WITH A DAD WHO SERVED IN THE U.S. NAVY AS A FIGHTER PILOT, IT’S NO WONDER THAT PROFESSIONAL GOLFER PHIL MICKELSON HAS HAD A LIFELONG RESPECT FOR THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE U.S. ARMED FORCES.
So much so, in fact, that in 2004, he and wife Amy teamed up with PGA TOUR to establish national military outreach initiative Birdies for the Brave.
Thanks to nationwide fundraising efforts, Birdies for the Brave has raised more than $19 million for charities supported by a host of professional golfers that include Fred Funk, Corey Pavin, Jerry Kelly, Vijay Singh, Frank Lickliter II, Rory Sabbatini, Ted Purdy, David Toms, Bubba Watson, David Duval, Bob Duval, Jim Furyk, Hunter Mahan and Kevin Stadler.
Putting particular emphasis on supporting the physical and psychological healing of combat-injured veterans, monies that Birdies for the Brave raises goes to 10 charities with programs that range from providing service members with mortgage-free homes to service dogs for those with PTSD or physical disabilities.
“During the past several years, Operation Shower—one of the 10 military homefront charities that are part of Birdies for the Brave—has hosted group baby showers for 30-40 military moms-to-be at a time, whose spouses are deployed, or in some cases, who are active duty service members themselves,” adds Cindy Elliot, a member of the PGA TOUR community impact team, which operates Birdies for the Brave. “The showers are held during tournament week of the Sony Open in Hawai‘i.”
Speaking of the Sony Open in Hawai‘i, when it takes over Wai‘alae Country Club every January, the charity offers free admission to more than 1,300 active duty and reserve military members, military retirees and their families, while another 1,000-plus tickets are donated to Veterans Ticket Foundation—true of most PGA TOUR events, thanks to Birdies for the Brave.
Another opportunity at the event includes active duty military personnel getting the chance to caddy for PGA TOUR players. With help from Pasha Hawai‘i, meanwhile, Birdies for the Brave hosts a military-exclusive hospitality chalet for spectators.
“[It’s] where military guests can enjoy complimentary food and beverages, premium views, and an opportunity to share camaraderie with other military members in the community,” says Elliot.
(Fun fact: The Sony Open in Hawai‘i, like all PGA TOUR tournaments, is put on by local nonprofits. In Hawai‘i’s case, it is Friends of Hawai‘i Charities, which teams up with Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation to support organizations that help women, children, youth and others in need. Thanks to the tournament, more than $18 million has been raised for over 350 charities in the state.)
Along the way, Mickelson continues to play a big role in the efforts of Birdies for the Brave, joining in on activities, visit- ing with military members, contributing financially, donating autographed swag and much more, including “helping to create memorable, unique, behind-the-scenes experiences for military members, veterans and their families,” as Elliot puts it.
All of it is important work that has caught the eye of at least two notable leaders.
“In 2012, Birdies for the Brave was honored by the White House as one of the top 20 charities in the U.S. that support military families, as part of the Joining Forces campaign spearheaded by (former) First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden,” explains Elliot. “Birdies for the Brave also received the USO’s prestigious Legacy of Hope Award, which is named in honor of the legendary entertainer and iconic military supporter Bob Hope.”
Of course, Birdies for the Brave is always looking for help from the community. In addition to making a monetary donation online, the community also is encouraged to shop for branded merchandise apparel, with a portion of proceeds supporting its efforts.
Golf fans in particular might consider even volunteering their time at the Sony Open in Hawai‘i.
“Every tournament on the PGA TOUR, including the Sony Open in Hawai‘i, is orchestrated by hundreds of volunteers who support virtually every aspect of tournament week—from serving as marshals and SHOTLink scoring operators to guest services, transportation, merchandising, food service, etc.—as well as helping to host our military guests and conduct military appreciation activities,” says Elliot.