Local golfers take part in unique fundraiser

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Four local golf professionals – including three working in Falmouth – recently participated in a planned all-day golf-a-thon, playing as many holes as possible at Sanford Country Club, to raise money for the Folds of Honor Foundation.

The Folds of Honor Foundation provides scholarships for dependents and spouses of service members killed or disabled as a result of their military service.

The foursome included: Tony Decker, executive director of the Maine Chapter New England PGA and an assistant pro at The Woodlands Club; The Woodlands Club Director of Golf Doug Van Wickler; and Portland CC head pro John Boswell. Sanford CC head pro Jon Ellis hosted the fundraiser and filled out the foursome.

The men began play at 5:20 a.m. and planned to continue until sunset. They finished the first 18 holes in just 2 hours and 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the rainy conditions that have plagued the Northeast this summer made the course unplayable and limited them to 26 holes.

“We took pledges based on different measurable accomplishments,” said Decker, who so far has received almost $2,500 from donors. “Most of my supporters pledged a certain dollar amount for each hole I completed, anywhere from 50 cents to $5 per hole. A few supporters pledged $10 for every birdie. Others based their pledges on the number of pars or birdies. One gentleman even pledged money for every double bogey, figuring it would cheer us up.

“The outpouring of support has been tremendous. We sent e-mails to the people who pledged telling them about the weather and how it cut down the number of holes we played. Many people have sent in two to three times the amount of money required based on their pledges. With the economy, that’s very satisfying.”

The four Maine pros were inspired to stage the fundraiser after attending the PGA Annual Meeting last November in Phoenix, where they saw fellow PGA pro and former F-16 fighter pilot Major Dan Rooney receive the PGA Patriot Award. Rooney served three tours in Iraq and started Folds of Honor. During the PGA Annual Meeting, Rooney described the night a few years ago that led him to found Folds of Honor. The story is summarized on the Foundation’s Web site.

While sitting on the tarmac in a commercial jetliner on which he was a passenger, the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. “We have the remains of Corporal Brock Bucklin on board, and his brother Corporal Brad Bucklin has accompanied him home from Iraq. As a sign of respect, please remain seated while we honor Corporal Bucklin and his sacrifice.”

Rooney watched through the plane window as the flag-covered casket was removed from the rear cargo-hold. He saw Bucklin’s family meet the procession with tears streaming down their cheeks. And he choked back emotion when he saw the soldier’s young son clutching at his mother’s leg.

This is any serviceman’s worst nightmare, thought Rooney. An F-16 fighter pilot in the Oklahoma Air National Guard, Rooney had already served two tours in Iraq. And while he had experienced the harsh reality on the front lines, he had never witnessed the devastating reality back home.

As Rooney attempted to regain his composure, he finally turned back to the plane. It was then he noticed that half of the passengers had ignored the pilot’s request and had already de-boarded. That moment changed Rooney’s life forever.

When the paths of Corporal Bucklin and Major Rooney crossed on that fateful flight, Rooney vowed to make a difference. Though he couldn’t change the fate of a fallen soldier, he could change the future of a grieving widow or a fatherless child. That night marked the start of Folds of Honor.

“Most of the adults in the audience had tears in their eyes after he told that story,” Decker remembered. “The four of us decided to do something to help during our return trip to Maine. People praised the foursome for the time and effort they put into the golf-a-thon, a fundraiser they hope to repeat next year.

“Our efforts certainly seem minor compared to the men and women who are serving in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. For me, the biggest thrill was helping raise awareness about the sacrifices those soldiers and their families are making on our behalf.”

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PNMS-sportsgolf-072209.JPGGolfers tee off at the recent Folds of Honor fundraiser.