Frank Gumpert has seen his share of fundraisers. The long-time local golf pro has organized many in the past three decades, which means convincing people to play an expensive round of golf for a good cause. Since the causes often involve children, he’s been successful.
But he’s never seen anything quite like the Patriot Shootout.
There’s been no begging or arm-twisting to sign players up. The inaugural tournament in 2011 sold out six months in advance. The second event, held on Monday at the University Club, where Gumpert is director of membership and sales, filled up with the same group of golfers, who paid $1,000 per two-man team.
If there is a way for a fundraiser to print money, Gumpert has found it.
“It’s a special golf tournament,” he said.
The cause makes it so.
The event raises money for the Folds of Honor Foundation, which was started in 2007 by Maj. Dan Rooney, a former Air Force F-16 pilot and golf pro. Folds of Honor funds scholarships to family members of service personnel killed or disabled in the line of duty, 87 percent of whom do not qualify for government educational assistance. To date, it has provided 4,000 such grants, Rooney said.
At the pre-tournament party held the day before at Mockler Beverage, Rooney said the idea began when he returned from his last tour of duty in Iraq. When his commercial airline flight landed in Grand Rapids, Mich., the pilot announced that the airplane was carrying the remains of Army Cpl. Brock Bucklin, who had been killed in Iraq. The pilot asked passengers to remain seated in Bucklin’s honor until his remains were taken from the cargo hold.
“I watched ... the Bucklins on the worst night of their lives, his brothers and sisters, his parents, his 4-year-old son, as that coffin inched down the cargo hold,” Rooney said. “You realize as a father of four myself that this kid is never going to get tucked in by his dad again. He’s never going to play catch. He’s never going to do all those things that make our life so complete and so safe.
“As this ceremony finishes itself up, I wiped the tears away from my eyes and I look back to the airplane, and I’m as shocked as I’ve ever been in my life to see that more than half of the people had gotten off of the plane. There was no place to go except for that blanket of freedom that we’ll all sleep under tonight courtesy of guys like Brock Bucklin.”
Starting with a tournament at his home course in Oklahoma, Rooney spread the idea of using golf to raise money to assist such family members. A key event has been Patriot Golf Day, in which golf courses ask golfers to donate to the cause when playing over Labor Day weekend. As the idea caught on, separate golf events sprang up.
Gumpert’s was one of them, and the Folds of Honor Foundation rated his inaugural Patriot Shootout as the fifth most successful of the 4,200 events held nationally in 2011. That tournament raised $55,000. Gumpert expects this year’s event to raise more than $100,000. Acura of Baton Rouge and Infinity of Baton Rouge were the tournament’s major sponsors.
“As soon as he told me what it was, I said I’ll put together a team,” said Ken Grantham, whose father and father-in law served in World War II. “It was so easy to do, one, for what it’s for, but because of the roots of service within my family. My wife and I both lost our fathers to cancer, and they both would have loved to have been a part of the event themselves.
“If I didn’t play golf all year long, this would be the one event I would play,” Grantham said.
Seven scholarships were presented at the pre-tournament party, including one to Katie Reddin, the wife of Marine Sgt. John Reddin, who suffered a spinal injury and shrapnel wounds near Ramadi, Iraq, in 2005. Since his honorable discharge in 2007, Reddin has recovered enough to become a sheriff’s deputy in Lake Charles, though he still experiences numbness in his legs.
“It’s very important,” he said of the scholarship. “When I joined the Marine Corps, I never intended to use the G.I. Bill. … We were working and paying for it. It’s going to help us out tremendously.”
Katie Reddin is studying to earn a master’s degree in counseling psychology at McNeese State University and hopes to work with veterans. As an undergraduate, she worked as a receptionist at a counseling agency and met a veteran who was struggling after his service in Iraq.
“The whole family was having a hard time readjusting after he’d been over there so long,” she said. “He was just disconnected. It was very, very sad. The counselors brought them together. It helped to get things back. I thought that was so neat to see that before my eyes.”
Tournament participants got to see another veteran: Army Reserve Maj. Ed Pulido, who was severely wounded in an IED explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2004. Rooney gave Pulido’s daughters the second and third scholarships the foundation awarded, then hired him as executive director in 2008.
Pulido dropped from 195 pounds to 118 pounds in the 40 days after his wounds, which forced the amputation of his left leg. Pulido’s civilian work had been with the United Way in Oklahoma City, which prepared him to help others who experienced trauma, but he struggled to handle it himself.
“It was my mom who came to my room one day,” Pulido said. “My leg had been taken away, and she said, ‘You can sit in that bed and grieve or you get up and succeed.’
“I learned that I couldn’t do it alone. I needed help. I was a person before that gave. Now, I was somebody that had to receive, and that was the hardest thing that I encountered in my life, receiving a benefit or receiving some kind of service from somebody else. … I learned I could not walk on that journey alone.”
He now walks on a red, white and blue prosthetic leg and matching Adidas athletic shoes, and he spent much of the tournament glad-handing the players. When he stopped at the par-3 No. 8 hole, he offered to hit a tee shot that the teams could use in place of their own if his was better. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t.
It wasn’t for Antoine Simon, but he had something else in mind when he reached out his hand to shake Pulido’s.
“Thank you for your service,” Simon said.
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