There's so much to golf and the many ways it captures people. Here's one that I came across earlier this week, when I learned about the St. Andrews Legacy, a new program that brings wounded veterans to St. Andrews.
Terry Hammond, a member of the Beacon Hall Golf Club in Aurora, Ont. had recently made me aware of the program. Hammond had been in St. Andrews in July with a couple of fellow Beacon Hall members when he met Graham Proctor, the man behind the program. Proctor had worked in the U.K. with Jim Mitchell, one of the Beacon Hall members.
Hammond asked if I'd like to meet Proctor earlier this week. Proctor was in Toronto for a couple of days. Hammond brought him to a Toronto café, where we met. Proctor, a Scotsman who with his wife owns a guesthouse in St. Andrews, told me of an idea that had captured him. And he did something about it.
I should make it clear that Proctor emphasized that this story is not about him. But St. Andrews Legacy wouldn't have happened - and won't continue to happen - without him. Some background on the 47-year-old Glaswegian who has lived in St. Andrews for 10 years and owned Deveron House - the guesthouse -for seven, is necessary.
Proctor had been observing some of the wounded veterans returning from Afghanistan. He felt compelled to do something, and came up with the idea of raising funds by walking to Land's End, the most westerly point of England. A friend suggested that he first walk the Old Course seven times in one day, and then walk it 14 times the next day. He told Proctor he would still be nowhere near Land's End.
So ended that idea. But another idea resonated with him. Proctor had been chatting with former LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens. He and Bivens were helping with a charitable effort in St. Andrews.
"She asked, 'Why not do something with veterans?'"
Proctor's initial idea was to bring four wounded soldiers from the U.S. and four from the U.K. to St. Andrews. He would provide the accommodation in his guesthouse, and arrange a round at the Old Course. He gets an allocation of tee times there because he owns a guesthouse in St. Andrews. Proctor is a four-handicap golfer who belongs to the St. Andrews Golf Club . Its home is a stately Victorian mansion overlooking the 18th green at the Old Course.
Proctor learned about a course in Tacoma, Wash. that had been designed in 1955 and meant as a respite for wounded veterans. Jack Nicklaus in 2010 had donated his time while building a new nine to make them particularly accessible to the veterans. Here's a story on Nicklaus's work there and what it's meant to the veterans.
Proctor traveled to Tacoma. He asked if the club could put him in touch with four veterans who would come to St. Andrews, assuming Proctor could find the funding for the trip. He was told the organization could do that. Proctor then set out to find four U.K. veterans, and funding from that end for their trip.
He found the U.S. funding but not the U.K. funding. Proctor went online and eventually learned about Soldier On in Canada. The program helps injured and ill veterans. He spoke with and eventually met Major Jay Feyko, who was blinded in Kabul when he was part of Canada's first rotation in its post-invasion mission in Afghanistan. Feyko at Soldier On helps match wounded veterans with recreational activities in which they are able to participate.
Feyko and Procter met May 7th of this year in Toronto. Feyko said that Soldier On would participate in the St. Andrews Legacy program. Feyko asked Proctor which soldiers he should bring to St. Andrews.
"I told him, 'the people who need it the most,'" Proctor said. One veteran who came along is 27, and had both his legs blown off by a mine bomb when he was 24. Another veteran in his early 30s also had his legs blown off by a mine bomb.
Four wounded Canadian veteran, including Major Feyko and, in the end, three U.S. wounded veterans, flew to Edinburgh last month. The fellow who secured a sponsor in Tacoma for the trip accompanied the veterans. They landed July 19th, the Friday of the second round of the Open Championship at the Muirfield Golf Club. Soon they were playing the Crail Golfing Society's Balcomie links, not far from St. Andrews.
The group stayed at Deveron House that Friday night. They went to the Open the next day. Jim McArthur, the chairman of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews championship committee, had provided all-day access passes for the group at the Open. They were on the range when Proctor asked Tiger Woods' caddie Joe LaCava if he might tell Woods about the presence of the soldiers. Soon Woods came over and chatted with the veterans. Fred Couples did the same. So did Graham DeLaet.
The veterans played the Dukes course in St. Andrews on Sunday morning, and then watched in the clubhouse there as Phil Mickelson won the Open. They played nearby Kingsbarns on Monday. They visited the Senior British Open at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England on Tuesday, where Tom Kite and Larry Mize spoke with them. Couples was also there, and signed a couple of pairs of golf shoes he had given the guys. They played the New Course in St. Andrews on Wednesday. Proctor was cooking breakfast for the veterans every day. The capper was yet to come.
That was on Thursday July 25th, when the group played the Old Course. ESPN was on the first tee to film the guys teeing off. They had already had their picture taken on the Swilcan Bridge that leads to the 18th fairway. Proctor's daughter Heather plays in the St. Andrews pipe band. She and three of her fellow musicians piped the guys up the 18th fairway. Later they had dinner in the clubhouse at the New Club.
The veterans left for their homes in Canada and the U.S. the next morning, but not before they gave Proctor an inuksuk in appreciation of his efforts. Inuksuks are stone landmarks that were long used by the Inuit and others in the Arctic region of North America for navigational and other related purposes. They've taken on a strong symbolic meaning.
"They help you find your way in a dark place," Proctor said, and that's certainly a powerful metaphor for what he and his new friends tried to do by bringing the wounded veterans to St. Andrews. He told Major Feyko that he wanted to ensure that the program continues, and to make it bigger and better.
Proctor told me that he has the Grenadier Guards on board now. This infantry regiment of the British Army dates back to 1656. And when I met with Proctor, he had just come from Austin, Texas, where he met Mark McGinnis, the managing director of the Seal Legacy Foundation. Proctor said that McGinnis will help St. Andrews Legacy find U.S. veterans and the funding to bring them to Scotland.
To a man, the guys told Proctor how much the journey had meant to them. Major Feyko told Proctor that the experience had been wonderful for his rehabilitation. Proctor's friend Hammond is fired up about the program and intends to get involved. Proctor hopes to arrange a media day at Beacon Hall next year to further develop the Canadian part of St. Andrews Legacy.
"It's all about the therapeutic value of golf," Proctor said. That value was apparent in St. Andrews. All Proctor had to do was look at the faces of the veterans as they played, and as they kibitzed with one another and spoke during the closing dinner. For them, St. Andrews, the home of golf, had become the home of something else - something very special indeed.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein