In honor of Veterans Day this Wednesday, Nov. 11, we shine the light on American Lake Veterans Golf Course, currently the nation’s only course designed specifically for the rehabilitation of wounded and disabled veterans. The nine-hole course, which opened in 1950, is located in Lakewood, Wash. just down the road from Chambers Bay, site of this year’s U.S. Open.
Four-time U.S. Open winner Jack Nicklaus paid a visit to the course a few days before the U.S. Open got under way back in June. He’s been involved with expanding the course, donating his design services to develop the “Nicklaus Nine,” which should be open for play by summer 2016. The layout will be a one-of-a-kind 18-hole course geared specifically for disabled golfers. PGA professional Ken Still, a native of Tacoma, was instrumental in getting Nicklaus involved in the expansion project. Nicklaus and Still have been friends since their days on the PGA Tour back in the 1960s and 70s.
The American Lake Veterans Golf Course is currently a par 35, 2,788-yard nine-hole course that is operated and maintained by an all-volunteer staff that includes grounds crew and maintenance personnel, operations, and management. The course is not supported by government funding, and all operation and capital costs are paid by donations, annual pass, and green fee revenues.
Shortly after World War II, the American Lake Veterans Hospital decided that it would add a golf course to its grounds to benefit the soldiers recovering in their facility. The course was designed as a place of respite rather than rehabilitation, and the special needs of the disabled were not taken into account at the time. Still, it was valued as an asset of the hospital and served patients healing from all types of injuries for many years.
In 1995, funding by the VA was eliminated and the future of American Lake Veterans Golf Course was uncertain. Volunteers stepped in to continue work on the course and keep it operating, but the course had fallen into disrepair over many years of service and there was little money available for the needed improvements.
The Friends of American Lake Veterans Golf Course was founded on May 3, 2004 and immediately launched funding efforts to underwrite ambitious plans for the needed improvements and to make the course accessible to all veterans, not just the able-bodied. The resulting facility, once a little-known amenity, now attracts thousands of veterans every year.
To play the American Lake Veterans Golf Course, you must be meet one of the following: Be a veteran, serving on active duty or a retired member of the Armed Forces, a DD Form 214 holder, VA hospital staff member or VA-eligible recipient, reservist, golf course volunteer, or a guest.
Also, the Friends of American Lake Veterans Golf Course have partnered with Lids Team Sports and Nike to offer quality golf gear, including shirts and caps just in time for the holidays. For more information on volunteering or to order merchandise, visit www.veterangolf.org.
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