During the opening ceremony of the Veterans Golf Association’s National Championship at Fallen Oak on Tuesday, salutes burst through the air faster than range balls on the practice tee.
More than 84 golfers readied red, white and blue golf swings for Round One.
Veterans who were about to brandish 14 clubs on a battlefield of birdies and pars saluted as Rob West belted out “The Star Spangled Banner,” their red glares illuminated as if they had witnessed the triumphant flying of the flag at Fort McHenry with Francis Scott Key. Moving!
Josh Peyton and Aaron Ojard helped establish the association in 2014 while both were trying to shake off war’s afflictions. Their Pinehurst rehab included a few hot dog wagers and an idea to create an organization dedicated “to promoting the game to all veterans and their family members,” ultimately providing recreational and competitive golf for veterans, wounded and family.
“This is not just about the competition,” Peyton announced to the golfers. “It’s about making new relationships.”
Golf marches on and applies a tourniquet to the ravages of war.
Ojard and his service dog Yujin (U-Gene) were rock stars for a day.
“We had over 150 competitions nationwide in 44 states,” boasted Ojard. “We now have over 2,500 members who compete.”
Veterans participate all year long to earn points that allow them to enter four super regionals. I waited for a Humvee with Wilson Staff clubs to drive down the signature hole.
Director of Golf Rick Gehr’s smile grew wider than the South Pacific when asked about the event.
“I was a Navy brat,” said Gehr. “My dad served for 33 years.”
Clearly, Gehr’s job is a bit easier when precision flows through an organization.
“They are very organized and are obviously on time,” remarked Gehr.
Purple Heart recipient and VGA Advisory Board Member Mike Peterson knew he wanted to bring the championship to the Beau Rivage and Fallen Oak the minute he heard about the group. Sacrifice and service are as palpable as buffet entrees for the Beau Rivage Executive Director of Casino Marketing.
Colt Ford’s “Answer to No One” delivers the patriotic background for last year’s inaugural visit to Fallen Oak, and his line “If you love ’em let ’em know, if you hate let it go” reminds us why the flag waves victoriously for everyone.