Back to Health

American Lake Veterans Golf Course helps rehabilitate veterans

The message: Get up and go

Jim Martinson, who lost both of his legs fighting in Vietnam, lines up a shot at American Lake Veterans Golf Course. Photo credit: Gail Wood

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

On occasion, Russ Carlson will be talking with another military veteran about coming out to golf with him.

The vet will shake his head no, saying an injury he suffered wouldn't allow him to do that. Carlson will then reach for a golf club.

"Then he'll bang it on his false leg with a club and say, ‘Do you think you're going to get any sympathy from me?'" said Jim Sims, the president of the Friends of the American Lake Veterans Golf Course. "He'll say, ‘Come on. Let's go.'"

That's the message: Get up and go.

And that's the mission at American Lake Veterans Golf Course. Surprisingly, it's here on a golf course that many vets who have lost a limb or suffer an injury discover that they can still play.

"It's much more than a golf course," said Roger Gatts, the course assistant manager. "It's a place where veterans can come and start to rehabilitate back into life."

Jim Martinson found rescue at American Lake Veterans Golf Course when he was recovering from an explosion from a land mind that blew off his legs while fighting in Vietnam in 1968. The golfing and the friendships helped Martinson heal.

"You find out you're not alone," Martinson said.

This nine-hole, 377-acre golf course that is next to American Lake opened in 1956. Last year, the popular course that is opened only to vets had about 33,000 rounds of golf played, nearly 13,000 more rounds than what neighboring courses had.To meet the growing needs, work began in March on a 9-hole addition. It is expected to be finished in the spring of 2015.

Jack Nicklaus, the PGA's all-time winningest golfer, has teamed up on the project and helped design the additional nine holes. Ken Still, the former PGA golfer who is on the American Lake Veterans Golf Course board, asked Nicklaus if he'd help.

"It took him about 10 seconds to say yes," Still said.

Bruce McKenty, the golf course manager, is hoping Nicklaus' name will help in the fund raising. Last fall, Nicklaus was at the groundbreaking ceremony for the additional nine holes. McKenty said they have about $1.7 million of the needed $3.5 million to build the addition.

During the groundbreaking, Nicklaus said, "We all have an opportunity to say thank you to the men and women who have given so much for our country."

In the last few years, the Friends of American Lake Veterans Golf Course Association raised money to pay for a driving range, a covered eating area for barbecues, larger tee boxes, handicapped accessible bunkers and greens, mowing equipment and special golf carts that allow disabled vets to golf from the cart. On Mondays, free golf lessons are given to vets.

In addition to the financial support, the course relies on about 200 volunteers who help keep the course open. The average age of the volunteers ranges from the high 60s to the low 70s.

But it's not just about golf. It's about handshakes, about friendships, about vets getting out. The club house was built in 2009 for $1.4 million with socializing in mind.

"Part of the need is that they go out and golf nine or 18 holes and come back here to socialize," McKenty said.

To golf, Martinson uses a special golf cart that has a moveable seat that lifts him into a standing position to hit the ball.

"When I lost my legs, I'm thinking I can do nothing," Martinson said. "Now, golf gives me another avenue to go out. I like sports. I enjoy it. So it's great to be able to come out and do this."

There's a social side to each of his golf outings.

"I went through a couple of years pretty bitter," Martinson said about his recovery. "Maybe pissed off. Sometimes that's not bad. If you get mad at something you can get mad and go the wrong direction or you can get mad and go the right direction. Fortunately, I went the right direction."

He said family helped him.

"I never really gave up. Never had a chance," he said. "I had three brothers and a dad and a mom and friends who said you can't give up."

comments powered by Disqus