Soldiers pass wartime with golf

Maj. Jarrod Moreland, 4th Region Department of Border Enforcement. CREDIT: U.S. Army

Contributing Columnist

Much of the information I am writing here has been gleaned from a series of articles written by Christopher Cooper, David Armstrong and James P. Sterra. The aforementioned all write for The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.

At the beginning of the war in Iraq, a major in the U.S. Army, Ken Rideout, also a veteran of Desert Storm, had a good idea what a war in the near east involved. Leaving for the war area, Major Rideout took with him a supply of day glow golf balls. Major Rideout of the Third Infantry Division knew he would be in combat for some time to come. He left from Fort Stewart, Ga., with all the supplies he thought he would need. In addition to his gas mask, rifle and bulletproof vest, the major, a low handicap player, toted a set of Wilson clubs, four-dozen golf balls, and six cups and flags.

Rideout said, “I was going to set up a course in downtown Baghdad.” Many soldiers practiced their short game on the hardpan flats of the southern Kuwait desert. At about that same time Navy personnel hit shots off the decks of carriers into the Persian Gulf. When “combat was announced as being over,” a group of soldiers proceeded to work overtime carving out green and tees. Iraqi onlookers were totally confounded at what they saw.

Hitting a golf ball and finding it lodged between a couple of unexploded ordnance happened often. I readily understand the feeling, having that occur to me while playing golf in the forties on Saipan. Most upsetting and frightening. Especially during the long trek north to Baghdad, Major Rideout would often take his wedge between battles and hit a few shots on a patch of desert. He was simply trying to improve his swing, which was no problem with a helmet and bulletproof vest, but the gas mask was another dilemma.

Unfortunately, the Third Infantry Division was moved to a different area. Major Rideout was bivouacked in one of the deposed dictator’s palaces. He was about to set up his little golf course on a small grassy knoll next to the palace when the army decided to use that ground as a burial site for 60 Iraqi soldiers. In July 2003, the major left Iraq. However, others decided to put Rideout’s dream to work.

A shop supervisor for the 101st Airborne Division, Lt. Jesse White, with three golf clubs in tow started to shag balls in the Iraqi city of Qayyarah. In a short time, Lt. White started to erect the first nine-hole course in the area. Though crude, it proved to be a delight to the golfers in the armed forces in the area. Red shop rags were attached to Humvee antenna and used as greenside flags. It started with two holes, which later became nine at the suggestion of the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jeff Kelley. Lt. White found plenty of volunteers to help construct the nine holes and remove debris, including quite a few unexploded shells, expended mortar rounds, antiaircraft shells and partially destroyed electronics gear.

A large missile fin became a caddie stand for dozens of garage-sale golf clubs that started to arrive from the states. Most of the clubs originated from Col. Kelley’s father, a member of the Signal Mountain Golf & Country Club in Chattanooga, Tenn. The most difficult part of the operation was smoothing out the shifting sand to make a green.

Iraqi workers, according to Lt. White, “laughed at us.” In spite of that the Iraqi workers cut up lengths of pipe to make cups and flagsticks. So many clubs and balls arrived from stateside that at one point the army refused to allow any more shipments. Hundreds of soldiers and U.S. contractors played the course while waiting for White’s department to repair their equipment. By the way, Lt. White has the course record for the nine holes scored 30, just prior to leaving Iraq for home in January 2004.

The PGA Tour heard about the course and sent out a full set of flags and cups, in addition to one hundred caps imprinted with the name the soldiers gave to the course, TPC Mosul South. The PGA also sent a crate full of golf balls, enough to start a driving range. The Stryker battalion, which replaced the 101st earlier this year, plans to add a driving range to the course. American ingenuity was present, effective and admired.

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