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Military and Golf: Rich History, Challenging Future

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It’s my turn to tee off in the match I’ve got going with my buddy on the course at Fort Bragg, N.C., where we’re stationed with the 82nd Airborne Division. And since I don’t have an ice pick handy, I grab some of the fallen pine needles to make a little “bed” for my ball to lay on. No way a tee is going in the ground. It’s freezing outside and the ground is rock hard, but we’re playing golf anyway. Because we love it, the course is open, and it keeps us out of trouble.

Fort Bragg is in the Sand Hills region near Pinehurst and Southern Pines, otherwise known as The Home of American Golf. And while our modest little military base track pales compared to the sprawling, iconic Pinehurst courses, it’s as good as Augusta National to us. It’s our course, we can play it at a bargain-basement rate, and it provides almost everything the elite courses do – fun, competition, camaraderie, tradition, the great outdoors, and a place to make birdies.

And it’s responsible for one of my favorite and most enduring golf memories – watching Jack’s back-nine charge to his last green jacket with a clubhouse full of fellow service members. The roars emanating from our little building raised the roof. Nothing like sharing a special moment with kindred spirits. That’s one of golf’s great charms. But I digress…

Golf and the military have a long, rich history in this country. For as long as the game has flourished in America, military members have embraced the game, perhaps none more so than our Commander-in-Chiefs. Ike was an Augusta National member, and Gerald Ford skulled more than one spectator while playing (poorly yet avidly). Donald Trump owns courses and reportedly mixes rounds with running America, as did Obama, Clinton and the Bushes before him. When was the last time the POTUS didn’t avidly play golf? Jimmy Carter? Ronald Reagan?

Leave that to the fact-checkers, and it doesn’t matter. The point is that golf and the U.S. Military are deeply interwoven – from the highest level to the rank-and-file troops who comprise the vast majority. There are 145 American base golf facilities globally (111 in the U.S.). That portfolio makes it one of the largest collections of courses in the world. Add that there are tens of millions of past and present service members who golf, and countless generations to come, and it’s clear that military golf is, pardon the pun, a force to be reckoned with – good and bad.

The Good

The spectrum of courses ranges from modest, municipal-type tracks to top-notch layouts combining outstanding design with spectacular locations and views. Think Hawaii, California and Colorado, Virginia, Texas and South Carolina. As an Army vet who has worked in the golf industry for the past 20 years, I’ve experienced both first-hand, and I can honestly say that I got as much benefit from playing the military courses as from the swankiest resort or private club course.

Benefit is the key word when it comes to judging or evaluating military golf, which falls under the military’s department of Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR). Those three words perfectly describe the benefits that base golf facilities provide service members past and present, as well as their families.

Many service members – former and current – suffer from significant stress and physical disability. It is well-documented that they experience relief and enjoyment while they’re on the golf course, practice range or putting green. It helps them cope, heal and recover — to experience life as fun, hopeful and free from mental anguish again, even if for a short period of time. In many cases, these golf experiences serve as springboards to enhanced wellness. That’s good for their mental health and physical well-being and that of their families, as well as our military readiness overall.

The Bad

Since 2011, there have been zero funds appropriated for stateside golf courses. Most income base golf courses receive comes from green and cart fees. This creates annual revenue shortfalls as many base courses provide very low rates for service members past and present. Hence, many are falling into disrepair – both on and off course (practice facilities, on-course accessories, restrooms, additional accessibility, cart barns, maintenance equipment/facilities, clubhouses, etc.).

Left unchecked, this scenario spells, if not doom for military courses, certainly a slow, steady decline, and along with it the benefits afforded our selfless, patriotic soldiers.

The Solution

Operation Support Military Golf (OSMG) is a non-profit organization that was formed to address this challenge. To understand OSMG is to understand Founder Jennifer Poth and her father, Lt. Col. John E. Poth. USAF Ret. Jennifer was born with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, a condition that prevented her from following her father into military service, which was her dream.

After playing junior golf four years in high school, she signed with Texas A&M University. Its strong academics, athletic standards, and military presence inspired her. Jennifer left competitive golf after college and focused on using her Sports Management degree. Her goal was to work for the PGA Tour, so she packed her truck and drove from College Station, TX, to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. She spent her first six months in Florida scrubbing clubs, working the bag drop, and in the pro shop at TPC Sawgrass, ultimately earning a position traveling 26 weeks per year as a Shotlink Producer for the Tour. After seven years with the Tour, she parted ways, earned her master’s degree in Sports Management, then founded JP Golf Consulting and Design.

While working for herself was rewarding, bettering Florida golf courses did not fulfill her lifetime desire of serving her country. Shortly after the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings in 2013, Jennifer realized a way to serve our military through the game she loves. Since then, she has devoted her professional career to combining her love and passion for our United States Military and golf through OSMG.

OSMG is dedicated to “Reviving the Golf Courses that Revitalize our Heroes.” They are green-space havens that at some overseas bases are the only safe and/or affordable recreational space for service members and their families. Who does OSMG serve?

  • Active Duty & Reserve Personnel – as a means of R&R and unit bonding
  • Medically Retired, aka Wounded Warriors – in their life adjustment recovery process
  • Retired Veterans after an honorable career – as a well-earned perk for their service
  • Future Generations of service members – investing in our future and our people
  • Families of all the above – providing service members the knowledge that their dependents have a safe environment to learn and play a game that teaches positive, lifelong lessons, such as the values of integrity and tradition. This is especially important during deployments or as a means of reintegration upon their return.

With $1 million targeted per course for renovations and many facilities falling into disrepair, the Poths need many people and groups to rally together.

After five years traveling the country, putting countless pieces together (and using their personal savings to do so) – from navigating the protocol required to get military approval at the highest levels, to recruiting leading golf organizations to pledge their support – Jennifer and Lt. Col. Poth have built the runway. Now it’s time to fly. Work on OSMG’s inaugural project – at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, FL – is scheduled to begin this spring.

Arnold Palmer Design Company has made the in-kind contribution of providing the architectural drawing for a practice facility, and MacCurrach Golf Construction is scheduled to implement it this year. And several leading industry organizations have answered the call and pledged support though in-kind services to OSMG, including Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, American Society of Golf Course Architects and the Golf Course Builders Association of America.

There are not enough funds to replace the cart barn and two on-course restrooms at Mayport, but OSMG is striving to secure them. The second upgrade project will occur at MacDill Air Force Base, assuming funds are secured to complement the generous in-kind services already donated.

With the support of individual and corporate donors, Military Golf will have a solid future. That’s good for everyone.

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A University of Maryland graduate, Dan is a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic, now residing in NoVa. Fan of all D.C. professional sports teams, Dan fell in love with golf through Lee Trevino's style and skill during his peak years. Dan was a newspaper journalist, editor of Golf Inc. magazine, then a PR professional specializing in golf people, places and things for 17 years, rising to Vice President in Billy Casper Golf's PR division. In 2018, Dan started his own company, Dan Shepherd Public Relations, LLC, catering to golf, travel, lifestyle, attractions of all types, and non-profits (www.operationsupportmilitarygolf.com).

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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Just as in 2017, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will once again provide a change in format for the players this week. Players will team up once more at TPC Louisiana for a combination of Best Ball (Rounds 1 and 3) and Alternate Shot (Rounds 2 and 4). Unfortunately, the change in format means that there is no DraftKings this week.

The course is long at over 7,400 yards, but it’s also very generous off the tee. TPC Louisiana offers the opportunity to go low, and players took advantage last year despite the inclement weather conditions. It took a Monday playoff to separate them, but eventually Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt pipped Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown by making birdie on the fourth playoff hole to take the title after both teams had posted 27-under par in regulation.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson 7/1
  • Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay 12/1
  • Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley 14/1
  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer 14/1
  • Jon Rahm/Wesley Bryan 16/1
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello/Sergio Garcia 22/1

For the first time, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar (14/1) will team up for this event. Last year, Watson played alongside J.B Holmes. The two performed well, finishing in a tie for fifth place. TPC Louisiana has been a course that has suited Watson’s game over the years, his prodigious length being a significant factor. Along with his T-5 in 2017, Watson has a victory and three other top-20 finishes at the course when the event was an individual stroke-play tournament.

While Watson can be feast or famine at times, Kuchar is Mr. Consistent. He hasn’t missed a cut in over a year, and he has been a top-10 machine over the past few years on the PGA Tour. Despite this, Kuchar hasn’t been able to convert many of his top-10 finishes into wins, but playing alongside Watson this week — who has already notched two victories in 2018 — may help his cause. Over their last 24 rounds, Watson ranks third for Strokes Gained-Off the Tee and eighth in Strokes Gained Total. Over the same period, Kuchar has been predictably consistent, ranking in the top third in the field in every major Strokes Gained category. It’s an intriguing partnership, with Watson’s explosiveness combined with Kuchar’s consistency, and it’s a cocktail that should prove to be a formidable force at TPC Louisiana.

Two men with the hot hand coming into this event are fellow Americans, Jimmy Walker and Sean O’Hair (25/1). Last week at the Valero Texas Open both men excelled, posting the highest finishes of their year thus far. Walker finished solo 4th, while O’Hair grabbed a T-2. It’s the pairs first time playing TPC Louisiana together, but Walker has some good course form to lean on. Back in 2012 and 2013, he posted back-to-back top-20 finishes, which shows that TPC Louisiana is a course that fits his game. Accuracy off the tee has never been Walker’s strength, but the generous fairways may be one of the reasons that he has performed well at this course.

O’Hair has been in good form as of late. The Texan has three top-15 finishes in his last six events, and last week he recorded his highest Strokes Gained Total at an event in years. Walker also seems to have turned a corner with his game. Along with his excellent performance last week, he managed a top-20 finish at the Masters, and his Strokes Gained-Total at the Valero was his highest since his 2016 PGA Championship victory. With both men coming off their best performances in a long time, they should be confident. The duo looks to be a decent value to mount a challenge this week.

Last year’s runners-up Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown (40/1) are hard to ignore at their price this week. Brown has struggled mightily for form in 2018, missing six cuts out of 11 events played so far this year, but the prospect of playing alongside Kisner may be the boost that Brown’s 2018 is needing.

Kisner’s form has been strong as of late. He backed up his runner-up finish at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with a T-28 at Augusta before grabbing a T-7 at the RBC Heritage. At Harbour Town, Kisner’s iron play was especially sharp, with his Strokes Gained-Approaching the Greens total being the highest since the Memorial last year. Despite Brown’s slump, in a highly tricky format to predict, the pair showed enough chemistry last year and an ability to excel in the format, which is enough for me to consider their price a little undervalued this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar 14/1
  • Jimmy Walker/Sean O’Hair 25/1
  • Kevin Kisner/Scott Brown 40/1
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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argolf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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Podcasts

Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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