If you’ve played a round of golf over Labor Day weekend in recent years you’ve probably come across a charitable cause that is close to the heart of the Carolinas PGA.
With more than 175 clubs and courses participating, the Carolinas’ section led the United States in fundraising for the Folds of Honor Foundation in 2014, raising more than $500,000. The foundation provides scholarships and educational assistance to the spouses and dependents of those that have been killed or disabled in military service.
Patriot Golf Day, held over the Labor Day weekend at venues across the country, is the organization’s signature event – and a simple idea. Golfers are asked to contribute an extra dollar to their greens fees with the money going to the Folds of Honor. Of course, many golfers recognize the opportunity to do more.
“They take it to heart,” says Ron Schmid, the CPGA executive director. “They do more than just put a dollar in a pot.”
And many golf facilities around the Carolinas now take it upon themselves to initiate formal events outside of Labor Day weekend.
“We have a campaign in the summer to remind them to ramp up and prepare their weekend, and in most cases, they’re way ahead of us,” Schmid says. “They go out and conduct an event to try to raise some funds. Clubs take great pride in knowing how successful they were.”
Since its founding in 2007, the organization has awarded more than 7,500 scholarships, including more than 2,000 in 2014. Prestonwood Country Club in Cary and Hillandale Golf Course in Durham each raised more than $10,000 last year.
Hillandale’s Patriot Golf Day fundraising is led by PGA professional Karl Kimball, and his tribute is really one of a kind.
A sign in the 18th fairway denotes the area as a “Fairway of Honor.” On a carefully groomed stretch, he neatly paints the names of all the North Carolina servicemen killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
It is a solemn pursuit, but a meaningful one for Kimball. For each fallen hero, he lists the branch of service, rank and name. Last year, he spent six hours emptying 31 cans of white spray paint. In doing so, he honored 195 lives.
“The idea is for (the golfers) to drive 100 yards of fairway and realize there is a debt to be addressed,” he says. “The greatest gift we can give is to further their education. Our job is to raise as much money as we can.”
The individual responses are sometimes remarkable. A U.S. Marine once walked into the Hillandale pro shop and, without saying a word, shook Kimball’s hand and left.
“It’s an extremely powerful thing,” he explains. “If their ball lands on one of the names, we ask them to remove the ball. I’m amazed watching the acrobatics people will go through to retrieve their ball without stepping on the names.
“It’s taken the shape of allowing people to heal.”
Kimball’s commitment to the foundation doesn’t end there. In the past, he has played 24-hour golf marathons. His supporters have sponsored him by the shot, with flat fees – whatever makes the donations roll in. Over two years, he raised $28,000.
Folds of Honor was founded in 2007 by Maj. Dan Rooney, a PGA professional who served as an F-16 fighter pilot in Iraq. When he arrived home from his second tour of duty, he sat on his commercial flight and watched as a flag-covered casket of a U.S. serviceman was met by his family, including a 4-year old son. That was the inspiration for Folds of Honor.
Since then, the golf community has supported the cause with unique fundraisers, particularly in the Carolinas.
“We really embrace our military,” Kimball says. “Only a grateful nation knows that we can’t ever repay that debt. It’s impossible. Families and individuals pay such a price so we can stay here and play a round of golf and not worry about anything. My staff is grateful.”
Patriot Golf Day 2015 will be held Sept 4- 7. The Folds of Honor organization is happy to help any facility interested in hosting events over Labor Day weekend and throughout the year.
The Carolinas PGA section has grown to be the largest of the PGA’s 41 sections with almost 2,000 professional members and 800 facilities. To date, it has raised more than $2.5 million for the Folds of Honor.
“They’re the 1 percent that are allowing the 99 percent to live the life that they do,” Schmid says. “I think people who support Patriot Golf Day and Folds of Honor feel really good that they’re helping put up that umbrella of freedom that we stand under.”