|Wounded warrior B.J. Jackson tees off at Ballybunion in Ireland. (Photo: Caroline Quinn)|
By Kevin Markham
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF
Copyright © Kevin Markham. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
(This is the second of two parts. Read Part 1.)
THE DRIVE BEHIND THIS TRIP CAME when Linton Walsh, CEO of Golf Digest Irish Tours, encountered the Folds of Honor Foundation on a trip to the United States. He met Major Ed Pulido, US Army (Ret.), and Vice President in the foundation, which is an organisation set up to look after wounded servicemen, the education of their children, and the care of those whose parent or spouse did not make it home.
Walsh got to see a small part of the trauma that US veterans had to live with, following their war experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. These men and women fought for their country and, quite literally put their bodies on the line, both for the United States and the free world—something greatly appreciated and respected by the Irish people. There were plenty of people against the wars, but not against the soldiers fighting them.
Once on Irish soil, the veterans were in much demand, with regular interviews and radio appearances. They made the front pages of newspapers and they were wined and dined by pubs, clubhouses and five-star hotels. It was an open-armed welcome as the Irish people took these wounded warriors to their hearts. I was honoured and lucky enough to meet a few of these remarkable figures at one of the world’s acclaimed links courses, towards the end of their trip.
I watched Lieutenant Colonel Carolyn Fota hitting her way slowly and methodically down The European Club’s 3rd fairway. Carolyn has been playing golf for a year and it forms part of the rehabilitation process following a traumatic brain injury she received after being hit in the head with a rifle butt, in Haiti.
Marine Sergeant Tim Lang lost his right leg and had his back broken in four places following a bomb blast in Iraq that threw him 75 feet into the air, while Danielle Green was awarded a Purple Heart for bravery after helping her fellow soldiers despite having her arm blown off by a rocket-propelled grenade on a rooftop in Iraq. Reading deeper into their stories is truly inspiring as well as heart-wrenching. But here, in Ireland, they were playing a game they had been encouraged to take up to help them find some peace and recuperation.
I discovered later that after only four years playing the game, Tim Lang is an 8-handicapper as well as a long drive champion, regularly hitting drives over 300 yards. If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.
When I asked them for their favourite course, Old Head of Kinsale took the honors, but they were also keen to stress what a great time they’d had in Ireland, and how wonderfully friendly the people had been.
Linton Walsh summed it up from the Irish perspective:
“You can talk about the warmth of an Irish welcome all you want, but this takes it to a whole new level. There is such genuine concern for these brave service members and their families; it makes me very proud to be Irish.”
Kevin Markham is the author of Hooked: An Amateur’s Guide to the Golf Courses of Ireland and writes about Irish golf courses at his blog.