Fore Hope

Ohio / Nov. 14, 2012 / by The Team

For some, golf is a passion, for others it seems, as the saying goes, a good walk ruined, but rarely is it considered to be a means of therapeutic exercise. For years, Fore Hope has been helping people struck by illness or injury play golf, whether or not they’ve ever played before. 

Fore Hope is “a therapeutic golf program to enhance quality of life for persons with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses,” explains Mindy Derr, the organization’s Founder and Executive Director. 

Derr says that, “Our participants are here in Central Ohio and they come from referrals from hospitals, support groups, stroke support groups, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, they are people of all ages.”

Inspired by her father – who became disabled very soon after retiring in the early 1980s – and his love of golf, Fore Hope shows people that no matter whether they have an injury, a disability, or have had a stroke, the game of golf is a wonderful way to rehabilitate and socialize. 

Derr founded Fore Hope in 1989 and after first having success in Northern Ohio, on the banks of Lake Erie, she decided to move the nonprofit down to Central Ohio, based in Columbus, “where we could serve more people and raise more dollars,” she explains. 

When asked why she chose golf as a basis, Derr says, “Why not golf? Because golf is most amenable to people of all challenges in life socially, cognitively, physically and just by activity alone, and being outside, you improve one's life.” 

“As a lover of golf and growing up with a family history, first of all, it's in our DNA, and there's no way I could ever walk away from the game, it's just in our blood. And it's just the best sport that there is. It challenges you as an individual and also I think as a team.”

Fore Hope’s activities include a weekly league where, one-on-one, volunteers accompany the participants while they play a few holes. They are also accompanied by a golf pro and a recreational therapist who make sure to keep their golf game and therapy at the highest levels.

In the summer, they have sessions on the driving range, which switch to an indoor facility in the winter so people are able to continue practicing year-round, and they also run clinics in local nursing homes and hospitals. 

Much of Fore Hope’s success is due to its team of volunteers who go out each week during the leagues or who help out at the practices and clinics. They are also partnered with local golf courses that allow them to use their facilities and courses for league days. 

When the team of volunteers and participants assembles before teeing off, there is little to distinguish them from other groups around the course. It emphasizes the fact that very little is needed to make the game accessible to anyone, and that it can have great therapeutic value. 

Lisa LaVelle, Fore Hope’s recreational therapist and program director explains that, “Fore Hope’s special in that we use specifically the game of golf as a tool, a therapy tool.”

“Everyone gets something out of it in their own individual unique way coming to Fore Hope,” she says, “whether it’s just getting out on the golf course, swinging the golf club again, just getting to practice.”

Getting to spend time outdoors is a big plus for those who have injuries or disabilities. The predominant desire for someone with an injury might be to stay at home, which is far from helpful for their long-term recovery. 

Participant Diane Clever says that she enjoys golf with Fore Hope because “It keeps me involved with life. It's very easy when you have a disability or a disease to kind of hole up and not want to interact and step back ... It just gives me hope to keep going in life.” 

Using adapted golf carts, almost anybody can play in the league each week. Clever, who developed Multiple Sclerosis twenty-two years ago, uses a Solo Rider, which allows her to swivel the golf cart seat and raise it to help her stand. 

Kay Karas, a volunteer who has been with Fore Hope for about eight years, has accompanied Clever on league days for the past five or six years. 

She says that, “As we play, I help [Diane]. She has a little trouble with getting her legs out of the cart so I help her get out and get herself standing and then I tee her ball up for her. And other than that she's on her own, she swings and she can play pretty well.”

Playing golf with Fore Hope gives its participants the emotional and social lift that can be needed to help along with recovering from an injury, a feeling felt by most who enjoy golf. “Because golf,” says Derr, “if you're not feeling real good, even when you're a healthy person, like I hope I am, on days when life is just so hard, I think about golf and going to tee it up, and [I’m] just so excited.” 

Derr hopes that all the participants enjoy their time practicing on the driving range or playing six or seven holes in the league. “As with any of us and golf, the experience you're having that day might not always be the most positive but if you come back, it only takes one shot to bring you back, and when they leave, our clients drive away, I always think 'If they just come back, and if they bring any of their family, then we know we've made an impact'.”

Her love of golf is clear but it is also evident how much she enjoys providing the services of Fore Hope to her community. “I look back and I think we've had almost a quarter of century of success of helping people and we have served I'm going to guess thousands over the years and those were people that may have not been served otherwise.”

“It's emotional for me when I see it because that is why golf is so good. You just see it, you can … it just validates why we're here and it's reminiscent of my dad and what he stood for and the game. Nobody can deny the goodness of this game in my opinion, nor the goodness of Fore Hope when they see people enjoy it so much.”

To learn more about Fore Hope, please visit their website or Facebook page