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On the Road: God bless America's military golf courses

By David R. Holland, Senior Writer

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- There's an old joke among military golfers about what each four branches of the service would do in case they arrived at work and the door was locked and barricaded.

Air Force Academy's Eisenhower Blue Course
Designed by Robert Trent Jones, the Air Force Academy's Eisenhower Blue Course is ranked by Golf Digest in Colorado's Top Ten.
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Air Force Academy's Eisenhower Blue CourseThe Fort Golf Course
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The Marines would post a guard immediately, order him to stand at attention and secure the perimeter. The Army would form up the battalion and march in formation around the building. The Navy would find the nearest body of water and commandeer all the row boats. And the Air Force officer would make a bee-line for the golf course.

Okay, it's just a joke - an exaggeration - please no irate e-mails from the Navy.

Fortunately, my 20-plus years in the Air Force and the Reserve gave me ample opportunities to do just that. You arrive at a new base and immediately check out the golf course.

Amazingly, three of the golf complexes outlined below - Colorado's Air Force Academy, California's Fort Ord, and Indianapolis' Fort Benjamin Harrison - were all places I just happened to be stationed at one time or another.

Toward the end of my career when our government sadly started closing military bases and forts, a new "soldier" emerged. We call it a "purple" suiter. Instead of the green of the Army and Marines, the blue of the Air Force and the navy blue and white of the Navy, we all blended together working on the same projects.

Many operations today use all branches of the armed forces, thus combining them for a common goal. I had bosses who wore the uniforms of all four branches. And that's why today's military men and women can be in the Air Force and work at an Army post.

These lucky airmen, soldiers and sailors get exposed to a lot of different golf courses.

These are only a few of the best military golf courses and many, where bases were closed, have lived on, taken over by the city they were attached to. Sometimes these courses still provide a cheaper rate for the military retirees who live in the area. But some don't

The Military's No. 1 Golf Course

At the Air Force Academy's Eisenhower Blue Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, one will find a layout so highly regarded it's ranked in the state's Top Ten by Golf Digest.

This stunning 7,000-plus yard layout shares the same foothills terrain as does the legendary Broadmoor, just 20 minutes to the south in Colorado Springs. Ponderosa pines, pinon and juniper line the fairways with rolling mounds, ponds and almost tame deer and wild turkey.

Like The Broadmoor, it could be one of the toughest golf courses you have ever tried to sink a putt on.

"There's not a straight putt to be found," said Jim Todd III, a special forces Army vet from nearby Fort Carson. "I don't care if your putt is only four inches or three feet, it's not going to be straight."

The Air Force Academy is truly a sight to behold and yes, visitor's are welcome to explore the area and its Visitor's Center. Back in the 1970's when the Department of Defense (DoD) was getting lots of flack about $400 toilet seats, there were rumors that a base map given to visitors didn't even show the location of the golf courses. The AFA's brass didn't want the thousands of visitors to know there were two championship-caliber golf courses on the awesome acreage.

The Eisenhower Golf Club, which also includes a Silver Course, was named for our 34th President Dwight David Eisenhower, and on July 8, 1963, Ike personally dedicated the Blue Course by hitting a tee shot off the No. 1 tee. The driver use by General Eisenhower is displayed in the pro shop.

The Silver Course, designed by Frank Hummel, opened in 1976 and is also a demanding scenic track. It measures 6,519 yards and requires you to be accurate and a good putter.

Like all active military bases the rates are great for military active duty, retirees and DoD employees. Like a private club, you can play the course if accompanied by a military member. The twilight $10 fee at the Blue Course is as good as it gets.

A Former Army Beauty in Indiana

The Fort Golf Course is eight miles north of Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis, where native son Pete Dye was hired to redesign this hilly layout situated on beautiful Fort Benjamin Harrison, which closed in the 1990s.

Dye's design fee cost Indiana only $1. And he marveled at the property calling it the best damn piece of ground he'd ever seen. The course is located on the 1,700-acre Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park, and whereas much of Indiana is a land of flat corn fields, this property is hilly and heavily wooded.

Even though Fort Ben has closed, a massive Defense Finance and Accounting Service building is still operational. In fact, its the second largest building in the DoD next to the Pentagon. The golf course is a minute away, within the borders of the largest contiguously wooded area of any park within U.S. city limits.

Old vets say Dye gave the military track a new look, molding new holes from dense land dotted with mature oaks and pines. The fairways from the first two holes were retained from the original layout, but everything else is Dye handiwork.

Fort Ben's new track, which re-opened in 1997, glistens with the par-three No. 5, where golfers don't need their woodland-patterned fatigues to strike it from an elevated tee over a wetland energized by a creek and waterfall to a critically-sloped green. In its young rebirth, the 7,144-yard course has been reported in great condition at times and not so great at other times.

"If you are one of those golfers from the mountain west part of our country you probably think of Indianapolis as just a big city surrounded by a corn field," said Joe Thompson, a retired Army staff sergeant. "But when you drive on to what was once Fort Ben and see the golf course you might change your mind. This is a beautiful spot. I love it particularly in the fall when the leaves are changing colors. It's far from flat and uninteresting."

Golf Digest selected this course third on its list of "Best New Affordable Public Courses" for 1998.

One of Fort Ben's historic buildings was turned into a hotel with the newly restored Garrison Restaurant and Conference Center. The lodging complex consists of The Harrison House, where visiting military VIP's once stayed, and three fully furnished houses, that were former Officer's homes. The Harrison House features seven overnight units consisting of four suites, two standard rooms and the General's suite.

Toughest Course on Monterey Bay?

Prior to the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Greg Norman made a bold statement - that Fort Ord's Bayonet Course in Seaside, CA, is better than its famous neighbors, Cypress Point and Pebble Beach. Various so-called expert writers jumped all over Norman, saying he was just another golfer who translates "tough" into good.

Fort Ord, a massive 25,000-acre U.S. Army training facility in our military's glory days of World War II, shaved the heads Ken Venturi and Clint Eastwood. Both served their country as privates here. The Bayonet Golf Course was built in 1953 for the fort's personnel and Blackhorse Golf Course, its formidable brother, was built in 1963.

The two 18-hole golf courses were deeded to the City of Seaside and it's now an upscale $70 daily-fee facility with a resort hotel in the planning stages. There have been many AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am participants to practice here the week before the tournament. These are tough, exacting layouts, and 30 of 36 holes have views of the Pacific, even though it is a mile inland.

The Bayonet Course was designed by General Robert McClure, a left-hander with a slice. So the layout has many right-to-left bending holes. Bayonet, site of PGA Tour qualifying-school tourneys, is a par-72, 6,982-yarder. Black Horse is a par-72, 6,936 yards.

Famous quotes? Said Jack Nicklaus: "Bayonet's No. 4 is the toughest par five in golf."

Johnny Miller said: "Bayonet is the only real test of golf I've ever seen that doesn't have any water or out-of-bounds."

And Billy Mayfair once said: "This course would be too tough for the U.S. Open."

Bayonet's holes 11 to 15, a series of sharp doglegs, are widely known as "Combat Corner" - interrupted only by a 226-yard uphill par 3.

The courses have hosted U.S. presidents, foreign dignitaries and the greats of the game - Nicklaus, Palmer and Watson. The BUY.COM Tour's Monterey Peninsula Classic is also staged here.

"The views of the Pacific Ocean are truly awesome," said Major Bob Bradley, a former Fort Ord soldier. "The fairways were also lined by thick, thick cedar trees with branches all the way to the bottom. In the old days there was no recovery, but when the new management company took over they trimmed the branches upward. Now you can get at a ball from below the branches."

More Historic Military Notes

The Presidio survived San Francisco's great earthquake of 1906. But it didn't survive the slashing of military budgets. Headquarters of the Sixth U.S. Army, when the announcement came of its closing, the local military retirees wanted to go ballistic, fearing the loss of this unparalleled location and layout, in the shadows of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Military officials insisted that they needed to keep the course to maintain the morale of the retirees and service personnel staying behind. Eventually the Department of the Interior, which was assigned the duty to maintain The Presidio, agreed to allow the Army to keep the course for five years and then open it to the public. After a long fight, Arnold Palmer Management took over duties of running the course.

Just north of The Presidio is the former Navy layout at Mare Island.

The DoD has golf courses in every state, but because of the base closings, the military has lost about 30 layouts.

In Alaska, you might be able to play around the clock with four courses in a land of midnight sun. They even play mid-winter tournaments with orange balls, but golfers always check for blue-northers headed their way and moose on the fairways. The golf course at Elmendorf AFB, AK, is generally rated the best in the state.

At Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., the golfers must cross streets with their shots and be wary of nailing a wayward drive into the National Defense University buildings that come way too close to several fairways. Car windows are also in danger.

Other bases have fairways so close to the flight line that earplugs are required - and concentration could be challenged with jet-fuel fumes present. One military golfer said the Marine Memorial Golf Course at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Santa Ana, CA, is "so close to the north-south runway that a wicked banana slice could take down a fighter jet.

Four-Star Military Layouts

Fort Lewis Golf Course, Fort Lewis, WA Architect: WPA, 1937. Andrews Air Force Base, MD South Course. Salado Del Rio Golf Course, Fort Sam Houston, TX, Architect: A.W. Tillinghast, 1921. Eglin Golf Course, Eagle Course, Eglin AFB, FL. Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course, Kaneohe, HI. Architect: William P. Bell, 1947. Sewell's Point Golf Course, Norfolk, VA. Architect: Donald Ross, 1927. Miramar Memorial Golf Club, San Diego, CA. Moose Run Golf Course, Creek Course, Anchorage, AK. Architect: Robin Nelson, 2000. The Legends at Parris Island, Parris Island, SC.

Falcon Dunes, Luke AFB, AZ. The Cardinal Golf Club, Fort Lee Golf Course, Fort Lee, VA. Fort Jackson Golf Club, Old Hickory Course. Fort Jackson, SC. Mamala Bay Golf Course, Hickam AFB, HI. Fort Meade Golf Course, Applewood Course, Fort Meade, MD. Camp Pendleton Golf Course, Camp Pendleton, CA. Navy Marine Golf Course, Pearl Harbor, HI. Naval Air Station Golf Club, Jacksonville, FL. Marshalia Ranch Golf Course, Vandenberg AFB, CA

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Senior Writer

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter at @David_R_Holland.


 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Unfair Competition

    Joe wrote on: Jun 8, 2014

    While I agree that military golf courses should be available for recreational activities for active duty and retired military personnel, competition for civilian play harms local golf course operations such as the one I operate.

    Reply

  • Golf

    dcb wrote on: Oct 19, 2013

    Nothing was mentioned about Naval Station North Island, Coronado CA. The Sea & Air Golf Course is wonderful. Runs along the ocean and is always in great condition.

    Reply

  • Overseas Courses

    Abi Scott wrote on: Jul 16, 2012

    You definitely have to try out Camp Zama Golf Course in Japan. A true beauty and a lot tougher than you expect for a shorter course.

    Reply

    • RE: Overseas Courses

      Shon Davis wrote on: Oct 2, 2012

      agreed! I've been telling EVERYONE who will listen, how great that course is...

      Reply

  • Golf

    H. Poole wrote on: Apr 14, 2012

    Great story. Inspirational

    Reply

  • military golf courses

    Stanley Baggett wrote on: Jun 15, 2010

    What 45 holes at San Diego Naval Station are you referring to? First off, the only three courses I know of is 1. North Island Naval Air Station 2&3 are both in the same area and that is Admiral Baker South course and Admiral Baker North course, see only three which totals 54 holes and guess what none are actually on the "Naval station" Where is the Marine Memeorial golf course located, the Marine Corps courses are not I repeat NOT on the Naval Station they are MARINE CORPS courses and we only have one Marine Corps air station and that is MCAS Miramar all in one place and as far as I remember only one course, the Navy and Marine Corps have better things to do than build and play on exquisite golf courses. We do have nice courses though and I love playing on them, so come on Col. Holland where are the San Diego Naval Station Courses again?

    Reply

  • why not

    disabled combat veteran wrote on: Feb 1, 2006

    why,after all the trouble and discomfort those who have served,can not the disabled vets,who can still walk and function and swing,even if it is the only minimum we can do for exercise not be allowed to play all military courses, i believe this is just unfair as the health situation we disable encounter day to day and year to year. please answer me with a honest and valid response.why should dod employee's play and those who were on the front lines take a back seat? why do senators and rep's get the best health care and treatment from w.reed med. fac. and we have to struggle with a truly inept v.a. hospital care? why do we vets have to fight with social security for disability and congress has their own retirement plan? this is just another way that our govt shows its repect and gratitude to all the young men whose lives have been drastically changed forever!will this injustice continue forever too? these precious courses should be enjoyed and used by those who have ALREADY given so much. if one is worried that the courses would become too crowded(i doubt it)then maybe those who are serving should spend more time training with their troops and play on weekends and/or after c.o.b. with all due respect, a living,disabled,combat vet......GOD bless.

    Reply

    • RE: why not

      Nate wrote on: Feb 16, 2013

      Legends at Parris Island is always open to veterans. Mama Island takes care of her own.

      Reply

  • pro golf clean

    Cam Wilson wrote on: Nov 19, 2004

    Dear Sir
    It was a great article on military golf!
    Another reason I am writing this letter is that my company has a line of maintenance and cleaning products for the entire golf industry. All of our products are made in the U.S.A. in New York State.
    I would very much like to do business with U.S. military.
    Please visit my web-site and take a look. Feel free to call me at 1-905-734-7355.
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    President

    Reply

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