As another Labor Day weekend approaches and Lt. Col. Dan Rooney’s labor of love, Patriot Golf Day, takes center stage at hundreds of golf courses around the country, the magnitude of the numbers associated with the fundraising initiative is both heartwarming and inspirational.
- More than $50 million raised through Patriot Golf Day to fund Folds of Honor, which awards scholarships to spouses and children of fallen or disabled veterans.
- More than 28,000 scholarships awarded.
- More than 4,000 students sent to school in recent weeks.
And the list goes on.
The true impact is felt by the people who are attached to those numbers.
People like Hannah Davis, whose personal story documents the impact Rooney’s vision and commitment has had.
Davis was 3 years old when her father, 1st Lt. Jeffrey Davis, died in a Blackhawk helicopter accident while training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He was an Army Ranger, Green Beret, Blackhawk pilot and sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
And he was suddenly gone, leaving behind Davis, her 16-month-old brother, Blake, and their mother, Ann.
Eventually, Davis’ mother remarried a Michigan golf pro named Doug Bell and the family life turned toward golf. Still, the example her father had set with his never-slow-down mentality lived on.
Hannah and Blake grew up on a golf course, each of their first jobs being cart kids. When Hannah enrolled at Michigan State University, she worried about the student loan facing her once the family finances ran thin.
Working at the Country Club of Lansing between college classes, Davis was asked by club pro John Lindert to solicit pledges from golfers for the upcoming Folds of Honor event. When the golf marathon arrived, Davis asked Lindert about Folds of Honor, the primary beneficiary of Patriot Golf Day.
The more he told her – it’s a scholarship fund for people like Davis who lost their father during military service – the more she realized it might be for her. Lindert reached out to the Folds of Honor and, before long, Davis had a scholarship that got her through Michigan State.
Her brother also received a scholarship and after recently earning a degree in professional golf management, accepted his first job in the business.
“Folds has changed so much in our lives,” Davis said.
Asked to speak about her experience to a group of golf professionals when she was still attending Michigan State, Davis initially declined. Upon reflection, she decided to do it to honor her late father.
Patriot Golf Day began in 2007 with a simple request – asking golfers to add $1 to their green fee – and it has grown into the nation’s largest grassroots golf fundraiser.
Her speech was so good that Folds of Honor asked her to join the group’s speaker bureau, traveling the country telling her story and the Folds story. Now she is involved in the creation of American Dunes, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course that will open in May dedicated to the military with all profits going to Folds of Honor.
“My stepdad often says we want to give back more than we’ve received,” Davis said. “The connection and the family we have in Folds now is so strong. Anything I can do to help Folds and help families like ours I will do.”
Patriot Golf Day began in 2007 with a simple request – asking golfers to add $1 to their green fee – and it has grown into the nation’s largest grass-roots golf fundraiser. Rooney, who still flies fighter jets out of Eglin Air Base in Florida, is its caretaker, ambassador and heartbeat.
Ask Rooney about Patriot Golf Day and Folds of Honor and he practically gushes a testimonial.
In the past two years, the organization helped more than 700 first-generation college graduates, 70 percent of whom are in minority families.
Of the more than 4,000 students sent to school on scholarship this year, 41 percent are minorities.
“The only lasting bridge to true equality in this country comes through education,” Rooney said.
For all that Rooney and his group have done, he wanted to do more. A year ago, he sat with PGA of America chief executive officer Seth Waugh and they brought Rooney’s initiative together with PGA Hope, which brings disabled veterans to golf.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19 and pushing back again from this Labor Day weekend until Memorial Day in 2021, the momentum continues. Whether at golf courses or online, the drive to help military families continues.
“It’s called force multiplying,” Rooney said. “What does Patriot Golf Day look like moving forward the next 10 years? We aligned with PGA Hope to bring disabled veterans to golf and help stem the epidemic of 20-plus suicides daily with our veterans.
“We didn’t think we could make Patriot Golf Day any better. With this we can have an even greater impact. With post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, we’re not doing a great job of taking care of these veterans. But golf has been proven to save lives.
“There is healing through the game. I listened to a vet who said he hadn’t been out of his house for 15 years but now he’s playing golf five days a week.”
For Lt. Col. Rooney, the mission is ongoing.
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