Sarah Bennett, a golf pro from Essex, who is as renowned for the hours she devotes to helping the less fortunate as she is for her excellence as a coach, has received a prestigious PGA award.
Bennett, the head professional at Three Rivers Golf & Country Club near Chelmsford, has won the Association’s Toby Sunderland Award, an accolade given annually to celebrate the many wide-ranging charitable achievements by PGA pros across Great Britain and Ireland.
Bennett’s work for charity over the years has included the Golf Fore Recovery initiative for wounded and sick services personnel and Canine Partners. Her latest involvement, however, is not only her most challenging but also very close to home.
It is the result of her friend and Under 18 boys and girls England Golf East regional manager, Wendy Lodder, contracting an extremely rare form of cancer.The 51-year-old was diagnosed with thymic carcinoma in 2016 and has subsequently undergone two major thorasic surgeries as well as chemotherapy and immunotherapy in a bid to combat the disease.
Lodder’s plight has prompted the two women to set about raising £20,000 to fund research into the disease and form a charity to support people who contract it.
“The cancer Wendy has is extremely rare,” explained Bennett, a PGA Fellow Professional. “There are only 10 cases in the UK annually so the plan is to start a charity for people who have this rare cancer.
“There are support groups for other dreadful forms of cancer but Wendy has had nobody to speak to except me. For me, that’s massively important.
“We also want to set up in the UK the first pod, if you want to call it that, for thymic carcinoma.
“And I’m pleased to say that’s well on its way. Unfortunately there are only two specialists in the UK who have any idea about this chest cancer but King’s College, London, will hopefully be joining forces with Guy’s Cancer Centre, London, to increase their expertise.”
In terms of hitting their financial target, the pair are almost halfway there and hoping a fundraising golf day at Three Rivers on Thursday will go a long way towards making up the difference.
The £1,200 that goes with the Toby Sunderland Award, however, is an unexpected bonus.
“I’m humbled and surprised to receive the award,” Bennett added. “But I’m delighted for the charity - hopefully it will help raise awareness of disease, which is what Wendy wants. It’s the only way people will understand what this type of cancer is.”
Bennett was presented with her award by PGA captain John Heggarty at the Association’s annual cocktail party on the eve of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie. There were seven candidates in the running - one from each PGA region - but Bennett was the unanimous choice.
“There were seven very worthy entries,” said Tristan Crew, the PGA’s executive director - Member services.
“But Sarah’s achievement is all about true charity. It’s about giving her personal time to support individuals who are more needy than herself.
“I first became aware of her charity work and what she was doing in my last career, which was in the British army.
“In 2009 she was working with Colchester Garrison with injured service personnel, teaching them golf and using it as a rehabilitation tool.
“Meanwhile, in a parallel world, I was setting up the Battleback golf programme but Sarah did everythng herself without any support really from the military apart from goodwill.
“She did one-to-one and group coaching, raised funds for a Huxley artificial green to be installed at Colchester Garrison. She ran a golf challenge between all the army recovery centres and a fundraising day for Canine Partners.
“Now she has embarked on a cause to help her friend and those who suffer from this rare form of cancer and I’m delighted she has been chosen to receive the Toby Sunderland Award.”
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