The 8th Annual Veterans Day Golf Tournament hosted by Fairways For Warriors on November 9, 2018, was a success netting $55,000 that will be used to help combat veterans from all wars and conflicts for golf instruction, family support, and future events. Fairways For Warriors invited new members to come out to Eagle Creek Golf Club in Orlando, Florida, for the very first time to experience the bonds of camaraderie on the links. In addition to the familiar faces and a wealth of volunteers, an eagle named Thunder sat stoically on her perch overlooking the 18th hole. Her presence embodied the American spirit, a metaphor for the overall event. Everyone from golfers to volunteers wanted to take a picture with her at the instruction of her handler David Redd, though there was restraint as this 25-year-old apex predator wasn’t intimidated by anyone.
In the morning President Tom Underdown and Executive Director Brian Hicks led a coordinated effort alongside Executive Assistant Kate Wujek responsible for assigning volunteers to offer raffles, sign-up for silent auctions, sell T-shirts and camo golf shoes . Hicks introduced the participating golfers that stood below the deck of the clubhouse to the initiatives that Fairways For Warriors stands for. He then handed off the microphone to Brian Holmes and he offered a prayer before heading out that set the tone for the day that lay ahead. Fairways For Warriors Board Member Robert “BJ” Jackson Jr. , closed out the speeches with a reminder as to why we were all there in the first place: to use the medium of golf to heal unseen wounds.
Healing Unseen Wounds
On this hot sunny Friday, 20 veterans paired into foursomes of 144 total golfers and they spent time joking, reminiscing about shared combat experiences, and focusing on the task of playing golf with their fellow brothers and sisters. This unity that golf provides allows veterans to not think about their disabilities and injuries, rather to put that time and energy into the sport and come together to make new memorable experiences. One Fairways For Warriors veteran named Ryan Leighton gave a testimonial later in the day and said, “The goal is to never have others know something happened to us”.
Ryan served 25 years in the Marines retiring as a 1st Sergeant. , Ryan is one of many combat veterans at this tournament that preach the positive impacts that golf can cognitively, emotionally, and socially improve and benefit overall health.
Everyone was welcoming, supportive for their fellow veteran or volunteer, and genuinely cared about each other’s stories. Some holes had special events, like the “Closest to the Pin” on the 5th, Long Drive on the 12th, $10,000 “Hole in one” on the 18th, and a “Beat the Pro” drawing where golfers were randomly drawn to compete at the chance of winning $100,000 if they made a Hole in One. Unfortunately, no golfer walked away with deeper pockets.
After all the teams finished their round of golf, everyone piled into the clubhouse where they were served a buffet-style lunch. The live auction followed lunch and offered unique prizes from a Scotty Cameron Newport Putter to signed frames from many legendary courses including the Old Course St Andrews. A three-day two-night vacation package in New Smyrna Beach, FL, and smaller items like golf covers and Callaway golf balls were some of the other great options to bid on.
In closing, friendships were made, past relationships were strengthened, and everybody left with a smile on their faces. Fairways For Warriors isn’t just any organization with a mission, it’s a family. If a member needs family support , they will provide it (one member got support that helped him get married). If one is having a tough day, they have phone numbers of other veterans they can talk to and connect with as they share similar experiences. But ultimately, all bond over the sense of belonging and the challenge and concentration it takes to play the mental game of golf as it continues to thrive as a healing medium. This writer was honored and privileged to be welcomed during this special day.