On Sept. 11, 2001, Jennifer Poth recalls that she was preparing for a road trip with the Texas A&M women’s golf team when terrorists struck in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. In short order, she watched some of her classmates called up for active duty.
Because of a congenital adrenal disorder, Poth was unable to follow her father, John, a retired Air Force colonel, into the military.
“But since I was little, I’ve always tried to figure out a way to serve in our military community,” Poth said.
That thought lingered even after she graduated and headed east to Jacksonville, Fla., eventually landing a job as a ShotLink producer with the PGA Tour.
“As I started to transition to a lifetime in golf, I tried to figure out a way that I could give back through the game of golf,” she said.
That thought crystallized on April 15, 2013, the date terrorists set off two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
“That was the day it clicked on how to morph golf and our military,” she said.
She traces the formation of her charity, Operation Support Military Golf, to that date. Her goal is to renovate military golf facilities, which have suffered from a lack of funding in recent years.
From her visits to military bases, Poth paints a fairly comprehensive picture of decay: courses showing their age, rundown practice facilities, deteriorating clubhouses, cart fleets exposed to the elements year-round because there’s no shelter in which to store them.
“They’re going to stay that way because there’s just not the dollars to get them to a respectable level that our service members and their families deserve,” Poth said.
She is determined to start the repair job with work on Windy Harbor Golf Club at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville. Her plan calls for renovations to the practice area, two on-course restrooms – “They look like a gas station restroom,” she said – and the cart barn.
Arnold Palmer Design Co. has provided the plans to renovate Windy Harbor’s practice facility. Brandon Johnson, vice president of the firm, said Poth’s mission struck a nerve with him and his colleagues. Johnson used to work at The First Tee, where the objective was to bring people of varying backgrounds into the game. So the idea of helping members of the military and those with disabilities resonated with him.
He also was familiar with the issue, because the firm had looked at a similar project at another military base years ago.
“We saw the disrepair,” Johnson said. “It’s not like military funds are going to the maintenance of those places.”
Poth has garnered in-kind support across the industry. Arnold Palmer Design is providing design services, and MacCurrach Golf Construction has offered to build the practice facility at Windy Harbor. Industry groups – the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, American Society of Golf Course Architects and Golf Course Builders Association of America – also are on board to help Poth’s cause.
“The in-kind is going very well, but the monetary side of it could be better,” Poth said.
That’s a delicate way of saying that fund-raising has gone slowly. Her goal is to commit $1 million toward each facility – “large enough to make a difference on a golf course if spent wisely, but hopefully small enough to be attainable,” she said.
Poth is willing to handle all the red tape; for Windy Harbor, that included getting approvals all the way up to the Secretary of the Navy. Firms around the industry have offered to provide in-kind assistance. But it’s requires money to get these renovations underway. She is hopeful of starting the Windy Harbor renovations this year, but that’s dependent on whether she can raise the funds.
“Civilians are going to need to fill these voids,” she said.
(For more information on Poth’s nonprofit, visit: operationsupportmilitarygolf.org.) Gwk