knew that golf was the proper vehicle. The PGA of America and USGA provided respective tickets to the PGA Championship and U.S. Open, while organizations like JetBlue, Titleist, Golf Pride, Travelocity.com and Kirk & Matz stepped up to the plate to donate vacations, hats, grips, and the trophy for the winning team. Celebrities donating memorabilia included Olympic Champion Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods and Greg Norman. All guests were participants in free raffles.
“This began as our membership thanking the first responders, but it turned out that the golf industry was saying thank you,” says Miller. “No one signs up for what they had to endure. People and companies within the golf industry know the importance of community and they are always willing to help when called upon.”
Breed conducted a clinic for the attendees to open the event and then teamed with Bishop to assist each golf group in a scramble format as the players passed through the par-3, eighth hole.
“That day was as important a day as I’ve been fortunate to have been associated with in the game of golf,”said Breed. “The outpouring of the industry and those who had nothing to do with golf come forward was amazing to me. What those community servants prepared themselves to do extends to first responders everywhere. Unfortunately, what they did are becoming almost common events – from Aurora, to Boston, Newtown or whatever.
“There was one man, who will go nameless, who came up to me just before I got into my car. He said that he had carried a child out of Sandy Hook. He said, ‘Our goal here was that no policeman, fireman or volunteer would go through anything like drugs, alcohol use or even suicide because what they had experienced.’ He said, ‘A day like this goes a long way to ensure that it doesn’t happen.’ We think first about the families of those who lost their lives, but we cannot forget about people like these first responders who have to carry on their lives.”
Newtown Hook & Ladder fireman Tim Whelan turned in one of the most heartwarming moments of the day when he recorded his first career hole-in-one. Whelan used a 7-iron on the 145-yard No. 6 hole, a shot that returned big dividends.
Because of his ace, Whelan was awarded a five-day, four night trip, including airfare and accommodations by Jet Blue, to Casa de Campo Resort in the Dominican Republic. Whelan said that he had wanted to give his wife a special 25th anniversary gift, but had been unable to fund it.
Among the attendees were Connecticut PGA President Mike O’Grady of New Preston, Conn., and PGA District 1 Director Suzy Whaley of Farmington, Conn., and Section Executive Director Tom Hantke.
A total of seven agencies were thanked and honored during the event including Botsford Fire Rescue, Dodgingtown Volunteer Fire Co., Hawleyville Volunteer Fire Dept., Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Newtown Hook & Ladder Volunteer Fire, Newtown Police Dept., and Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue.