Second of two parts
No matter where they are stationed or where their assignments take them, there is a strong likelihood that golf-loving service members will find themselves at a base with a golf course. The Department of Defense oversees more than 150 golf facilities at military installations around the world.
These facilities range from the 54 holes at Andrews Air Force Base, site of the June match between President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner, to Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s scenic Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course, which has several holes along the Pacific Ocean, to the nine-hole course at far-flung yet strategically crucial Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.
While most military courses are modest designs, the Defense Department does boast gems by some of golf’s notable course architects: Donald Ross (Fort Bragg), William S. Flynn (Naval Academy), Robert Trent Jones Sr. (Air Force Academy) and Robert Trent Jones Jr. (Fort Gordon).
While no military course has hosted a USGA championship, some of golf’s major sites have a connection to national security. During World War II, the government leased Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., and used the grounds as a training facility for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency. Congressional’s Blue Course has hosted three U.S. Opens, including the 2011 championship.
In San Diego, a clifftop setting overlooking the Pacific Ocean was an artillery-training center known as Camp Callan. After World War II, the father-son duo of William P. and William F. Bell converted the former military post into Torrey Pines Golf Course. Its South Course hosted the 2008 U.S. Open.
Similarly, Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits was formerly a military airfield called Camp Haven. Whistling Straits’ designer is Pete Dye, whose design sensibilities were influenced during his Army tenure. While stationed at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, Dye made regular trips with officers to play Pinehurst No. 2, 40 miles away. “The exposure to Pinehurst No. 2 during my military years greatly affected me in the decades to come,” he later wrote.
Dr. Alister MacKenzie, the architect of Cypress Point and Augusta National, also owed much to his experiences in the military. During the Boer War and World War I, the Englishman was a surgeon and also became an expert in camouflage techniques. After immigrating to the United States, he used the latter skill to incorporate natural features seamlessly into his courses.
There are other skills that transfer from military operations to course design, as Lester George found out. The principal designer of the site of the 2011 USGA Senior Amateur, Kinloch Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va., George was an artillery officer in the Army before hanging out his shingle.
“I developed a keen sense of analysis, target acquisition, map reading,” says George, who retired as a lieutenant colonel. “We approach architecture with the same kind of leadership, problem-solving skills, logistical planning and leadership as we needed in the Army.”
George’s knowledge of artillery also was useful during his renovation of the two courses at Virginia’s Langley Air Force Base that were damaged by Hurricane Isobel in 2003. During the project, George’s crew discovered 17,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance – some bombs weighed 500 pounds – on the site, which had been a bombing range prior to being converted into golf courses in 1948.
When it comes to perilous hazards, no facility can match Camp Bonifas, a United Nations Command post located just south of the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea. Featuring an artificial-surface green and surrounded by an 18-foot fence and a six-foot-deep trench, the 192-yard hole is known, according to the sign next to it, as “the world’s most dangerous golf course.”
Whereas most people routinely dismiss golf’s most famous advisory – the one at the first tee of two-time U.S. Open site Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y., that recommends that only highly skilled golfers challenge the course – nobody should ignore the warning at the bottom of Camp Bonifas’ sign: “Danger! Do not retrieve balls from the rough: live mine fields.”
Thankfully, the other military layouts aren’t nearly as lethal. On the contrary, they are quite friendly, especially when it comes to price. The courses charge below-market green fees on a sliding scale: the higher your rank, the more you pay.
At Virginia’s Fort Belvoir Golf Club, a 36-hole facility located in a heavily populated suburb of Washington, D.C., enlisted soldiers pay $19 for a weekday green fee while officers are charged $27. The cart fee is $18.
“In this area, our golf conditions would command a $60 fee with cart [at a privately owned course],” says Jeff Lychwick, Fort Belvoir’s general manager. “We’re like a municipal golf course. The only difference is that our customer base is limited to military personnel, veterans and civilian employees of the Department of Defense.”
Falling under the division in each service branch that provides morale, welfare and recreational programs, military golf courses receive little to no Congressional funding. As a revenue-generating activity, golf courses have to be self-sustaining and even finance other recreational programs at the installation.
The unique fee structure provides financial challenges for Lychwick, who occasionally is confronted with additional stresses due to Fort Belvoir’s location, just minutes from the Pentagon and the White House. “We’re close to the flagpole,” says Lychwick.
The military’s top brass play there regularly, as does the commander in chief. Fortunately, those high-profile visits can provide Lychwick with an opportunity to secure additional resources that ensure a well-conditioned course for VIPs. “You treat the generals like you do the owner of the golf course,” says Lychwick.
For Lychwick, a civilian, the job’s benefits outstrip its difficulties. “It’s very rewarding,” he says. “You talk to these folks and you get a strong sense of pride. You feel honored that you can serve them.”
The service members and veterans, for their part, recognize the value of military courses. “It’s one of the best-kept secrets in golf,” says Brian Duffy, a retired Air Force colonel and former Space Shuttle astronaut. “The courses are rarely what you’d classify as outstanding. But they are good layouts that are well maintained and challenging. It’s always fun to play a new course and I take advantage of it whenever I can.”
While Fort Belvoir is only accessible to military and Defense Department employees, other military courses are open to the public. Anyone in Southern California can head to Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach and try to match the nine-hole score of 48 shot by 2-year-old Tiger Woods at Navy Golf Course, where he learned to play.
Since turning pro, Woods has acknowledged his connection to the military in several ways. His PGA Tour event, the AT&T National, has honored the military with ceremonies, events and free admission to 30,000 Department of Defense personnel. He also has given several clinics to service members, including one in 2004 aboard the U.S.S. George Washington, which was stationed in the Arabian Gulf.
“I wanted to come here because I was raised in the military, with my father being in the Army, and I understand the sacrifices he made for our country,” Woods said at the time. “And I understand all the sacrifices you are making for our country, and I wanted to honor that. I want to do whatever I can to make you guys realize how thankful we are for all the jobs you guys are doing for us.”
Woods developed his game by watching his father, a former Army Special Forces officer, but current children of service members can learn by taking part in free First Tee programs – thanks to special Congressional funding – at more than 100 military installations around the world. The game and its many lessons can help fill the huge void left by a parent who is overseas.
“Deployment is incredibly hard on the soldiers and family alike,” wrote the mother of two military First Tee participants, “but knowing the children are engaged in healthy, character-building activities reassures [their father] that they are being instructed while he is away.
“My children are excited to share with Dad any time we can telephone about the things they are learning in First Tee. My daughter has even written him a letter telling her dad she will teach him to golf when he returns. My son likewise has said one of the first things he wants to do after Dad comes home is take him golfing.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this amazing program.”
The First Tee CEO Joe Louis Barrow understands better than most the importance of morale to a fighting force. He is the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, whose patriotism during World War II – he enlisted in the Army, fought 96 exhibition matches and graced a recruiting poster – made him an iconic figure in the war effort.
“Golf has embraced the military without a lot of fanfare,” says Barrow. “People don’t realize the significant impact we have had. When we get letters like these, it makes me proud of our industry and our organization.”
Hunki Yun is a senior staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him at email@example.com.