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It takes a village to run a golf course

More than 230 volunteers keep American Lake Veterans Golf Course, a unique ADA facility, running

Jim Martinson with Leroy Petrie discuss course strategy. Photo courtesy Friends of ALVGC

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When you step inside the $1.4 million Rehabilitation Learning Center that serves as the club house for the American Lake Veterans Golf Course (ALVGC), the atmosphere is bustling with activity. Much like any other golf club there is a sense of camaraderie, but this golf course is the only Americans with Disabilities Accessible golf course in the country.

No government funding covers the costs of the operation and maintenance of the course. Friends of the ALVGC, a nonprofit established in 2004, provides the dollars necessary, and since that time it has provided over $7 million worth of improvements to the golf course grounds and club house. Famed pro-golfer Jack Nicklaus agreed to design nine new holes (the back nine) pro bono if the "Friends" raised enough for the physical construction of the new holes, which opened in 2016.

What makes this unusual is that it is run solely by volunteers, more than 230 dedicated individuals -- most veterans themselves -- who want to give back to those who served our country. Volunteers range in age from 23 to 92, including everyone from former privates to retired generals, civilians and those with disabilities. All are united by the wish to give back to America's veterans.

Volunteers are always needed, to do everything from picking up range balls, to mowing the fairways and greens to management. Some volunteer more than 60 hours a week. In 2018, the group accumulated more than 56,000 volunteer hours.

What brings this dedicated group together each week is their love for veterans and helping those with disabilities. Golf Course Superintendent Randall Moen is a military brat who lived on American Lake and would see guys fishing at the VA. After visiting, he started volunteering, usually putting in 60 hours a week.

"It is a great bunch of people with lots of camaraderie when you are around military people," he said. Known around the course as Randy, he still gets ribbed for using the free voucher he got for watering the grass and lawn maintenance to take his wife out for their anniversary.

Bob Funseth, the mechanical maintenance manager, spent 30 years in the Navy and now spends 30 to 60 hours a week at the course.

"I like giving back to something after all that the military gave to me," said Funseth.

Golf course general manager and Friends of ALVGC Director Bruce G. McKenty appreciates the hard work from all the volunteers.

"Everybody is here because they love veterans," noted McKenty, "and many have their own disabilities. A big benefit to volunteering is free golf, yet 20 percent of our volunteers don't golf.

"With many of our golfers disabled with mobility issues, we have equipment which will allow them to participate," he continued. "The Para Golfer is an adaptive golf cart which allows the golfer to remain seated and swing to the side to hit the ball. The Solo Rider is a mobile cart which has a lift to allow a golfer to stand up and stay secure to hit the ball. We have a variety of training programs to include a Blind Rehab Program. One of the legends around here is that a blind golfer named Chico challenged Jack Nicklaus when he visited the course to a match, his only stipulation that it be held at midnight."

The Friends recently entered a partnership with the equipment manufacturer Power Tee, which enabled the group to add 10 Power Tee bays to the driving range.

"We have many disabled and older veterans who play here. It is extremely difficult for a disabled golfer in a mobility impaired golf cart to tee up a ball at the driving range," McKenty explained. "It is equally difficult for the older veterans to tee up balls. Power Tee will make this much easier and more enjoyable for these golfers."

He said the system drops a ball onto a tee, which can be set for different heights. That means no bending over to place a ball onto a tee is necessary.

In addition to the programs for disabled golfers, the course is open to all veterans and active-duty service members and their spouses, as well as their dependent children over 7 years of age. Each player is authorized up to three guests, who must be accompanied by their sponsor while on the course. Rates are very reasonable. The "golf pros" are all volunteers with no special training other than a love for the game. Inquire at the course for lesson options. 

When Jack Nicklaus designed the back nine, he also completed the plans to redo the front nine. The Friends of ALVGC is in fundraising mode now to raise the money to complete this project by the spring of 2021.

If you are interested in donating to keep this program running, visit the website to make a monetary donation online, or go to the Facebook page Friends of American Lake Veterans Golf Course. You can also stop by the club house and purchase a print of the 11th hole of the course. It is $50 for the print, or $400 for a print signed and numbered by Jack Nicklaus. Also, check on Facebook and the website for fundraising golf tournament dates.

American Lake Veterans Golf Course, 9600 Veterans Dr. SW, Lakewood, 253.589.1998,

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