Teaching Golf to Those at the Turn
Southern California, sometimes called the Rehab Riviera, is home to over 1,100+ treatment centers not to mention thousands of unlicensed sober living homes where addicts live together while in recovery. It sounds so bleak, so hopeless. How do you even begin to change the tide for this nationwide problem?
Some would say, we think we can help address this problem, one community corner at a time. We found a little corner of hope in the city of Newport Beach, California, at a public, 9 hole golf course. This is where The Back 9 Foundation meets weekly with those in treatment at local rehabilitation centers and people in recovery at local sober living homes. Twelve different treatment programs from the community send over 350 students a month to The Back 9.
Founded by Ben Carotta in 2016
The Back 9 is a non-profit organization founded in February, 2016 by Ben Carotta. He was a volunteer at a youth golf organization when he realized he liked teaching golf. But, he didn’t want to just become a pro at a country club or golf course. He also wanted to help people. Specifically, he wanted to help people in recovery from addiction. He realized that he could combine his love of teaching golf and helping people into a passion he now calls The Back 9
Providing 3 Things to People in Recovery
The Back 9 provides three things to people in recovery.
- Experiential classes for local treatment programs
- Free classes 3 nights/week for anyone that is sober
- Free sets of clubs for students and sober living homes
Any barriers to entry to learn how to play golf, The Back 9 provides resources to overcome them. To date, The Back 9 has given away over 100 sets of clubs which are typically donated by local golf shops and individuals.
Why Does Golf Help With Addiction Recovery?
When asked why golf specifically helps with recovery, Ben has specific answers. His first thoughts include socializing. He says there is not a lot of socializing outside of a treatment program for those in recovery. The golf course is a place where people can hang out, socialize, and lean on each other while in recovery. It is outdoors and surrounded by nature. It is also mentally engaging and it distances one from everything going on his life. Ben actually asks his students after a class, “Did you think about anything else going on in your life in the last hour?” He said people look at him and shake their heads in amazement. These are people who may be only three or five days into their program. Golf requires you to be mentally engaged. It can help quiet the mind when you are in crisis mode.
Resilience, Enjoyment, Perspective and Unity
1 1/2 years ago The Back 9 shifted to experiential learning. They started providing integrated skills and themes that relate to both golf and recovery. They teach four themes: resilience, enjoyment, perspective, and unity. Ben believes that the themes represent the process of change that occurs during successful recovery. He stated,
“When we introduce these concepts through outdoor activities and friendly competitions, it breaks down a lot of mental barriers that students come to class with. At the end of class, we tie it all together and they are much more receptive to discussing and applying these concepts than when they arrived. This shows that some level of change has occurred and we hope that they can keep this momentum going. After the first session, most students have lost themselves in the process and had fun. They return looking forward to their next session.”
The day I joined a morning session, some ladies from the New Directions Women’s Center were learning the basics of golf and resilience. “You might get frustrated, but don’t give up. You may have some bad shots. Walk away for a bit if you have to. But, come back to it. Keep swinging. Keep trying,” said Ben. Poignant lessons for both life and golf.
“The reason it’s called The Back 9,” says Ben, “is because when you have 18 holes in golf, it doesn’t matter how badly you might have played the front 9, you can always turn it around on the back 9.”
One volunteer named Theresa has worked with Ben for a few years. She is a part of the recovery community and her story about The Back 9 describes her experience with golf and life.
Theresa – “For me, to introduce a fun, social, sports-oriented activity to a newly sober person is like giving them oxygen. Let’s face it. When a person finally succumbs to drug/alcohol treatment, life has gotten pretty grim. Learning golf shows them that their bodies and minds can be used for constructive purposes and not just destructive purposes.
In my experience, for women, golf is extremely empowering because they, in particular, get to experience the power in their body and a sense of self-worth and self-accomplishments (say from hitting a great golf shot) that they probably had forgotten even existed! Golf is a difficult sport to pick up. That, however, is precisely why it’s soooo gratifying to “get it right” and hit that shot that delights and surprises because it feels so effortless. In my opinion, the process of learning golf can help the newcomer understand that they actually don’t need “instant gratification” and that working towards a goal can be extremely gratifying.
For me, golf is very much a practice about “being in the moment” and being fully present. As my game has progressed, I have learned tremendous things about the mental game of golf, the ability to self-regulate under pressure, and choice.”
Ben is looking at expanding to South Orange County. He has plans to open up a Back 9 there in the near future. He also thinks that a regional expansion to San Diego and Los Angeles could be possible.
Change in the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Industry
We started talking about BreakFreely.com and the treatment industry as a whole. Ben said he really doesn’t like to think about the overall picture. It can be too overwhelming. But, what he can do is think about what he does on a daily basis. He focuses on how he can improve his local community. And we at BreakFreely also believe this is how change is going to be made around the country with the addiction epidemic. In this little corner of the world called Newport Beach, Ben is making an impact.