A golf course was added on the American Lake Veterans Hospital grounds outside Tacoma in the mid-1950s. Originally the course served individuals recovering from all types of illnesses and injuries, but it did not focus on veterans. In the mid-1990s, the golf course fell into a state of disrepair until retired Korean War vet Harold Roberts started a non-profit on May 3, 2004 and vowed to rebuild the golf course. Today, this course is the only one in the nation devoted specifically to veterans and their disabilities.
From its inception, the American Lake Veterans golf course has been a place where veterans can go to relax, play ball and feel accepted. In a sense, this course has become a support group and a coping mechanism during recovery. The positive environment is a step towards positive attitudes and good health. It helps veterans tackle depression and ease feelings of isolation.
According to ESPN, 90 percent of the players on the course are wounded veterans — some are blind, some have amputated limbs, and others can’t walk at all. All veterans are encouraged to join; the goal is for all veterans to enjoy the course while increasing their independence.
The course has become more accessible over the years through donations and clinics. Staffed entirely by volunteers who provide upkeep and services to the veterans, American Lake has accessible bunkers, greens, and specialized golf carts for those who are wheelchair bound or have trouble walking.
When the club holds special events, the covered pavilion offers a comfortable place to socialize and have meals. A covered driving range provides protection from the sun and other elements during play. Along with the physical adaptations, American Lake offers specialized golf lessons and a clinic at no charge to its members.
In 2012, Jack Nicklaus visited the American Lake golf course. While not a veteran himself, Nicklaus holds high esteem towards those who serve their country. In a brief 24-hour visit, Nicklaus held a clinic and fundraiser with the goal to raise at least $500,000 to go towards a new planned expansion bearing his name. After the fundraiser, Nicklaus volunteered his design services for a nine-hole expansion and then showed up in September 2013 during the groundbreaking ceremonies. Nicklaus told veterans during the ceremony to be sure to play within their capabilities.
Through the clinic, Nicklaus was able to go above and beyond the initial goal of $500,000 and raise a total of $600,000. The extra money was spent on the installation of an irrigation pond; a system that would provide the water to the entire 18-hole golf course.
Visitors to the American Lake golf course can see just how dedicated the course is to its veterans with just one look around. It’s not surprising to see double-amputees, veterans with service dogs or those who are completely paralyzed playing from a designated cart that lifts them into a standing position. The beautiful course is a haven for war veterans who might not otherwise meet to come together as one.
The American Lake golf course treats veterans from all over the country. With the help of volunteers, these veterans have to opportunity to learn what their bodies can still do in a positive and non-judgmental environment. While the whole process can initially be extremely frustrating to a newly injured veteran, the camaraderie of others in the same position allows members to see they are not alone in their experience. Golf brings these veterans together.