Veterans group seeks to build golf course

By Al TaysMarch 14, 2015, 8:10 am

There isn’t much evidence left that this land once was a golf course. Just some weatherbeaten stone tee markers rising from the weeds like miniature monoliths, and patches of pavement that used to be cart paths. But if Tom Underdown has his way, Bermuda grass will again grow here, as neatly trimmed as the haircuts of the men who hope to call this place home.

Underdown, 64, is no developer, and his vision is of no ordinary golf club. The Warrior Golf Club would be the home of the Orlando, Fla., chapter of Fairways for Warriors, a nonprofit organization founded by Underdown, both of whose parents served in the military, to help wounded veterans and their families. 

Fairways for Warriors holds outings, tournaments and clinics at several courses in the Orlando area. But it has to shoehorn its activities into their schedules, which, especially during Florida’s snowbird season, are often full. “We can’t always do all the things we want to do or need to do for our soldiers and their families,” Underdown said.

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“Having our own place, we could have our guys going there every single day.”

Fairways for Warriors is in negotiations to lease part of the former Meadow Woods Golf Course, which is currently owned by a church. Underdown envisions a driving range, a nine-hole course, a three-hole practice area, a short-game area and a clubhouse.

The facility is eight miles from a Veterans Affairs medical center which is scheduled to open this year. Underdown said veterans would be able to get from the VA center to the Fairways for Warriors facility via a light-rail system.

“We can provide jobs for these guys,” Underdown said. “We’ve got so many guys who are 100 percent disabled, sitting home every day - they could go to the Warrior Golf Club, they could volunteer for a couple of hours, they could hang out. The quality of life for them and their family would just escalate so much. We want to have seminars, activities, events at the clubhouse. We want to have a workout room, we want to have a library, a coffee shop. [It would be] so much more than just a golf clubhouse.”  

Underdown said Hilton Grande Vacations “has stepped up to be our major sponsor,” and he hopes to get assistance from the PGA of America, but Fairways for Warriors needs more financial help. “We need $1.2 million for the clubhouse, about $1.5 [million] to redo the greens and fairways. We need more donations.” Once the facility is up and running, Underdown estimates, green fees and other golf-related revenues would make it self-sufficient.

For most golfers, the opportunity to play on any given day is a luxury. For wounded veterans, it can be much more.

Many veterans who went into the military as teenagers find themselves exiting to a civilian life they have never experienced as an adult. The most mundane activities can be furiously frustrating.

Fairways for Warriors member Eric Napier smiles when he’s asked about a scene in the Oscar-winning movie “The Hurt Locker.” The main character, a bomb-disposal expert, is back home in the U.S. and standing in the cereal aisle of a grocery store. The camera pans over dozens of cereal choices, then focuses on actor Jeremy Renner’s face, which registers – depending on your interpretation – frustration, disgust, anger, confusion. Renner’s character ends up returning to Iraq and his insanely dangerous job, which he prefers to the mundaneness of civilian life.


Fairways for Warriors members Eric Napier (l), Steve Allberry

“I told people about that,” said Napier, who spent nearly eight years in the Army and was deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Senegal. “I came home and was really stressed out from the minutia of everyday life. Some people didn’t get it. They said it’s nothing compared to what you’ve been through. I said it’s the fact that there’s so much drama over so little that’s so stressful.

“When we’re over there working, we really have a handful of priorities. They’re life-and-death priorities, but I’ve got a handful and I can check them off. When I get home, I have an armload of priorities that don’t matter whether they get done or not, but the world we’ve built around ourselves, it’s life and death if I don’t get to the dry cleaners and pay that cellphone bill.

“It’s easy to get frustrated – ‘Why am I so upset over things that hold so little importance in my life and my family’s lives?’”

Frustration too often leads veterans to an irrevocable decision – to commit suicide.

Every member of Fairways for Warriors can recite this key statistic from a 2012 report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs - every day, 22 veterans commit suicide.

Talking to Fairways for Warriors members, it’s rare to find one who hasn’t experienced suicidal feelings or known someone who has committed suicide. Underdown remembers a veteran who called him after learning about Fairways for Warriors, and wanted to join the group. “He was going to come out on a Saturday,” Underdown said. “The Monday before, he committed suicide.” Underdown can’t help but wonder if immediate access to a Fairways for Warriors club facility might have saved that veteran’s life.

Although it seems logical that once military men and women escape a war zone alive and return to their loved ones, their lives should improve, the sobering truth is that they still face life-threatening danger.

On the urban battlefield, the enemy hid in plain sight. Virtually any place, any person, might be concealing a bomb. Back in the United States, many of the veterans themselves have become time bombs, with potential detonators in their own minds and bodies: depression, pain, nightmares, rage, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The substances they often use to dull their pain – alcohol and drugs – become detonators as well.

A more effective treatment can simply be finding something to do and someone to talk to who understands what you’re going through. Through the vehicle of golf, Fairways for Warriors provides these two things.

“I was in a real bad place a little over a year ago,” said Fairways for Warriors member Steve Allberry, an Army veteran.  “Once I got connected with Fairways, I sold my house and moved over here to be closer. This organization is one of the best things that’s ever happened. I can’t wait -I sit around the house looking at the clock wondering when’s my next tee time with Fairways. I’m ready to get out. Everybody in Fairways is my family. I’ll do anything for them because I know they’d do anything for me.”

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.