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Building a stronger veteran community through golf

American Lake Veterans Golf Course encourages golf as therapy

The American Lake Veterans GC Clubhouse. Photo credit: American Lake Veterans Golf Course

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Peacefully nestled between North Fort Lewis and American Lake, there lives a golf course run entirely on the passion and dedication of volunteers. American Lake Veterans Golf Course is the only course in the nation designed for the transition and rehabilitation of wounded and disabled veterans. They believe golf is therapeutic both physically and emotionally, and take pride in providing training, equipment, and encouragement for all veterans and active-duty servicemen and women.

"Golf makes you focus on yourself and say, ‘Hey, I can do something,'" explained Richard Roeca, the Golf for Troops program coordinator.

Roeca recently coordinated a small group from 542nd Support Maintenance Company to come and meet one-on-one with some of the trainers, a group consisting mostly of previous professional golfers and veterans. Soldiers of all skill levels came out happy to receive the training and also to learn about the additional resources provided by the course. Volunteers and regular patrons looked on, delighted to see the range utilized by the soldiers.

"I'm going to have to come here all the time now," said PFC Cameron Shier, who's been golfing since he was 4 years old, but is only able to get out a few times a year now.

Socialization and camaraderie are viewed to be just as important as practicing, and the clubhouse is designed to welcome people in to play and stay. "We practice respect and kindness, and celebrate the ability to hit the ball," said volunteer Thomas Dozal.

American Lake Veterans Golf Course is positioned on 377 acres and was added to the Veterans Hospital in the 1950s as a recreational activity for inpatients. In 1995, all funding for the course was withdrawn, and the course quickly fell into disrepair. Luckily, in 2001, Harold "Pepper" Roberts, a Navy veteran of the Korean War and golf pro, joined as a volunteer and by 2003, established The Friends of American Lake Veterans Golf Course, a 501C-3 nonprofit corporation. Further, world-renowned golf champion Jack Nicklaus volunteered his professional services in redesigning the course. The back nine was completed three years ago but funding is still needed for the front nine. The course's new design is ADA accessible, intended to provide better access for disabled players. The course even hosts monthly games for their sight-impaired players.

Players can expect welcoming arms the moment they enter the Clubhouse, Rehab and Learning center, which was renovated in 2008 by another generous donation. Volunteers greet you at the welcome desk, eager to share the course's history and resources. They are also very happy to show off the impressive R&L center, equipped with a full swing golf simulator, large putting area, and access to Solo Riders (a specialty golf cart designed for players with mild to severe disabilities).

"We want vets to know that when they walk in, they can play all day for only $15," said volunteer Court Fraley.

That's quite a bargain, but it gets better. They also rent out equipment, provide one-on-one instruction year-round, and have a library that allows players to rent books, all for free. On top of that, you can grab lunch for only $4 if you come hit some balls during your lunch break. The course regularly hosts tournaments, including the PGA Northwest  Chapter Tournament in September, and their own Club hosted tournament in November.

Learn more about the course, fees, and general information at

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