Giving the gift of golf to veterans

Residents of an Alabama veterans home can now enjoy the game on a custom-made putting green made possible by the Alabama GCSA.


Colonel Robert L Howard State Veterans Home
A special retreat: The synthetic putting green outside the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home in Pell City, Ala., is the product of an Alabama GCSA service project and the efforts of golf course superintendents both current and former. Photos by Ken Healy

Until the final minutes before he cut the ribbon to officially open the putting green recently installed outside his residence at the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home in Pell City, Ala., Wayne Kendrick had no idea that it would bear his name.

What started as an offhand comment to a fellow member of the civic organization Gideons International inquiring about the possibility of installing a putting green outside the home for the handful of golf-enthusiast residents had accelerated quickly. Next thing Kendrick knew, he was the star of the ceremony officially opening the Wayne Kendrick Putting Green.

“To be honest, I didn’t even know until they asked me to cut the ribbon,” says Kendrick, a resident of the home for nearly three years. “We had two different television stations here to do video. The commissioner of veterans affairs was here. I still haven’t been able to see it on TV yet.”

To Kendrick, though, the fact his name is attached to the new putting green means far less to him than the emotion the feature elicits from his fellow veterans.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” he says. “To see their faces when they’re out there ... they’re just now beginning to see the enjoyment they can have out here on it.”

That it came to pass was a happy bit of serendipity. About the time Kendrick was inquiring about the putting green, in late 2019, the Alabama Golf Course Superintendents Association’s board of directors was discussing their desire to perform a service project. Shortly after, Hiliary Hardwick, director of the 254-bed veterans home, put in a call to Melanie Bonds, executive director of the Alabama GCSA. As much as the chapter would have liked to put in a bespoke bentgrass putting green, it knew that was out of the question.

“A putting green would have been easy for us,” says Neal Wisdom, chapter president, the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Pine Tree Country Club in Leeds, Ala., and a 22-year association member. “But they wouldn’t have someone to maintain it every day like we do. Somebody mentioned one of our members did artificial turf putting greens.”

So the Alabama GCSA reached out to Ken Healy, founder of Ideal Synthetic Surfaces. Healy had been a superintendent for 23 years and a GCSAA member for all of them, so he had grown a lot of grass. But he too realized his side gig — the installation of synthetic surfaces as putting greens, kennel runs and lawn replacements — would better serve the veterans.

The putting green installation

Colonel Robert Howard State Veterans Home
A rough outline.


Veterans home golf
Sod removed.


Alabama veterans home
Landscaping fabric installed.


Veterans home putting green
After the crucial trimming stage, just before the six cups were cut.

As the Alabama GCSA rounded up labor and, particularly, donations to power the project, Healy drove down from Huntsville, Ala., in June 2020 for a site visit.

“That was right at the peak of COVID,” he recalls. “It was touching just to be there. Everybody was wearing masks. To see those veterans standing there with their masks on, outside ... even their families couldn’t visit them. I thought, I definitely want to provide something on-site for these guys to enjoy.”

With a bit of labor help from the chapter — for instance, immediate past president Lee Fillingim, the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Anniston (Ala.) Country Club and a 21-year association member, stripped off the sod and hauled crushed stone — Healy installed the Wayne Kendrick Putting Green over the course of two weekends just before Thanksgiving.

The official ribbon-cutting took place Feb. 25, 2021.

“To see the looks on their faces, their smiles when we got done, it was just a good feeling. I got to talk to some of them, heard some World War II stories,” says Healy, who once installed a synthetic putting green at the home of two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer. “All of my installs are special, but not as special as this one.”

Editor’s note: A once-blighted Kansas City neighborhood has been rejuvenated by golf and green space thanks to the vision and efforts of a lifelong resident. Read the story in Urban renewal: Harris Park brings golf to Kansas City neighborhood.

The Alabama GCSA solicited donations from the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, and from organizations throughout the turfgrass industry. Healy estimates the cost ran around $13,000, an amount made much lower because he installed the green at-cost and donated his time. He did not, however, cut any corners.

The roughly 1,200-square-foot green has gentle undulations and six holes, featuring, symbolically, two red, two white and two blue mini-flagsticks.

Alabama GCSA service project
Chris Healy, Ken Healy’s son, applies adhesive to a seam on the putting green outside the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home.

“It’s a very good surface,” Healy says. “I had my Stimpmeter with me. I didn’t Stimp it, but I wanted to see what it could roll. It’s fast enough. They’re happy with it.”

“It’s great,” echoes Wisdom. “It worked out perfect for us, and it was great to give back to them.”

A couple of weeks after the grand opening, the green hosted its first competition. Eleven veteran residents, some of whom had barely ventured outside their rooms since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, competed for a collection of prizes, including a first-place trophy and donated gift certificates from local restaurants.

Aware that the guy whose name is attached to the green probably shouldn’t also have it engraved on its first trophy, Kendrick ... well, let’s just say he didn’t win.

“I wasn’t really trying,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t want to be the winner.”

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s managing editor.