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golfers who give back

A celebration of three Golfers Who Gave Back in 2023

January 25, 2024

This year, we launched the first edition of the Golf Digest Honors, which recognizes extraordinary on-course and off-course accomplishments. In weighing impressive feats by pros and amateurs alike, we’ve given honors for “Best Round,” “Best Putt,” “Best Par,” and many more. These honors are not simply reserved for tour pros; in fact, of our 10 “on-course” honors looking back at the past season, only three were won by pros.

The 2024 class of Golf Digest Honorees also includes those who have made an exceptional impact off the course. These Golfers Who Give Back include 100-year-old Bob Walls, who volunteers at his local muny, filling divots and helping wherever needed. We also recognize a 10-year-old who is making an impact in her community and a day trader who found a new calling in helping elementary school students learn the game. These are their stories.

CARING FOR THE COURSE AT AGE 100

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“Good exercise keeps me young,” says Bob Walls, 100. Photograph courtesy of Mike Rice.

Bob Walls is not your average centenarian. He spends his time volunteering at Steve Hogan Golf Course in Omaha, arriving at 9 a.m., shoveling sand into five-gallon buckets, mixing it with fertilizer and filling divots on the tee boxes at the par-3 course. He helps weed, repair the greens and picks up trash. When he’s not working, he plays golf. Walls finishes his day at 5 p.m., and the World War II veteran does it again the next day.

“Everyone knows Mr. Walls,” says Mike Rice, who manages the course for the city of Omaha. “Whatever needs to be done, he does.”

“I started working at the course because it was looking raggedy,” says Walls, who was close friends with former course manager Steve Hogan, the first Black PGA pro in Nebraska, who died in 2008. “I decided to spend a lot of time and energy keeping the course in good shape since it was named after him.”

Walls has mentored junior golfers, and proceeds from the annual Bob Walls Invitational benefit the junior program. “Good exercise keeps me young, and my work is appreciated, and that’s a big deal,” says Walls, who turns 101 on Feb. 19. —Drew Powell

‘I WANTED TO HELP THE EARTH’

Addison Tessin, 10, of Tennessee, was headed home with her mom when she noticed something outside the window. “We saw trash on the side of the road, and it was like piles and piles of trash,” Tessin says. “I wanted to help the Earth and clean up that trash.”

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Addison Tessin, 10, is making a difference. Photograph by Kathryn Riley

Within a matter of weeks, Tessin was in front of the mayor giving a speech about the amount of trash along the roadways and how rain causes the trash to flow into the rivers. Because of her, biannual cleanup days have been put in place to remove the trash in her town.

Tessin isn’t just an environmental advocate; she’s a golfer. She has been playing since she was 4 and attends monthly LPGA*USGA Girls Golf clinics. What Tessin did is what the team at LPGA*USGA Girls Golf hopes many more girls will do: take learnings from their clinics and apply them to their communities.

Since LPGA*USGA Girls Golf was founded in 1989, more than a million girls have gone through the program. In 2023, the organization partnered with Dow to create sustainability curriculums for each of the 600 Girls Golf sites. Through activities, like decorating reusable water bottles and building birdhouses, the girls learn about the natural world and how to care for it. “We’re trying to educate these girls on how to make a difference,” says Stephanie Peareth, director of operations for the LPGA Foundation, “so that they know we can leave the world better than we found it.”

Imagine the power of one million Addison Tessins. —Keely Levins

A DAY TRADER FINDS A NEW CALLING

Schlepping oversized plastic clubs and tennis balls, Doug Hodges and his team of coaches go into public elementary schools in Durham, N.C., and set up golf clinics in gymnasiums. For a few weeks, the students learn the basics of golf and have the option to do on-course clinics after school. Hodges provides everything: transportation, gear and coaching.

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The program is called SwingPals, and Hodges has been doing this for more than a decade. He started with elementary schools that have the most students on free or reduced lunch and is working with more than 1,200 students. Hodges, now 64, left a career as a trader in New York City at age 40 to devote his life to serving others. Though just a casual golfer, Hodges knew the game could teach young people powerful tools that would serve them far beyond the course.

He settled in North Carolina, became a member of the PGA of America, invested in the SNAG indoor golf equipment and created SwingPals with his own money. He also secured partners, like Dan Hill, former president of the Carolinas Golf Association. Hodges later added fundraising and grants to support the growing program. Whenever a child is swinging a club at SwingPals, he or she must do so within a designated circle, for obvious safety reasons, but it’s more than that. “It becomes a virtual safe space in which they have a foundation so that they can tolerate the anxiety of change and growth and have the freedom to explore their potential,” Hodges says. —KL

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