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Battle Back injured servicemen triumph over golf industry team

9.52am 15th August 2013 - People

At the first tee Shropshire Golf Centre
At the first tee Shropshire Golf Centre

The Battle Back team of injured members of the British Armed Services took on a team of their supporters from the golf industry in a match at The Shropshire Golf Centre.

The contest was perfect preparation for the men who will play against injured military men from the U.S. in the Captain Pietsch Trophy at St. Augustine, Florida, in September ­– in a Ryder Cup-style team match; a perfect confidence-booster in fact, as the Battle Back team beat the golf industry ‘Battle Packers’ by a startling 5.5 to 0.5 score line, writes Ben Evans.

The Battle Back programme is based out of Headley Court in Surrey and uses sport in the aftercare of wounded service personnel in order to aid their rehabilitation and return to a more normal active life. Set up in 2009 and supporting more than 120 injured personnel, the golfing arm of Battle Back is run by Lt Col Tristan Crew and Instructional Officer Zeno Gomes, who were leading their team at The Shropshire Golf Centre.

Keith Davies, Captain of the Battle Back team, with Andy Brown and Kevin Hart
Keith Davies, Captain of the Battle Back team, with Andy Brown (left) and Kevin Hart

The Battle Packers from the gentler world of golf business shared the first tee with men, some with missing legs, others missing arms, or a variety of other significant challenges from head injuries to poly-trauma – the majority of which were caused by armed conflict on the battlefield.

Best opening tee shots were struck by Paul Swain, who manages without his left arm – a powerful drive with a touch of draw from the middle of the club, while Ghurka Mahendra Phagami hit a great ball with his consistent game, in his ongoing return to fitness after being severely injured in an IED attack. This writer’s match was against 24-year-old Jack Holmes, who lost both his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan and Louis Smit, a 36-year-old former paratrooper, who lost his lower right leg in the same conflict. Both players mixed power and control to beat their industry opposition.

Lt Col Tristan Crew is rightly very proud of his team. He said: “The rehabilitation work we have been doing at Headley Court is hugely important to these men. Having proved they are courageous men serving their country, the trauma of their injuries has meant they have had to start again and bravely work their way back to living a more normal life.

“Exercise and sport is very much part of this and golf is proving to be one of the most popular and successful sports. Many of these guys cannot play team sports like football and rugby again but through golf’s unique handicap system they are able to compete with their able bodied counterparts, and this is critical in the development of their self-esteem and confidence.

“The physical benefits for this cohort are obvious. Walking the course, getting in and out of bunkers and swinging a club when your balance is already compromised, greatly supplements their physical rehabilitation. Less obvious, but arguably more important, are the psychological and cognitive benefits of golf.

“All the aspects of golf that able-bodied individuals take for granted, like planning your way around the course, marking your score and subtracting your handicap, are challenging for our head injured golfers. Furthermore the handicap system allows an objective marker of improvement; as their handicaps come down their confidence improves.”

Industry support of the Battle Back initiative started when three golf industry professionals, Kevin Hart from Club Car, Andrew Brown from Toro, and Colin Mayes from the Burhill Group Ltd, decided to raise money to buy four Club Car golf cars for the use of relatives of soldiers at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. This was followed by £28,000 that they raised on a three-peak challenge, which was certainly the catalyst for the success of the programme. Their support has continued, and this match (dubbed as the ‘first Battle Back major’ of the year) is held annually, with the score now 3-1 to the Battle Packers.

The winning team celebrates
The winning team celebrates

Tristan added: “The assistance of the Battle Packers has extended beyond this event, introducing us to a network of support from the wider golfing industry. We are very grateful to have the support of the PGA with numerous professionals nationwide offering coaching, including weekly coaching for Headley Court residents from Phil Taylor at Pachesham Park Golf Club, Yourgolftravel.com who have organised numerous events and tours including our annual championships and PING who provide our golfers with excellent fitted clubs, to name just a few.

“There is nothing that the injured serviceman appreciates more than the support of the public that it serves. This match against the golf industry’s Battle Packers is a brilliant day in itself and so a huge thank you to Captain Andy Brown, Kevin Hart and Colin Mayes for organising this for us, with particular thanks to Colin as the Burhill Group Ltd has made the excellent facilities available for us here at The Shropshire Golf Club. What a great gesture!”

Speaking for the Battle Packers, who remained cheery despite their sobering defeat, Kevin Hart said: “We were delighted to help the injured soldiers and to support this sports rehabilitation programme at Headley Court. The bravery of these people to literally battle back after suffering such trauma really is humbling to the rest of us. Golf is a wonderful thing in that it is a great way to get to know someone during a round, and playing golf with these guys is a real privilege. Their attitude was inspiring to all of our team today and we wish them all the best in the Captain Pietsch Trophy. All our team will be following their progress in the USA in September on Twitter @BattleBackGolf.”

Kevin Hart also thanked Stuart Perry, General Manager of The Shropshire Golf Centre, and his team, for making everyone so welcome on the day.

Follow the courageous Battle Back team on Twitter @BattleBackGolf and see www.golf4heroes.com

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