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A Continued Tradition: Memorial Day Honored at NCAA Golf Championships

ROTC student tends pin for NCAA DI Women's Golf Championship.

To remember the fallen, the NCAA and Folds of Honor have partnered at both the women’s and men’s Division I championships in Carlsbad, Calif., with American and Folds of Honor flags surrounding the 13th tee box and local ROTC students tending to the flag on the 18th hole one day during each tournament. The 13th hole, shown below, is a spectacular sight and represents the importance of no. 13 to Folds of Honor – specifically that when the American Flag is folded for presentation, it takes 13 folds to create its iconic triangle shape.

Folds of Honor, founded by Lt. Colonel Dan Rooney, is “a nonprofit organization that provides educational scholarships to the spouses and children of US military service members and first responders who have fallen or been disabled while serving our country and communities.” Folds of Honor has given over 52,000 scholarships worth almost $250 million since its start in 2007; this past academic year saw their largest number of scholarships awarded at 9,300.

How did Folds of Honor and golf become a pair, you may ask? Lt. Colonel Dan Rooney is the only-ever F-16 fighter pilot and PGA Professional. He was deployed to Iraq three times and is currently stationed in San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. Beforehand, he played college golf at the University of Kansas and even made it to the NCAA Championships with his team; one of his fun facts is that he once beat Tiger Woods.

“The game of golf is connected to everything significant in my life,” says Lt. Colonel Dan Rooney. “I call it my golf church because we get to use this game to do so much good and connect with people, unify people in a really positive way around the game that bonds us.”

Folds of Honor Initiatives

NCAA Championships host Folds of Honor on the 13th tee at Omni La Costa.
NCAA Championships host Folds of Honor on the 13th tee at Omni La Costa. Kelly Okun, Fairway to Green.

Lt. Colonel Dan Rooney and the Folds of Honor team have gone on to establish Patriot Golf Days, the American Dunes Golf Club and the Folds of Honor Collegiate tournament, among others, to raise awareness and funds for the scholarships.

Patriot Golf Days

Patriot Golf Days runs throughout the month of May and helps Folds of Honor raise money for scholarships that have been awarded in all 50 states. The fundraising takes place through various activities, like pro shop activations and tournaments benefitting Folds of Honor. The organization – headquartered in Tulsa, Okla., but with 36 chapters nationwide – has a dedicated Golf Team that manages over 1,100 golf events, including Patriot Golf Days. Supporters of Folds of Honor also have the opportunity to host the HERO100 Golf Marathon, where participating golf courses can have their members and guests play golf all day with a per-hole pledging system.

“Patriot Golf Days is now the largest grassroots fundraiser in the history of sport,” said Lt. Colonel Dan Rooney. “This year, in collaboration with the PGA of America, USGA, PGA TOUR and LPGA, we give golfers the opportunity to tee it up on Memorial Day on behalf of Folds of Honor, or go on their smart device to make a donation. It is raising tens of millions of dollars a year for us.”

American Dunes Golf Club

American Dunes Golf Club – originally the Grand Haven Golf Club in Michigan from 1965 until May 2011 when Jack Nicklaus generously donated his fee to the cause and redesigned the course – has brought in over $2.6 million in donations to Folds of Honor for scholarships over the last two years and explicitly serves as place to honor those who have sacrificed everything for their country. It is still extremely difficult to find an open tee time there.

Folds of Honor Collegiate

The 3rd annual Folds of Honor Collegiate will be hosted at American Dunes Golf Club on September 9-11, 2024, and for the first time will feature a field of 15 women’s teams to complement 15 men’s teams. “The event was born in 2022, and after a hugely successful inaugural year, we made a commitment in 2023 to air it on Golf Channel to showcase to the world elite college talent, the noble mission of Folds of Honor and the ‘golf church’ we call American Dunes,” says Folds of Honor Collegiate Tournament Director (and Corporate Impact Officer) Scott Tolley. “Although not official, we think it might have been the most-watched college golf tournament of the year. We are certain it was the most-watched content on Golf Channel for at least two days of competition. With the expanded field, we are also looking to expand the broadcast and hope to double last year’s live coverage from 9 hours to 18 hours.”

The first two years of the events only included 18 men’s teams, but this year’s setup will be altered to include women’s golf teams,” explains Tolley, “because we believe the tournament should better reflect the diverse mission of Folds of Honor, as 57 percent of our scholarship recipients are female. We have some of the elite college teams in the country – I believe 13 of them made it to this year’s NCAA Division I Golf Championships and 10 are nationally ranked – but we will again have the Service Academies represented, and at least one HBCU (historically black college or university). Again, with 45 percent of our recipients being minorities, we want to emphasize opportunity.”

Like most professional or high-profile events these days, the Folds of Honor Collegiate will also host a College-Am the day before official play, allowing foursomes to play with a golfer or school of their choice. The Welcome Party following play has been known to be electric, with moving speeches, a Long Drive Contest among college players, celebrities – like Jack Nicklaus – in attendance, live entertainment and even a drone show.

As Memorial Day arrives this crisp morning in Carlsbad, all the players, coaches and fans will have ample opportunities to honor those who have made the largest sacrifice. NCAA managing director John Baldwin says, “Being able to annually recognize at each championship the military service members and first responders who have fallen or been disabled while serving our country and communities has had a profound effect on all involved.”

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