With The Masters fast approaching and Tiger Woods still seeking to reclaim his relevancy among such players as Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, golf has very much been in the news.
Golf is a big business. Sponsorship spend in 2016 topped $1.8 billion worldwide, according to research firm IEG, Chicago, and is expected to surpass that in 2017.
But golf is not just about business. Sometimes, as in the case of Bunkers in Baghdad, it’s about people who love the game wanting to give back to and support others.
More than eight years ago, Joe Hanna, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., saw a story on “60 Minutes” that talked about how soldiers stationed overseas would hit golf balls as a form of relaxation and as a way to connect to their lives back home. A subsequent story in Golf Magazine focused on makeshift golf courses being built by soldiers.
More than a mental distraction, physical therapists say that swinging a golf club and hitting balls is also a form of rehabilitation for injuries to the shoulder, neck, back and leg muscles.
Hanna, a self-described avid golfer who is a partner at law firm Goldberg Segalla, where he chairs the Diversity Task Force and heads up the firm’s Sports and Entertainment Practice Group, came up with the idea of sending new and gently used golf balls and clubs to members of the military.
“I was on a road trip with my brother-in-law and a good friend to the American League Championship Series in Cleveland (in 2007 when the Indians played the Boston Red Sox). And I said to them, this is the charity I want to start and this is the name I’m thinking about. And it hasn’t slowed down since then.”
For non-profit group Bunkers in Baghdad, that was nearly 8 million golf balls and 600,000 golf clubs ago. Beginning with military stationed in Baghdad, the donated equipment has found its way to U.S. troops in 60 countries as well as Wounded Warriors programs and VA hospitals in all 50 states.
"The idea behind Bunkers in Baghdad is simple: We collect and ship golf equipment to our troops and vets around the world,” said Hanna. ”Our troops truly appreciate anything we send them — especially a little slice of home. We hear from people in the military every day. The majority of feedback we hear from our soldiers is, 'Thank you for not forgetting about us.'"
Hanna said the first major contributor was Callaway Golf, which has to date donated more than one million golf balls and countless clubs. In 2016, national sports and restaurant destination Topgolf donated 11,000 golf clubs, 600 yards of turf squares and 21,000 golf balls to the charity.
Among other current supporters: the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks; the NBA’s Boston Celtics and MLB’s Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates; and golfers Ray Floyd, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and prior to their deaths Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper.
Also on the list of supporters are former presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
“Did I think it would come this far and grow this fast? No,” said Hanna. “But as long as I keep getting requests from our brave men and women overseas, and our warriors here at home, and we still have the support of the community and great partners, we’ll keep doing what we do.”