Giving Back With Gusto: Joe Grohman Gains Joy in Helping Others
Joe Grohman, PGA stared out his window. The buildup of frost on the windowpanes, produced by weeks of sub-zero temperatures, continued to grow. This wasn’t out of the ordinary for this time of year in Grohman’s hometown of Plattsburgh, New York, but this winter season in particular had yielded 21 consecutive days of such temperatures, and Grohman was stuck in it.
Jack Nicklaus, who was playing golf in Palm Springs, happened to be on TV that day. Grohman distinctly remembers that it was so hot in the California desert that day that Nicklaus was sweating through his shirt. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that on one side of the country, golf is a year-round sport. On the other side, in Grohman’s upstate New York zip code, you’d be lucky to get even a couple months of serviceable course conditions.
“The running joke is that we have nine months of winter and three months of bad sledding,” said Grohman.
It was at that moment that he had an epiphany: I am going to California. I don’t care what it takes.
He was rising through the ranks of junior golf rather quickly. He was practically a seasoned veteran on the Plattsburgh High School varsity golf team, having made the team as a seventh grader. He envisioned himself becoming a golf pro, so it was time to ditch the frozen tundra he grew up with and go somewhere that would allow him to play golf whenever, and wherever.
That opportunity presented itself a couple of years later, when his stepdad got a job in Southern California. Grohman followed him, finishing high school on the West Coast and then moving on to California State University, Fullerton to play collegiately.
FINDING HIS LIFE’S WORK
In the process of pursuing his golf dream out West, Grohman discovered an alternative passion that he’s since transformed into his life’s work. In 1994, eight years removed from college graduation, Grohman was teaching golf part-time at Heartwell GC when he was asked by the Long Beach Memorial Hospital to give a golf clinic to stroke victims a few times a week.
He worked with myriad people, from those who were unable to hold a golf club on their own to others who required a gait belt to participate. Grohman quickly came to realize that the golf instruction aspect of these clinics was secondary. For a lot of his students, the class was the only time they got to step foot out of their house that week due to their health conditions. Golf brought everyone together, and the community that emerged was the real reason everyone kept coming back.
“That’s when the light bulb went on for me,” Grohman said. “That’s when I realized the importance of my class to these people.”
It was an experience that changed his life, and when he saw the impact that his classes were having, as well as the fulfillment he got from it, he started using golf as a form of therapy and became fully immersed in the spectrum of adaptive golf.
A SOLID FOUNDATION
Nearly three decades have passed since Grohman’s time at Heartwell. Since then, he’s become a nationally recognized golf instructor who specializes in rehabilitation clinics. He’s spent countless hours conducting clinics for disabled veterans, blind people and Wounded Warriors, all while serving as the head golf professional at various courses, most notably a 13-year stint at Navy Golf Course — where Earl Woods would ask Grohman to instruct his promising 13-year-old son, Tiger.
In 2012, he created the Joe Grohman Foundation to help further his mission of providing these joy-filled life experiences to those who would not normally have the opportunity to engage in golf. He also helped lay the groundwork for the PGA HOPE (Helping our Patriots Everywhere) program, the flagship military program for PGA REACH (the charitable arm of the PGA of America).
Grohman was recently selected as one of four PGA HOPE national trainers. He runs simulated training sessions that are designed to ensure that all PGA professionals teaching with PGA HOPE provide a safe environment and are comfortable using adaptive equipment while instructing military veterans living with physical or cognitive challenges.
“Part of the journey to becoming successful is to make giving back a part of that journey,” said Grohman. “If I can get a lady who can’t even hold a club to have a great time, that’s amazing.”
He’s garnered a seemingly endless amount of regional recognition from the Southern California PGA section, from Golf Professional of the Year (2013) to the Youth Player Development Award (2017).
In 2010, the U.S. Navy awarded Grohman the Armed Forces Recreation Special Citation Award, its highest honor for civilian recreation employees. And finally, to recognize his spirit for working with the military, Grohman received the 2021 Patriot Award from the PGA of America.
You’d be hard pressed to find a golf pro with a heart for giving as big as Grohman’s. Ever since he picked up a golf club at the age of seven, he’s had the luxury of strong mentorship. He’s always been told to give back when he reaches a position of success, and he’s been preaching the same message to the young golfers he mentors.
“Even if you do become successful, if you’re not giving back, you’re never going to be truly happy,” said Grohman. “So make giving back a part of it.”