With the Olympics coming up next summer, the Ryder Cup returning to U.S. soil, and the PGA celebrating its 100th anniversary, 2016 is being hailed as the "Year of Golf" -- especially in New Jersey, where the PGA Championship will be played at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield in late July. The confluence of those events will help spread the game, and its fundraising efforts, throughout the Garden State.

Photo courtesy New Jersey Golf Foundation

Founded in 2004, the New Jersey Golf Foundation is a charitable organization run through the New Jersey PGA, and focuses on bringing golf to prospective youth, military and special needs participants. NJGF President Gregg Angelillo calls those the three pillars of the group's mission, which is "to impact lives and communities through the game of golf."

The primary NJGF initiative with regard to children is the Golf in Schools program, currently impacting 168 schools in the state.

"We would call them disadvantaged schools," Angelillo said, "only disadvantaged because they're not near a golf course, and wouldn't really get an introduction to the game."

Golf in Schools brings in professionals from all over New Jersey to educate students and gym teachers alike about the health benefits and etiquette of playing golf. Approximately 100,000 Garden State kids benefit from the program each year.

For military veterans, the HOPE program took hold in 2013. Short for "Help Our Patriots Everywhere," it has partnered with the VA Hospital in Lyons. At a nine-hole event this year, veterans played more than 300 rounds of golf.

Angelillo said NJGF also has an ongoing, working relationship with Special Olympics New Jersey.

"Our PGA professionals are training the Special Olympics participants that are in New Jersey at our facilities," he said, adding that in one case, an internship set up by NJGF for a Special Olympics athlete led to employment at Pine Barrens Golf Club in Jackson. "We're really trying to get them to be involved in golf in any way that they can, and the workplace is one place that we've started."

The "Year of Golf" will start early in 2016 for NJGF, as the organization plans to cut the ribbon on its long-awaited "home site," Fiddler's Elbow Country Club in Bedminster, in January. That follows a year in which NJGF received the Herb Graffis Award from the PGA of America for the second time in four years. This honor annually recognizes a particular section for excellence in player development.

For more about the foundation and efforts to enrich its "three pillars," click here.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's evening news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015, email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com, and listen for his live reports Monday through Thursday nights between 6:30 and 11 p.m.

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