Of all the fascinating things I’ve encountered in the culture that is golf, one of the coolest is “Golf Therapy”. That’s right, as many of us have claimed – especially to our non-golfing spouses – golf is good for one’s health. A few weeks ago, Mindy Derr called to tell me about Fore Hope, an exciting program, now operated by Ohio Health in Columbus, OH that can help those living with symptoms and disabilities from stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury and other neurological conditions through golf therapy. It also helps those living with cognitive and physical challenges from many other conditions.
As part of the OhioHealth Fore Hope enrollment process, participants meet with a Fore Hope golf professional and certified recreation therapist for assessment, review and preparation for golf curriculum. The Fore Hope golf adaptive programs are facilitated year-round both one-on-one or in group sessions.
I had a chance to talk with Mindy, and in her own words: “I founded Fore Hope for my dad in 1989 (my father, Guy, was living on our family farm about an hour south of Vermilion (OH) with my brother and his wife). Dad was an avid and proficient golfer and became disabled soon upon his retirement. I was living in Vermilion, Ohio and working as an Executive with The Boy Scouts of America at the beginning of my dad’s illness. I left my job to found Fore Hope on a wing and a prayer and had $1,000 saved.
I began with a small board on Lake Erie, raised some funds and realized the need to return to Columbus, a better community for marketing and fundraising. I am a graduate of Ohio State University (overlooked by this Penn Stater). My dad, Guy and other siblings were located near Loudonville and Mohican State Park. I was a caregiver on weekends for my father and mom at the time, she was ill with cancer and dad, primary lateral sclerosis, tough times.”
When asked if golf therapy could be used for both physical and mental health challenges, Mindy mentioned that “Covid certainly has proven that golf is growing again as a result answers for community needs such as exercise, socialization and hope! Persons with illnesses and injuries can benefit from golf as a wonderful recreational tool along with so many of all ages and circumstances. Golf is wonderful for one’s mental health as well.” OhioHealth absorbed Fore Hope in 2017. Mindy says: “many in healthcare and golf, are unaware of the greatness of golf to improve quality of life…many in central Ohio referred patients to Fore Hope but the work was continuous 24/7 by our small staff, limited resources and time, to continually educate and impact. Fore Hope is nationally known of which I am so proud. My work as ambassador and one with health recovery and golf, is to continue in my new role as consultant and public speaker about Wellness and Golf and Health Recovery Through Golf Therapy. My current focus is to launch my new brand, Mindy Derr. My plan is to create awareness and intrigue, offer hope and inspiration and educate audiences in healthcare and golf. I am here to build community programs as well.“
Unfortunately, as of yet, health insurance typically does not cover the cost of golf therapy. However, as we all know, it wasn’t that long ago that addiction and mental illness wasn’t covered by health insurance.
One might ask, why is Hirsh writing about a health care program? Well, I’m wondering if there isn’t a revenue opportunity for golf courses and clubs. Derr says golf therapy has helped 5,000 golfers return to the game they love. In the often pristine world of the golf course or club, we don’t often think about someone becoming sick or injured and forget about them when they don’t show up for awhile. Golf therapy might be a way to keep them coming out, and even possibly to introduce people to golf. That said, it isn’t without challenges. There are potential challenges for golf courses with staff training, pace of play and safety issues. Mindy specifically mentioned her gratitude for Safari Golf Club in Powell, Ohio which Fore Hope subsidizes on a per player basis and the Columbus Recreation and Parks indoor winter program which is partially funded by OhioHealth.
Mindy has reached out to major golf associations and they’ve worked with the PGA Tour and Jack Nicklaus’ The Memorial Tournament for years. Mindy was recently diagnosed with MS and actually has benefitted from golf therapy. She continues to promote Fore Hope. If the concept of golf therapy expands it may create revenue opportunities for golf courses and do some real good in the community for those in need. Golf’s charitable vehicles are limitless. As Mindy says: “Awareness and education take priority and with the appropriate vision and mission, ambassadors in healthcare and golf, can learn from Fore Hope’s “secret sauce” and replicate. Outcomes are healthier communities, collaborations and an improved bottom line for everyone.”