Vail Veterans Program Brings Back Popular Golf in the Rockies Program
After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Vail Veterans Program Golf in the Rockies event is back. The four-day golf outing brings injured service members to championship golf courses for rounds of golf, clinics with PGA professionals, meals with other veterans and other fun activities.
More than a dozen veterans from as far away as Alaska have participated in the program. They played at Beaver Creek Golf Club on Monday, Tom Fazio and Greg Norman courses at Red Sky Golf Club on Tuesday and Wednesday and EagleVail Golf Club on Thursday.
The Vail Veterans Program believes that part of the healing experience for vets is therapy, bonding and the ability to be outdoors and golf provides a different way for some vets to recover.
“Our veterans have individual issues to overcome and they are adjusting in different ways so they can continue to play,” said Jen Brown, executive director of the Vail Veterans Program.
The Vail Veterans Program was founded by Cheryl Jensen in 2004 and at first the non-profit organization injured service members and their families on the trails. In 2012 the VVP added the Golf in the Rockies program and it is thanks to the tremendous support of community golf clubs and their members.
Retired U.S. Army Capt. Jake Murphy was recovering at Walter Reed National Military Recovery Center in Bethesda, Maryland from an injury he sustained in Kandahar, Afghanistan in July 2011. The injury left left Murphy amputated on both sides and he was in rehab when he heard about Vail’s veterans program. Murphy and his then-girlfriend went out for the winter version in 2012 and he learned to sit-ski. Murphy and his girlfriend have since married and moved to Texas and now have two children, an 8-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.
“I always wanted to come back to ski, but life passes and I couldn’t come back. When I heard about the Vail Veterans Program Golf in the Rockies event I searched through my old emails and found Cheryl Jensen’s email address and contacted her and she told me emailed back within hours and next thing I knew I’m coming back to Colorado, but this time golfing,” Murphy said.
Most of the other veterans return to the golf program, but Murphy said it didn’t take long to feel like he belonged.
“There is a difference in playing with guys who have the same background as you and are in the same injury situation and can connect even off the golf course. It’s pretty crazy how fast it happens. It’s unspoken, a lot of bonding,” Murphy said.
Retired US Army specialist Ian Harding came from Alaska. In 2006, while on a night mission in Baghdad, Iraq, as the company commander’s radio operator, Harding was injured in a small arms fire. He’s new to Vail’s veteran program winter and summer offerings, but he’s settled in quickly too.
“You meet people you never would have met before and it’s almost like you’ve known each other your whole life. It just clicks being around people who have had the same experiences. You don’t you don’t have to explain anything, you act like you’ve known everyone from day one,” Harding said.
There is natural competition and side games happening at every turn, which facilitates friendships. In addition to golf, participants also go bowling at Deca + Bol, receive massages, and tour Piney Lake on a jeep tour with Timberline Tours. So there is plenty of time to bond.
There is also time for reflection.
“Being here this week has only reinforced my own belief that I’m not going to give up or quit,” Murphy said. “I focus on what I can do.”
“With my injury, there’s no pity button or whine, there’s no choice, either you embrace it, accept it and overcome challenges and do things like try to play football. golf as a bilateral amputee, or you complain and wallow and it gets you nowhere.
From the Vail Veterans ski program to the golf programs, Murphy said he will make improvements in his golf game or his skiing, but more importantly, “I’m going to prove to myself that I can keep improving and keep going. to overcome other challenges that come my way.”
Ryan Flamm, director of golf at EagleVail Golf Club, said of all the groups hosted by the club, this is the most rewarding for staff members.
“It’s just a humbling experience to greet them all and be in their presence because they are our heroes and it’s something we only do once a year but we wish we could welcome them all the time. , that’s pretty cool,” Flamm said.
Flamm also said all the staff felt that too.
“Their energy and pride radiates all over the golf course. From neighbors along the course to golfers in front or behind the foursomes, they bring so much to us and it’s so great to have them here every summer.
To find out more about the summer and winter programs, go to VailVeteransProgram.org.