Day 2 Review: Special salute to Veterans on PGA HOPE Day highlights Thursday at busy 2024 PGA Show

There were no 21-gun salutes or military parades, but the second day of the 2024 PGA Show paid tribute to Veterans and active-duty military personnel on Thursday with a patriotic schedule of special events designed to heighten awareness of PGA HOPE programs nationally.

Indeed, it was PGA HOPE Day at the PGA Show on Thursday, and while thousands of attendees paused during a second day of heavy traffic on the PGA Show floor to pay tribute to those who have served their country, and in some cases given their lives in the name of freedom, two former U.S. Marines saluted the PGA of America and gave thanks for PGA HOPE programs that have positively impacted their lives.

While PGA HOPE, the flagship military program of PGA REACH, occupied the spotlight Thursday, the second day of the 2024 PGA Show was busy, busy, busy with a full schedule of PGA Education Conference seminars, presentations and panel discussions on five Show floor stages, 10 specialty pavilions housing special events and special exhibitors, and a handful of celebrities again on the PGA Show floor as more than 1,000 companies showed off their latest products and innovations.

ORLANDO, FL – JANUARY 25: Professional Golfer Jim Furyk showcases a pair of Boxto golf shoes with a guest during the PGA Show at Orange County Convention Center on Thursday, January 25, 2024 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/PGA of America)

“The PGA Show usually slows down a bit on the second day, but it seemed to be just as busy as opening day today,” observed Jennifer Bermingham, PGA of America Director of Development for Invited Clubs in Irving, Texas (formerly Club Corp.). “I take in a lot of the education seminars and presentations every year at the PGA Show, and this year some of the most educational presentations have been on the PGA Industry Stage. Each panel discussion has the foremost experts and each is a new learning experience.”

“It’s nice to see such great energy back at the PGA Show,” said Jeff Leonard, PGA Director of Golf at The Club at Cheval in Tampa, Florida, who is attending his 20th PGA Show. “I’m here to see what’s new on the technology side of golf, but I have also discovered several new companies that I haven’t seen before. It has been very productive.”

On the business side of the PGA Show Thursday, Tifosi Optics Marketing Director Henk Van Dongen was writing orders at a record pace. “We wrote as much business yesterday (on opening day) as we did all three days last year, and it has been equal or better than that today,” said Van Dongen. “My background is in auto shows, but the PGA Show has surpassed all of our auto shows from a sales standpoint. The traffic has been phenomenal.”

ORLANDO, FL – JANUARY 25: Dr. Alex Alonso speaks at the Seminar in Work and Wellness in the Member Business Center during the PGA Show at Orange County Convention Center on Thursday, January 25, 2024 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)

Back to PGA HOPE, Chris Nowak, retired U.S. Marines Corporal who now serves as PGA of America Military and Veteran Liaison, served six years as an infantry squad leader in the Marines before losing his right leg in a training accident. He was then employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs as National Director of Veterans Sports Programs in charge of all VA National Adaptive Sports Programs.

Nowak joined fellow former Marine Roth Coleman on the PGA of America Industry Stage presented by CapTech at the PGA Show Thursday to thank PGA HOPE for changing his life and for positively impacting the lives of 17,000 other Veterans.

“PGA HOPE is so much more than just learning to play golf,” observed Nowak. “Golf is only about 40 percent of what PGA HOPE is. It is extremely therapeutic for Veterans, giving them a chance to reconnect with the brotherhood and sisterhood we enjoyed in the military.

“In my case, it gave me hope and the power to pursue everyone I wanted to in life. We have issued a challenge today to more PGA Professionals to get involved in PGA HOPE programs because we need you. But that said, we thank the PGA of America and PGA Professionals for what they have done in putting together PGA HOPE. It’s something they didn’t have to do and on behalf of all Veterans, we say thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Coleman echoed Nowak’s sentiments while also imploring more PGA Professionals to host PGA HOPE programs after PGA HOPE Program Leader Brandy Cain mentioned in the Thursday presentation that while 17,000 Veterans are enrolled in PGA HOPE programs, there are also 13,000 Veterans on waiting lists to participate.

ORLANDO, FL – JANUARY 25: Celebrating PGA HOPE Day as guests enter during the PGA Show at Orange County Convention Center on Thursday, January 25, 2024 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)

ORLANDO, FL – JANUARY 25: PGA HOPE dog tags during the PGA Show at Orange County Convention Center on Thursday, January 25, 2024 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)

“I have personally seen the life-changing impact of PGA HOPE, which in some cases has been life-saving,” said Coleman, PGA HOPE Ambassador for the Kentucky PGA Section. “Camaraderie is the most important part of PGA HOPE programs. When you get out of the military, you don’t have that structure and some of the Vets are lost. PGA HOPE provides a path back to the military community.”

Robert Sexton, PGA Life Member from Wheeling, West Virginia, was among the crowd that gave former Marines Nowak and Coleman a round of applause when they were introduced and a crisp salute after their presentation on the PGA Industry Stage.

“It is so fitting that the PGA Show would dedicate a day to Veterans and to PGA HOPE,” said Sexton. “These Veterans have basically given their lives for our country. It brought tears to my eyes to hear their stories. I have nothing but respect for their dedication to our country.”

PGA HOPE Day at the PGA Show culminated Thursday evening with the PGA Show Winter Jam concert, supported by adidas and Corebridge Financial and headlined by country music star Jake Owen in a new concert lounge in Hall E of the Orange County Convention Center. The concert served as a fundraiser for PGA REACH and PGA HOPE, while honoring PGA HOPE Ambassadors and PGA Professionals who host PGA HOPE programs.