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November 2022

A Labor Solution Like No Other: On Course Foundation

By Rich Katz

Much is reported about today’s labor shortages amid “The Great Resignation.” Many golf courses, country clubs and resorts are feeling this pinch.

But all is not lost and On Course Foundation is becoming an increasingly important resource for general managers, directors of golf, superintendents and others involved in the hiring and training processes.

If you haven’t heard of the organization, listen up.

On Course Foundation leverages the tenets of golf as a recovery vehicle for wounded, injured and sick veterans. It conducts programs coast to coast at which its “members” learn how to play golf and golf business skills for careers in the golf industry.  On Course Foundation then places members in golf jobs with Callaway, Invited (formerly ClubCorp), golf product manufacturers and service providers, and at golf properties.  There are more than 2,000 members in the U.S. and abroad.

NGCOA members are quick to posit veterans make spectacular employees by leveraging what they’ve experienced in the military. As proffered by the Veterans Administration, they:

~ Are cross trained in multiple skills and management of varied tasks and responsibilities
~ Know what it means to put in a hard day’s work
~ Appreciate the challenges and satisfactions of jobs well done
~ Work well as a team given collaboration is a building block of safe military operations
~ Hold a sense of duty, embracing job performance and accountability to complete missions
~ Enjoy self-confidence and self-awareness that’s expected from every Service member
~ Demonstrate organization and discipline
~ Follow through with assignments, even under difficult and stressful circumstances
~ Quickly and creatively solve problems, and adapt to changing situations
~ Follow rules and schedules in dedicated fashions
~ Interact professionally and respectively with myriad people and personalities
~ Developed valuable teamwork, leadership and job skills applicable to golf

A few On Course Foundation placements:

Jesse Williamson is a happy camper as an outside services member at Black Gold Golf Course in Yorba Lina, California. He also instructs golfers at beginner, intermediate and elite skill levels.

Golf saved Williamson’s life and he’s giving back through his employment while advancing his career in an industry he loves.

The 33-year-old didn’t grow up playing golf.  He became a military man in 2008,  eventually taking him to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. Williamson’s responsibility was to locate enemy operations to preempt attacks.  Notwithstanding, he experienced raids daily with injured and dead bodies all around him. Less than 100 days into deployment, Williamson’s Humvee drove over an IED, and he was thrown 60 feet in the air, landing on the vehicle.

The physical pain was excruciating and both legs were amputated below the shin.  Psychologically, assimilation back to civilian life was so arduous that anger took over and addiction to painkillers led to other drug and alcohol dependencies. Thoughts of the Humvee incident incessantly infiltrated Williamson’s mind. Was life worth living?

Then, in 2015 came golf, via a friend’s introduction to On Course Foundation and an invitation to one of the organization’s golf learning programs in Southern California.

In the true definition of a rehab miracle, Williamson took a quick love to all aspects of golf, and he played daily. He couldn’t get enough of it, so much so that he attended the Golf Academy of America; then the Professional Golfers Career College.  Studies at the University of Arizona followed, where he started an adaptive golf program. 

To this day, Williamson enjoys a deep affection for swinging clubs – on two prosthetics – and the business of golf. And Black Gold Golf Course is the winner, having employed Williamson’s dogged working ways.

Ty Campbell is another beneficiary of On Course Foundation.  The 42-year-old is an assistant golf professional and full-time golf instructor at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park, host of the 2020 PGA Championship.

Growing up in Weston, Idaho, a remote town of less than 400 people, two-and-a-half hours north of Salt Lake City, Campbell only knew hunting, fishing, farming. Golf, well, what’s that?

After graduating high school, he saw a Coast Guard poster of a guy jumping from a helicopter. Despite desires to be in the medical field, Campbell was intrigued by becoming the first in his family to be in the armed forces.

Beginning in early 2001, he’d spend 13 years in the Coast Guard, first training as an EMT and paramedic. Then 9/11 hit and he was helicoptered to New York City just after the second building was struck.  Campbell provided medical triage as well as anti-terrorism security for ships coming into harbor.

While he was posted in New Jersey, President Bush spoke with his unit about the start of the Department of Homeland Security.  Desirous to quickly accelerate his military career, Campbell literally raised his hand to seek prospective terrorist activity.  He became a weapons specialist, identifying skeptical containers and personnel coming into port. A transfer to San Diego and Long Beach, Calif., was followed by stints in Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Bahrain for maritime safety and security for immigration, anti-terrorism and counter-narcotics. Dedicated to his career, he ascended to team leader for the unit based in NYC, his goal from that hand raise.

Then the deleterious effects of the Coast Guard life took to Campbell’s body and mind.  On a special mission to the Arabian Sea, while guarding oil platforms to prevent terrorists from blowing them up, Campbell blew out his knee jumping out of a helicopter.

“My leg was hanging by a thread,” he says.  “The pain was intense, and, to this day, I can’t run, have trouble with stairs and many other activities I had never foreseen being a struggle prior to the injury.”

The Coast Guard medically retired him in 2013, and deep anger and loneliness ensued.  Campbell immediately went into a seemingly bottomless spiral and, upon getting his seventh leg surgery, became addicted to Oxycodone and Percocet to keep him subdued. He went from being in terrific shape at 200 pounds to ballooning to 280 due to recluse ways and sitting on the coach for 18 months.

To get Campbell moving, his ex-fiancée drove him to Virginia for an eight-week golf clinic despite his never having picked up a club previously. Almost instantaneously, he got the golf bug and couldn’t get enough of it – learning how to swing a club and enjoy it was therapy extraordinaire.

Campbell found On Course Foundation online and never looked back. The organization helped his golf playing skills and provided the business skills and placement services for a meaningful job in the golf industry. He read anything he could get his hands on about golf.

On Course Foundation set up Campbell for an outside service job at Sunningdale Country Club in Scarsdale, NY. It also supported his move to Ocean Reef Club in South Florida during winters. Campbell’s handicap delved into single digits and his ability to deal with people (in non-arrogant, non-military tones) and civilian life improved. Moreover, Sunningdale members encouraged him to teach golf.

The self-help attitude took root even more.  While at Sunningdale, he earned a B.A. at Manhattan College in organizational leadership. Seeking work at one golf facility with year-round play, On Course Foundation placed him as an assistant golf professional and operations manager at Harding Park in late 2016, where he currently has risen in the ranks and happily works.

“On Course Foundation’s care saved my life after I had given up and was doing whatever I could to be numb,” says Campbell. “It gave me a light in the tunnel as I was sitting in the dark not knowing what to do during my days dealing with the depths of despair.  If it wasn’t for On Course Foundation, I’m uncertain how happy I’d be.”
“All I did – and all other wounded veterans need to do – is send one e-mail to On Course Foundation and it will get you to the promised land with a purpose and give you the itch for golf every day.”

Paying it forward is Campbell’s mantra: “On Course Foundation was so good to me that I don’t charge veterans to teach them how to play golf, because if they love it like I do, they can have productive lives, as well.  The organization helped me extend my military responsibility to help people with conflict management, and the difficulty of playing golf requires this discipline.”

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