With a golden shovel in hand, the legendary golfer known as the Golden Bear broke ground Friday on what someday will be the 10th hole fairway at the American Lake Veterans Golf Course in Lakewood.
For three years, Jack Nicklaus and his design firm have helped plan a nine-hole addition to the course for military veterans and their families called the “Nicklaus Nine.” The new holes are meant to serve disabled older veterans as well as younger vets recovering from war wounds and injuries, plus able-bodied military members stationed at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“The focus of our course is the rehabilitative aspect of golf for veterans and their families,” said Jim Sims, president of the golf course.
Initial work won’t begin until fall, when crews start to clear the land and shape the course, and there’s no opening date on the horizon. But Friday’s ceremonial presentation marked the transition from designing the course to constructing it.
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The foundation has raised $1.4 million so far; it estimates the nine-hole addition will cost about $5 million.
The current 377-acre nine-hole course meets the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, just as the addition will. Everything from tee boxes to bunkers to golf carts are modified to make the game easier to play for those with disabilities.
“We would love to see this happen across the country,” said Nicklaus, the all-time leader in major golf championships with 18 – four more than Tiger Woods. “But we have to start somewhere.”
Though Nicklaus never served in the armed forces, he feels strongly about helping hurting veterans take a step toward recovery.
“If it helps one person, it’s worth the whole thing,” Nicklaus said.
Aaron Boyle knows the rehabilitative effects of golf personally. While deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, the 24-year-old Army sergeant stepped on a land mine and lost his right arm and right leg.
Boyle played at American Lake with his grandfather when he was a boy and now uses the course three to four times per week.
“I got lucky, I’m naturally left-handed,” said Boyle, who said he was reluctant to go back to golfing at first but finally gave it a try last July. “When I hit that first ball, all the memories came back.”
Nicklaus got involved when Fircrest resident Ken Still, a friend and fellow retired professional golfer, called to ask for help with the project. Nicklaus acknowledged he didn’t know the enormity of what he was getting into, but he knew it was the right decision.
“This is my number one,” said Nicklaus of the project, which is one of the 346 golf courses his company has helped design and build.
“It pulls at your heart.”