Jack Nicklaus donates his design services to American Lake veterans’ course

Updated: August 5, 2010

Jack Nicklaus may have been putting on a golf clinic when he visited the Seattle area last month, but there was much more on his mind.

Like helping the veterans and the folks who run the American Lake Veterans Golf Course in Tacoma.

Nicklaus was in town to put on a show and take a look at a project he will do on his own dime. Nicklaus will design a new nine at the American Lake Veterans Course, a course that helps injured veterans begin to cope with their disabilities.

Former PGA Tour pro Ken Still has known Nicklaus for years and years. In fact, the two were Ryder Cup teammates back in 1969. Still had never asked Nicklaus for anything, until it came time to help the veterans and the folks at American Lake Veterans Golf Course.

Still called Nicklaus for help with American Lake Golf Course at the VA Hospital in Lakewood, the only course in the country that is completely accessible to wounded and disabled veterans.

“Jack, you need to be involved down here,” Still told Nicklaus.

“What do you want me to do, Kenny?” Nicklaus asked.

“I want you to come out here and design a golf course for these guys,” Still replied.

Nicklaus had a one-word response: “OK.”

That is the conversation which led Nicklaus to Tacoma Country and Golf Club for a clinic and to take a look at the land where he will design a new nine for the veterans. That conversation was the seed for what took place this week.

“We will redo a little bit of the old nine to match up with the new nine,” he said. “We’ll have 18 holes of golf, and hopefully this will be a prototype for a lot of places around the country.”

Nicklaus, 70, knew nothing about American Lake Golf Course until he heard from Still, who has given free lessons for years at the course. Nicklaus did not know that it was run entirely by volunteers, many of them veterans in their 70s, nor was he aware of the positive impact that golf can have on wounded veterans.

Once Nicklaus started meeting with those veterans, the project took on special meaning for him.

At the end of his clinic Monday, Nicklaus worked individually with several disabled and wounded veterans, giving encouragement after each shot. At times, Nicklaus seemed to get choked up. Afterward, he posed for pictures and signed autographs until every veteran was satisfied.

Nicklaus is one of the most respected and renowned golf designers in the world. But this project will present unique challenges for him. He will need to make a course that is accessible to the disabled, yet challenging for able-bodied veterans.