Nicklaus Answers the Call at American Lake

Jack Nicklaus was on hand on August 30 for the official groundbreaking ceremony of what will become the new “Nicklaus Nine” at American Lake Veterans Golf Course in Lakewood, Wash.

Jack Nicklaus (center, wearing tan jacket) helps with the groundbreaking of the new Nicklaus Nine at American Lake Veterans GC.

American Lake is currently a 9-hole golf course, and Nicklaus’ golf course architecture company, Nicklaus Design, has donated his design services for the expansion project. When complete, the layout will be a one-of-a-kind 18-hole course geared specifically for disabled golfers.

Along with Nicklaus, on hand for the ceremony was Washington Governor Jay Inslee; Jim Sims, president of the Friends of American Lake Veterans GC, which organizes the volunteers who maintain the course; Don Anderson, mayor of Lakewood; Michael Murphy, director of American Lake Veterans Hospital; SSGT Leroy Petry, Medal of Honor recipient; and PGA Professional Ken Still. It was Still, a native of Tacoma, who was instrumental in getting Nicklaus involved in the American Lake project. Still and Nicklaus have been friends since their days on the PGA Tour, and were teammates on the 1969 U.S. Ryder Cup team, held that year at Royal Birkdale and famous for Nicklaus’ sportsmanlike concession of the final putt to Great Britain’s Tony Jacklin.

Also at the groundbreaking was Troy Andrew, CEO and Executive Director of the Washington State Golf Association, which is a major supporter of American Lake Veterans GC.

When asked why he got involved in this project, when he has so many other projects around the world he’s working on, Nicklaus responded, “Look at what’s here, look at what’s going on. And look at what’s going on in the world today. They need our help, and I can do this part.”

Nicklaus continued, saying, “The benefits of golf for these (wounded veterans) is getting out and doing something, and doing it with others who are having the same problems they’re having. It’s great therapy.”

Nicklaus first became involved with this project five years ago. “It’s taken a long time to get to this point,” he said. “Now it’s finally going to get built.”

The design will be different than anything Nicklaus has ever done, because he’ll have to design it to accommodate all aspects of disabled challenges, such as getting a cart in and out of a bunker and having easy access to greens. “It’s going to be a good golf course, a fun golf course.”

Still had made the initial call to Nicklaus to ask him if he’d have any interest in getting involved, and Nicklaus had not heard of the course. “I had no idea what I was getting into, none whatsoever,” he says. “Then I got here and saw it for the first time, and saw what was going on, I made my decision pretty quick about what I was going to do. It was a pretty easy decision for me.”

Watch Nicklaus’ full interview here.

The existing nine holes of the golf course located on the grounds of the VA Hospital in Lakewood is the nation’s only golf course designed and utilized specifically for the rehabilitation of wounded and disabled veterans. It is operated and maintained exclusively by volunteers, without any government financial assistance or paid employees.

With tax deductible financial and in-kind donations, volunteers have made incredible strides in making the course more accessible to veterans with disabilities. The number of wounded veterans the course serves continues to grow each year. With the completion of the new Nicklaus Nine, the course will be made entirely ADA-accessible.

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