JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Never an easy game, golf becomes even more difficult for those with physical challenges.

For years, the American Lake Veterans Golf Course in nearby Lakewood has made the game accessible to disabled veterans with its innovative programs. With the opening of its new $1.3 million Rehabilitation and Learning Center, the course will improve that access.

"For many of these veterans, American Lake Veterans Golf Course is their only social outlet," said Pepper Roberts, a Korean War veteran and president of the Friends of the ALVGC, "the only place where they are in the company of those who understand their history.

"Studies show that learning golf can assist disabled veterans learn necessary life skills, both physical and mental, such as balance, coordination, focus and concentration."

The ALVGC, run entirely by 167 volunteers, unveiled the impressive 8,400-square-foot facility last week. The building houses accessible physical therapy areas, training rooms, classrooms, locker rooms, restrooms and offices.

"Basically, it is a place where wounded veterans can come to heal," Roberts said.

Frank Shaver, a volunteer from Steilacoom, was on hand to show veterans how to use a new golf simulator in the building. The disabled veteran has been playing golf since the mid 1950s. He pointed out that the game is merely a means to an end.

"It's not about the game of golf," Shaver said. "The key is ... the disabled guy who can do something that he couldn't do."

Louis Karamon, a World War II Army veteran, is an example. Helped out of his wheelchair and onto a "SoloRider" golf cart at the media event, Karamon hit golf balls into the simulator screen.

"Trouble is, I can't turn my neck to see where the ball's going," said Karamon, who has had several neck injuries. "I felt like I was hitting it. You could feel the contact with the club. I love it."

The center is the first step toward an even larger goal - a multimillion-dollar project, funded entirely by donations, that will add nine holes and refurbish the original nine to make ALVGC a national model for accessible play. Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus has donated the services of his firm, Nicklaus Design, to fashion the new nine.

"It's going to be 100 percent accessible to the mobility impaired, but ... it's going to be challenging to the able-bodied," Roberts said. "Jack said he's never done a course like that, and he hopes it'll be a prototype for courses around the nation."

Roberts said that the Army signed over 32 acres of land from Joint Base Lewis-McChord Lewis North to Veterans Affairs for use in the course expansion.

"We talked to the Army about it," Roberts said. "That just got signed a few weeks ago."

Fundraising is under way to make the additional nine a reality. Roberts looks forward to its impact on the lives of fellow veterans.

"Our mission is to provide a facility that meets the needs of our veterans," Roberts said. "With an additional nine holes, we can more adequately serve our disabled and wounded military personnel."

For more information about American Lake Veterans Golf Course, visit

Bob Reinert is assistant editor of Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.