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Operation Game On builds confidence for our veterans with every swing

Local nonprofit helps rehabilitate combat-injured troops

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Our service men and women risk life and limb for our country, and sadly many return home with serious combat injuries ranging from lost arms and legs to traumatic brain injuries and PTSD. Rehabbing from such wounds not only takes physical dedication, but also mental determination. It is a lifelong process of perseverance and learning, not unlike one of the most invigorating and simultaneously frustrating of all human diversions: the game of golf.

Founded in 2008 by local golf enthusiast Tony Perez, Operation Game On offers returning combat-injured service members a very special introduction to golf that begins with eight weeks of lessons from a certified PGA golf instructor followed by a fitting session at The Kingdom, TaylorMade’s premium club-fitting experience once reserved for professionals. Every participant in Operation Game On receives a brand new set of TaylorMade golf clubs with bag, golf apparel including Adidas golf shoes and headwear, and then eight more weeks of lessons to ensure they know how to use their new equipment. “Of course, golf is just the hook to get these guys in,” says Perez. “It’s really a rehabilitation program.”

Tony Perez, founder of Operation Game On
Tony Perez, founder of Operation Game On

Golf is a game to last a lifetime and as golfers know, the golf course is also one of the best places to make new friendships. “That’s especially important now,” says Perez. “There are a lot of troops out there suffering from PTSD. It’s heartbreaking. We’re losing quite a few to suicide.”

Over the past 14 years, some 600 combat-injured service members from all branches of the military have gone through the program, which has its headquarters at Del Mar Golf Center. “Just like TaylorMade, there were pros at Del Mar Golf Center who volunteered the minute I told them what I wanted do,” says Perez, who not coincidentally is the father of PGA tour professional Pat Perez, a three-time tour winner who is enjoying another good year.

“The better Pat does, the better we do, and I’m very happy to report he did well in the desert, at Pebble Beach, and here at the Farmers,” Perez says, referring to the Farmers Insurance Open, where again, not coincidentally, he has been a starter (the person who controls the pace of play by directing players to the first tee at appropriate times) for the past 31 years.

Still, Perez was by no means born into the golfing life. He grew up in inner city San Antonio and only discovered golf after his own service in the Air Force during Vietnam. He met his wife, Susan, in 1972 while working for IBM, and it was Susan and her parents who introduced him to the game.

Dathan Edwards, U.S. Marine, Tin Oo, U.S. Marine; Tony Perez, and Jeremy Knutson, U.S. Navy
Dathan Edwards, U.S. Marine, Tin Oo, U.S. Marine; Tony Perez, and Jeremy Knutson, U.S. Navy

He quickly caught the bug, and when Pat was five, Tony moved the family from Arizona to Carlsbad. He started taking Pat and his younger brother Michael to Surf & Turf to practice, and soon the boys were involved in junior golf. Tony himself served as a scorekeeper and tournament director for the San Diego Junior Golf Association, which is when he first got involved with the Farmers Insurance Open. “I was one of the volunteers who measured drives on certain holes, but then Pat and Michael were doing really well at junior golf. They asked if I wanted to be a starter and I said ‘yes,’” explains Tony, who now lives in Solana Beach.

It was also back in his sons’ junior golf days that Tony began to see golf as a way to bring people into a community, and he developed multiple programs around the county for underprivileged kids. Operation Game On is an outgrowth of an idea Tony had for wounded service members to serve as starters at the Farmers. San Diego is a military town and in 2008 there were wounded personnel arriving from Afghanistan and Iraq on a weekly basis. Tony wanted to do something to highlight their service, and it was that first group of service members working as starters who said they were interested in learning the game for themselves. Tony responded, “Game on,” since which time the organization has offered two 16-week programs per year. The 14th Annual Operation Game On Golf Classic, a day of golf and giving, takes place on April 4 at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club. operationgameon.org   Bill Abrams

Founded in 2008 by local golf enthusiast Tony Perez, Operation Game On offers returning combat-injured service members a very special introduction to golf that begins with eight weeks of lessons from a certified PGA golf instructor followed by a fitting session at The Kingdom, TaylorMade’s premium club-fitting experience once reserved for professionals. Every participant in Operation Game On receives a brand new set of TaylorMade golf clubs with bag, golf apparel including Adidas golf shoes and headwear, and then eight more weeks of lessons to ensure they know how to use their new equipment. “Of course, golf is just the hook to get these guys in,” says Perez. “It’s really a rehabilitation program.”

Jacque Keeslar, U.S. Army; Alexander Glenn-Camden, U.S. Marine; and Nick Kimmel, U.S. Marine
Jacque Keeslar, U.S. Army; Alexander Glenn-Camden, U.S. Marine; and Nick Kimmel, U.S. Marine

Golf is a game to last a lifetime and as golfers know, the golf course is also one of the best places to make new friendships. “That’s especially important now,” says Perez. “There are a lot of troops out there suffering from PTSD. It’s heartbreaking. We’re losing quite a few to suicide.”

Over the past 14 years, some 600 combat-injured service members from all branches of the military have gone through the program, which has its headquarters at Del Mar Golf Center. “Just like TaylorMade, there were pros at Del Mar Golf Center who volunteered the minute I told them what I wanted do,” says Perez, who not coincidentally is the father of PGA tour professional Pat Perez, a three-time tour winner who is enjoying another good year.

“The better Pat does, the better we do, and I’m very happy to report he did well in the desert, at Pebble Beach, and here at the Farmers,” Perez says, referring to the Farmers Insurance Open, where again, not coincidentally, he has been a starter (the person who controls the pace of play by directing players to the first tee at appropriate times) for the past 31 years.

Still, Perez was by no means born into the golfing life. He grew up in inner city San Antonio and only discovered golf after his own service in the Air Force during Vietnam. He met his wife, Susan, in 1972 while working for IBM, and it was Susan and her parents who introduced him to the game.

He quickly caught the bug, and when Pat was five, Tony moved the family from Arizona to Carlsbad. He started taking Pat and his younger brother Michael to Surf & Turf to practice, and soon the boys were involved in junior golf. Tony himself served as a scorekeeper and tournament director for the San Diego Junior Golf Association, which is when he first got involved with the Farmers Insurance Open. “I was one of the volunteers who measured drives on certain holes, but then Pat and Michael were doing really well at junior golf. They asked if I wanted to be a starter and I said ‘yes,’” explains Tony, who now lives in Solana Beach.

It was also back in his sons’ junior golf days that Tony began to see golf as a way to bring people into a community, and he developed multiple programs around the county for underprivileged kids. Operation Game On is an outgrowth of an idea Tony had for wounded service members to serve as starters at the Farmers. San Diego is a military town and in 2008 there were wounded personnel arriving from Afghanistan and Iraq on a weekly basis. Tony wanted to do something to highlight their service, and it was that first group of service members working as starters who said they were interested in learning the game for themselves. Tony responded, “Game on,” since which time the organization has offered two 16-week programs per year. The 14th Annual Operation Game On Golf Classic, a day of golf and giving, takes place on April 4 at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club. operationgameon.org

Featured Photo Tony Perez
Image Credits Tony Perez Portraits: Photography by Vincent Knakal

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