Healing Through Golf: How Next18 is Bringing Veterans To The Game

“Individuals are taught to be closed off from trauma. The brain must evolve from being so rigid.”

Matt McDonell founded Next 18 after recognizing that individuals who have experienced traumatic experiences need access to the resources to take the steps to evolve the brain and heal.  The method that Matt developed to provide access and contribute to healing is built around learning and playing the game of golf.

Next 18 hosts 3.5 day free-of-charge camps for veterans with disabilities and first Responders that provide a slate of resources focused on mental health and a holistic lifestyle while also providing PGA Professional led golf instruction and rounds of play at sites like Whistling Straits and Erin Hills in Wisconsin.  McDonell is an Army Veteran who retired medically after serving for over four years. Dealing with his own experiences after serving and personal recovery from prescription medications, Matt recognized that veterans and first responders are in many instances closed off with the mindset that “No one else understands me.”  Participants at Next 18 camps receive multiple layers of counseling resources in the effort to connect with each participant in an area of mental health that they find benefits them while also building camaraderie with others who have been exposed to trauma and are working on their own paths towards healthier lifestyles.

McDonell was introduced to the game of golf in his youth and became a competitive junior golfer, however he didn’t play the game during his entire military career, only returning to the game in 2020.  The game brought Matt a sense of joy that was heightened from his focus on mental health and today Next 18 allows campers to achieve this same joy. Next 18 began hosting camps in 2021 and the golf experience is structured around sessions that allow participants to be vulnerable, open themselves up to others, practice breathing techniques, and share impactful moments.  Each camp is open to 12 participants and currently six camps have hosted 64 disabled veterans and first responders.

The Grassroots Grant received by Next 18 provided funding to cover greens fees for two camps along with the instruction time participants spend with local PGA professionals. Matt McDonell has expansion plans for Next 18 to host 15 to 20 camps per year while also maintaining contact with camp alumni through bi-monthly virtual check-ins. The community that Matt McDonell is creating through helping veterans with disabilities and first responders dealing with trauma by providing each of them the resources to live better lives is growing stronger as Next 18 expands throughout the country. Currently there are nine camps scheduled for 2023 with Scottsdale, AZ added to the sites.

Golf has long been known to bring people together, and Matt McDonell through Next 18 is bringing people who have struggled independently together to deal with mental health wellness and enjoy the gifts the game has to offer. For information on applying or donating to Next 18 please visit www.Next18.org.

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