Golf Hero Tom Parks: To Hell and Back

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In the past several months, we featured Manuel Dukes and Ricky Sleeper, members of On Course Foundation.  Here’s another amazing story about the organization and its impact on wounded, injured and sick military veterans through the sport and business of golf.

Certainly, you’ve come across guys who’ve gone from hero to ostensibly zero and back to hero.

Businesspeople start with unbridled confidence, then struggle and use lessons learned to succeed.  Athletes are streaky, piling up points, then suffering droughts before reverting to the best versions of themselves.  Politicians, well, they incur similar scenarios, but let’s not go there.

Greater Kansas City has its own poster child for life’s ups and downs with golf helping roll in the good times.

Meet Tom Parks or, as he’s officially referenced, CWO3 Thomas F. Parks III, USMC (Ret.).

Now 57 years old, father of daughters ages 33 and 31, husband to Stephanie and a 20-year Riverside resident, Parks’ journey began in Dover, Hampshire.  Dad served in the Marines for four years beginning in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and all things cold war, before working in the auto business.  Grandpa on mom’s side was a naval officer in WWII and the Korean War.

Golf was part of Parks’ mid-youth years.  At 14, he and dad would hack it up at Sunningdale, a nine-hole municipal course in Dover.  Both were left-handed, but back then lefty clubs were neither available nor affordable.  So, Tom got right-handed Irving King model woods.  Finances were tight.

Marines Enlistment

Ever one to make dad proud, following in family footsteps led Parks from high school to the marines.  Twenty of 23 years were at Camp Pendleton in California.  Eight deployments included five combat tours:  Desert Storm, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan (twice).  Highlights were infantry stints in 1990, first in Saudi Arabia and then in Kuwait to “kick out” Saddam Hussein.  Then there was the 1992 clean up of Black Hawk Down in the no-law-and-order-whatsoever Somalia.

Parks unwavering dedication to his craft and preserving America’s national interests was aptly rewarded.  In 1995, he won U.S. Marine Corps annul rifle squad competition; in 1998 came Drill Instructor of the Year and a meritorious promotion to Gunnery Sergeant; in 2001 was selected as Infantry Weapons Officer, a Marine Gunner – Chief Warrant Officer; and in 2004, was awarded the Silver Star medal, the third highest military award for valor in combat.  From accounts of Parks’ actions, the well-known “one-man wrecking crew” earned three-stripe sergeant status and the illustrious three-Silver Star Medal.

Books were written about Parks’ accomplishments:  Heroes Among Us by Chuck Larson and The Silver Star by Scott Baron.

Challenges Aplenty

Now to the gory part for our decorated hero.  In 2003, Parks was shot by enemy fire in the hip and leg.   He wasn’t alone as the infantry was a regular target of countless explosions.  Walking over dead bodies of friends and foes was common.  He estimates killing at least 25 to 30 foes, but “I lost count and became numb to it.”

Worse than taking bullets, Parks says, was fighting in 150-degree temperatures while wearing full gear – after all, hiking hill after hill carrying heavy backpacks was almost daily.  Dysentery caused by explosions took root and, from tasting the aftereffects,  he couldn’t hold anything down.  What a mess.

Upon retirement in 2005, transition to civilian life was mentally problematic.  Anger, severe depression, PTSD and a second divorce reared ugly heads.  The healing process, so to speak, included arduous attempts at overcoming unnerving war sights and sounds as well as staying alert and keeping calm.  To this day, these difficulties still pop up.

With military in his veins, Parks worked from 2009 to 2014 as a contractor, taking him back to war-torn Afghanistan, providing security for Army ground bases against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  Then came two years in Kabul, managing security for defense and state department personnel.  The past five years, Parks worked from Kansas City as a Project Director for a business consulting firm headquartered in Chicago.  He advised on sales, operations, finance and small-business leadership skills.

Golf & On Course Foundation

How fulfilling was corporate life when military travails were mostly in the great (or not so great) outdoors?  “Not so much,” says Parks, “and I wanted to make a rewarding career shift.”

His third wife, Stephanie, played golf in high school and they’d hit the links together.  Parks “got the bug” and went as far as installing a full net, launch monitor and putting green in his basement.  Practice is the road to perfection, says many a golfer and military man, and Parks’ carries a seven handicap as a result.

“Golf was healing and calming, and I fell in love with it, often recalling days as a child when dad and I would play with totally wrong clubs.”

Then, on a browsing lark of sorts, Parks found On Course Foundation online.  He connected with Shauna Snyder, the organization’s military liaison and employment manager, who opened his eyes to the golf industry’s inner workings and laid out a plan for his professional involvement in the golf business.

“I was down the wrong path and needed OCF to stop the self-pressure to chase money,” he says.  “Shauna changed my life to something fulfilling and I decided to make golf my life’s endeavor and jump in with both feet.  It was scary, but excitement and notions of rewarding work took over.”

On Course Foundation was instrumental placing him at the private National Golf Club of Kansas City where he works in player and outdoor services.  Lo and behold, with utmost work ethic and discipline cultivated in the Marines, Parks swept every “Employee of the Month” award since he started in September 2022.

“It’s humbling and keeps my military success and ego in check,” Parks says.  “I’m still of service to people and that gives me the passion I felt serving Americans as a gunner in the Marines.

“It’s also important I give back, through the many benefits of golf, to others transitioning out of the military.  I’m rubbing off on other veterans, introducing them to golf to assist their recoveries.  I feel a true, inner peace of mind on the links and sharing it with those who also faced terror is my way of paying it forward.”

Parks is as gung-ho about his second career in golf as he was every day of military service.  Enrolled in the PGA’s Professional Golf Management program, he’s a Level 1 Associate Member and, buoyed by his corporate consulting background, should ascend to Level 2 Executive Management in no time.  The goal of achieving Level 3 full PGA membership is two years away.

“Dad is in an Alzheimer’s Center now,” says Parks.  “But when I reminisce about military times and my new love of golf, he smiles.  Thoughts of playing rounds together, two lefties wielding righty clubs – those are the invaluable memories golf creates.”

On Course Foundation leverages the tenets of golf as a recovery vehicle for wounded, injured and sick veterans.  It conducts programs coast to coast teaching its “members” how to play golf and business skills for careers in the golf industry.  On Course Foundation then places members in golf jobs with Callaway, Invited (formerly ClubCorp), Marriott Golf, golf product manufacturers and service providers, and golf courses, country clubs and resorts.  There are more than 2,000 members in the U.S. and abroad.  The organization was founded nearly 15 years ago by John Simpson, longtime IMG executive and business manager to Nick Faldo, Vijay Singh, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price and Greg Norman.

Rich Katz

Rich Katz is Founder and CEO of Katz Strategy, a golf business and marketing advisory firm. One of golf’s most networked executives for 30-plus years, he founded golf-marketer Buffalo Agency (now Buffalo Groupe), was agent to PGA TOUR players and held leadership positions at Billy Casper Golf. rkatz@katzstrategy.com.

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