With the Masters Tournament this week, golf players around the world are gearing up to either be at Augusta, or watch the action as it happens.
Josh Peyton is one of those golfers.
“I started golfing when I was five years old,” the retired Army captain said. “My dad was an Air Force officer, so he had clubs in my hand at a pretty early age.”
Peyton is the president and CEO of the Veteran Golfers Association (VGA), a national nonprofit targeted at active duty, veterans and their families. The organization was founded by Peyton and veteran golfers 1LT Aaron Ozard and CPT Joe Caley in 2014. Since then, it has grown 5,000 members strong.
“What we do is provide a platform for veterans — whether or not they are still actively serving or have transitioned out of the military — to engage with one another on the golf course, and do it in a competitive environment,” Peyton explained.
The role that sports plays in the military community is a large one. From the long distance mileage of Run Ranger Run, to the rehabilitation and comradery of Higher Ground, being active is what many veterans are choosing to do with their time. If you think about it, it’s not all that different from their time served.
Ranger and Golfer
Peyton was inclined to military service because of his father.
“I actually went to the Air Force recruiter first, and they were out to lunch that day. So the Army recruiter grabbed me and said: ‘Let me show you what the Army has to offer,’” Peyton recalled.
Joining up in ‘95, Peyton went on to Officer Candidate School (OCS) in 2006. As an infantry officer in the Army, he felt it was his duty to complete ranger school.
“If I wanted to be a leader who was looked up to by my soldiers, I knew that ranger school was absolutely something I had to get through.”
Advancing through his military career, Peyton wasn’t overly focused on golf. It had always been a game and a hobby to him; something that he could do with his dad. In 2011, for the first time, it became therapy.
“I got injured… had a vehicle rollover in Northern Iraq, and was medevaced to Walter Reed in Washington DC. I was going through several surgeries to save my right hand from amputation,” Peyton said.
“I ended up running into a group of guys that were using golf as a recovery tool, and a way of healing themselves to get back into sports and competition. With my injuries that I sustained, it seemed like a good thing for me to do as well, so that’s kind of where the idea [for the VGA] came from.”
The start of the Veteran Golfers Association
After recovering from his injuries, Peyton threw himself back into golf. He played the combat wounded Ryder Cup in 2013, an experience that led him to start mapping out plans for what would become the VGA. He founded it and retired from the Army in the space of two years.
“There really wasn’t a clear-cut transition,” Peyton said. “I went from wearing a uniform, to founding a nonprofit for veterans around the same time.”
The VGA’s first championship was at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2015, when they had just 300 members. Now they have spread nationwide — though their largest concentration is still in North Carolina, where 900 of their members live and play.
“I think what’s really unique about the VGA is that it doesn’t matter where you live; we’ve got a chapter in every state.”
The real impact
“I think the VGA allows vets to connect in a way that is authentic,” Peyton stated.
“Most people aren’t going to go to military transition meet and greets, you know? But if you can find a common ground like golf, and host some great events where they’re near other veterans — to see the friendships that are formed out on the golf course… it’s pretty powerful.”
Not only are veterans able to connect with each other, but families are as well. They are called the “silent warriors”; valued members of the military community who take care of our active duty and vets on the homefront.
Peyton himself has been profoundly impacted by his organization. He’s been able to travel to the nation’s best courses (his favorite of which is the Olympic Club). He golfs with his friends and fellow founders, and has received the support of pros like Jordan Spieth and Jason Dufner.
Most of all, through the competitive and community-oriented sport of golf, Peyton has had an effect on thousands of other veterans just like him.
“The most rewarding part for me is to have served… and to continue to touch points in the military community, and be able to influence veterans in a positive way through our organization,” Peyton said.
“We’ve had dozens of VGA members that have come up to members of our board, to leadership, to myself, that have personally said the VGA helped saved their lives.”
Who can participate?
Though the VGA is called “Veteran Golfers Association”, that can be a bit of a misnomer. Active military members, vets and families are all allowed to participate.
“We originally had just talked about doing one tournament per year for combat wounded veterans, but that quickly turned into: why not all veterans? Why not active duty? Why not their family members?”
“Over time it turned into an organization that influences all aspects of military nuclear family.”
How can you participate?
Getting started in the VGA is pretty simple.
- Go to their website, vgagolf.org, and sign up for an annual membership for just $40.
- Register for any tournament for just $10.
- A golf round, on average, is between $35 and $50.
As a VGA member, you have access to more than 300 golf tournaments a year at some of the country’s top-rated courses. You also automatically get 40% off any golf products from Cleveland Srixon.
How does the VGA work?
There are two parts to the Veteran Golfers Association. The first is local competition, called the VGA tour, where over 300 tournaments are hosted across the nation. Players earn points during these competitions to help make them eligible for the playoffs.
If you earn enough points to get into the playoffs, you can then advance from sub-regional to regional championships. From there, 20 players go to the national championship each year.
“It’s kind of like little league baseball for veterans who play golf,” Peyton supplied.
Both a men’s and women’s champion are announced.
Can golf really help veterans?
To veterans who may be struggling, Peyton has some words of advice:
“I think that it’s imperative to have a network of friends, battle buddies, whatever you may call them. Stay involved with the veteran community. When you have other people that you’re accountable to — your friends, your family — I think that helps go a long way with making you feel a part of something special.”
For many vets and families across the states, the VGA is just that: “something special”.
To find out more about the VGA, visit their website here.