Folds of Honor may call Tulsa home, but Grand Haven, Michigan, is where the foundation that has provided scholarships for spouses and children of fallen military members since 2007 was born.
Now, with the help of arguably the greatest golfer of all time, the organization based at Owasso’s Patriot Golf Club will have a historic landmark at its inception point in the form of American Dunes Golf Club, off the eastern shores of Lake Michigan.
Maj. Dan Rooney, the founder and CEO of Folds of Honor, has partnered with golf legend Jack Nicklaus to overhaul and redesign Grand Haven Golf Club, working to rebrand the club into American Dunes, which will serve as something of a second home for the organization. Purchased by John Rooney, Dan’s father, in 1965, the course has been owned by the Rooney family for more than 50 years, and will now serve as a respite for military veterans and active service members in the region.
Construction has begun on the course and American Dunes is scheduled to open Memorial Day 2020.
Rooney, a former member of the Oklahoma Air National Guard, did three tours of duty in Iraq and has run Folds of Honor from its headquarters in Tulsa since its inception, raising more than $50 million for families of fallen military members since 2007. But it was during a trip back to Grand Haven, where Rooney also served as a PGA professional, that the genesis of the organization came to be.
On a flight back to Michigan following his second tour of duty, Rooney met the family of Army Corporal Brock Bucklin, killed in action in Iraq in May 2006. Bucklin’s body was on board and Rooney watched as other passengers left the plane with little regard for the fallen soldier or his family.
Following his interaction with the Bucklins, Rooney sought to do something to honor the soldier and his family, and so came the first Patriot Golf Day at Grand Haven Golf Club. The event featured 67 golfers and raised about $8,500, serving as the precursor for Folds of Honor. In 2018, Patriot Golf Day stretched across all 50 states and raised nearly $10 million, and the event remains Folds of Honor’s largest annual fundraiser by a significant margin.
Grand Haven Golf Club, soon to be American Dunes, is where Folds of Honor and Patriot Golf Day began. Now it will serve as a permanent landmark for the organization it spawned.
“It’s an opportunity to commemorate Folds of Honor,” Rooney said. “Without this little golf course, this organization is never created.”
Roooney’s relationship with Nicklaus, the PGA’s all-time major championship leader with 18 major victories to his name, began through Folds of Honor and Patriot Golf Day many years ago. When Rooney brought his idea for the renovation of Grand Haven to Nicklaus and proposed a partnership over a lunch at one of Nicklaus’ Florida clubs in 2018, the Golden Bear embraced the concept immediately, Rooney said.
A visit to the course at Grand Haven from Nicklaus this spring sealed the deal.
With the backing of the Nicklaus Companies, which has a long history of philanthropic acts toward a number of communities with military veterans among them, along with a series of investors, Grand Haven will be transformed and remodeled by Nicklaus himself into American Dunes.
“Jack and his group saw tremendous potential in the site,” Rooney said. “It likely wouldn’t have been there much longer if not for Mr. Nicklaus and a bunch of other benevolent people who came along to save it.”
Capitalizing on the sand the land is built upon and its proximity to Lake Michigan, the new course and club at American Dunes will be a complete reimagination of the grounds with the goal of creating a completely different golf experience.
In achieving the dramatic overhaul, construction will require much of the course to be dug up in order to uncover sand that lies beneath and will also see the removal of many trees from the course. Ultimately, the hope is that Lake Michigan will have a greater presence, while the remaining trees are incorporated in the inland portions to unlock the potential of Folds of Honor’s second home.
“If we can do that, and at the same time honor our military and raise money for the education of the families of our fallen soldiers, this is going to be something very unique and very special in the game of golf,” Nicklaus said in a release.
The announcement of Folds of Honor’s involvement prompted some to wonder about the organization’s future in the Tulsa area. According to Rooney, Folds of Honor has no plans to move from its home in Owasso, and renovations are underway to improve its headquarters at Patriot Golf Club.
Rather than a step away from Tulsa, Rooney said, American Dunes is a step for Folds of Honor toward a second base and a way to continue to grow the organization nationally. Tulsa is Folds of Honor’s home, but in Michigan, the organization will now have a memorial for its birthplace.
“Most people, when they think of Folds of Honor, they think Tulsa and we’re very proud of that.” Rooney said. “But not everyone knows where it all started and that’s what this project means to us.”