Jack Nickalus is helping combat veterans by redesigning and expanding the American Lake Veterans Golf Course. It’s going to be a one-of-a-kind, 18-hole layout geared specifically for disabled golfers.
Recently, in Lakewood, Washington, Nicklaus handed one of his signature line hybrid clubs to Danny Dudek.
Dudek, an Army lieutenant colonel, paralyzed below both knees, was propped up inside a “SoloRider,” a specially designed cart with a seat that tilts up to support disabled golfers when they swing. Dudek drove the ball into the sunny Northwest sky, past lush evergreens and landed about 150 yards down the driving range.
The dedication and promise for renewal behind Dudek’s drive, is what inspires Nicklaus. The golf great is donating his expertise to design what will perhaps be the most appreciated course he will ever build.
Nicklaus notes “All projects are very important to me. But this one is out of love.” He has designed more than 300 courses around the world and has 100 more in the works. “I’m a hired gun to do things a lot of places. But I’m not a hired gun here. I’m doing this because I want to do this,” he says.
Nicklaus commented “You know, I was married and had children before I even got out of college, so I was never in the service. I never knew what these guys have gone through, and it’s just something to behold. I had a lot of friends who were in and went to Vietnam. They came back and their lives were scarred in a lot of ways. So to be able to give back—even though I couldn’t contribute from that standpoint, I sure can from this standpoint.”
The golfer’s work is the centerpiece of the $4.5 million project at American Lake called “A Course in Courage: Healing America’s Veterans Through Golf.” His design will start becoming reality once American Lake raises about $2 million more funds.
It’s estimated that 8 out of every 10 golfers who play American Lake have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. And those who play keep coming back. Many older veterans now volunteer on the course’s maintenance crew.
More than 12,000 rounds of golf were played between April 2009 and August 2009. The demand is expected to grow soon, as the largest number of homecoming of veterans in 30 years arrives back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many will have severe injuries and emotional trauma.
“When you lose a limb, lose an arm, all of a sudden you feel like you are ostrasized from society. This puts these guys back into society. It gives them self-worth,” Nicklaus said. “To us their self-worth will never be questioned. But to them, sometimes they worry about that …Golf gives them a new lease on life. Hopefully, this is a prototype for a lot of places around the country.”
Retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvilli, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suffered a massive stroke in 2004 and is in a wheelchair. The resident of nearby DuPont was among those golfing from a SoloRider during Nicklaus’ visit.
“I think it’s terrific,” the former general said of the course. Because it shows that no matter what the injury is, it’s not life-ending.”
(Info provided from article by Greg Bell, of The Associated Press)
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This article is so inspiring, as we are learning that taking part in sports can be a great healing agent for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as for adapting to physical injuries. Kudos to Jack Nicklaus for the great work he is doing on behalf of our veterans.