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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Nicklaus helps American Dunes assist families of wounded, fallen vets

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Jack Nicklaus hits the first tee shot at American Dunes Golf Club in Grand Haven, Michigan, which will help provide funding for scholarships for family members of wounded and deceased veterans. Photo by Carlos Monarrez/Detroit Free Press

The pandemic has done little to slow the progress of one of a project near and dear to one of the game’s most iconic players.

Onlookers this week were able to take a sneak peek at the American Dunes Golf Club renovation project in Grand Haven, Michigan. The course is scheduled for a grand opening next spring and proceeds will benefit the Folds of Honor program that helps provide scholarships to members of military families.

Opened in 1965, Grand Haven Golf Club was designed and built on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan by the father-and-son architecture team of Bruce and Jerry Matthews. 

Nicklaus took on the task of redesigning the course that will serve as a living tribute to the armed forces and all who have served by being an avenue for raising funds to provide scholarships to the spouses and children of wounded or deceased veterans. The Folds of Honor program was founded by Maj. Dan Rooney, a PGA professional and a pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserves who served two tours in Iraq . The program has awarded more than $130 million in scholarships since its inception more than a decade ago.

"That's all to spouses and children of those killed, injured or disabled," said Rooney.

Dr. John Rooney bought Grand Haven in 1988. Two decades later, Rooney’s son, Maj. Dan Rooney, a PGA professional and a pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, started the Folds of Honor program there in 2008. The newly renovated course will be a fundraising tool to support the scholarship program through a series of tournaments held in conjunction with the annual Patriot Golf Day. Nine holes opened this year, with the remaining nine to be unveiled in the spring.

This week, Nicklaus and wife Barbara were on hand for the unofficial opening.

Rooney and Nicklaus have known each other for years, and the latter has been a supporter of Folds of Honor since its inception. The two met in 2017 at The Bear's Club in Jupiter, Florida, where Rooney shared his vision for Grand Haven's legacy in the Folds of Honor program. During that meeting, Rooney shared how he wanted his family’s legacy to include helping serve those who have served their country. Nicklaus offered his design services and those of his team at his North Palm Beach, Florida firm that has designed or renovated more than 400 golf courses in nearly 50 countries.

Nicklaus has a history of helping veterans and other charitable organizations through golf. 

A decade ago, Nicklaus donated design services to redesign and expand American Lake Veterans Golf Course on the grounds of the Veterans Administration Puget Sound Healthcare System in Lakewood, Washington. 

When North Palm Beach Country Club, a city-owned course about a mile down U.S. 1 from Nicklaus’s Florida home, needed a makeover, he charged the town $1. 

The Memorial Tournament held at Nicklaus' Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, has raised more than $30 million for charity since the inaugural event in 1976. He also has been a longtime supporter of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a fundraising and research initiative by the University of Miami that targets spinal cord and brain injuries.

Edited by John Reitman

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