The chopper descended, as the collective spirits of those present on the grounds Mendakota Country Club arose. On September the 11th, eights years to the day of one of our proud country’s most sobering, saddening, and painful moments -- hundreds upon hundreds gathered at the Mendota Heights’ course to honor the relentless spirit of our nation, and the courage of those defending the United States.
The calendar date will forever be linked to the fates of those who lost their lives, but the gathering serves as an equally powerful reminder of our ability to rise.
The day and the occasion marked the 5th annual Tee It Up For The Troops (www.teeitupforthetroops.com), the celebrated golf event it's organizers clearly and earnestly describe as a non-profit organization, “designed to honor and assist members of the United States Armed Forces.”
This Minnesota-born “National Day of Golf” is now represented in over 30 states across the union, and raises funds extended to myriad organizations that benefit service members and their families. A college scholarship program is also in place to assist the youth of disabled veterans.
“We pick up a few more states that are involved every year,” said event founder and Board President James “JB” Ball. Ball began Tee It Up For The Troops in 2005 when his son Tyler Ball, then a soldier fighting in Iraq, was asked by his close-knit circle what exactly they could do for him to aid his commission. Tyler turned their inquiry into a request that they instead do something to aid disabled soldiers back at home.
“This year, we also had 21 Governor proclamations. That’s up from 15 last year,” Ball continues. “In our morning group today, we had 120 vets tee off; the afternoon group has been sold out for weeks now.”
The late-morning’s ceremonies began with the rumbling arrival of hundreds of the “Tribute to the Troops” motorcycle riders (www.tributetothetroops.org), the bike group whose enthusiasm and dedication to acknowledging America’s soldiers mirrors that of Tee It Up For The Troops. This impressive crew wears America on their sleeves. Literally. Their turn at Mendakota represented one of several stops in what is their sixth annual weekend ride on behalf of America’s guardians.
“This is more riders than we’ve ever had,” Ball said. “Great weather like this helps bring that out. I think part of it has to do with tradition -- a lot of veterans are riding motorcycles; and there are also a lot of veterans that golf and have made some really close friends here over the years, coming on an annual basis.”
After the bikers parked and greeted, the ceremony continued with the distant whirrrrr of the afore-noted “chopper” -- although that term itself really does little justice to the sheer power and awe-inspiring presence of the Blackhawk helicopter that landed upon Mendakota’s first tee box.
As the Blackhawk (“It’s new this year,” Ball said proudly) made its steady descent, a neck-craned blend of golfers, soldiers, kids, media, volunteers, bikers and organizers gathered as one to watch the beast’s wake whip free the leaves and foliage of the first fairway and tee box until the Blackhawk landed with the ease of a Titleist pitched from 40 yards out. Really impressive.
The landing is emblematic of the event -- Tee It Up For The Troops isn’t simply a charity event where you have lunch, drop a few dollars in a faceless box and play some golf. Rather, there is something markedly PHYSICAL about this salute; attendees can literally experience the whooshing wing span of 28-year-old eagle Harriet brought by the National Eagle Center; event-goers can feel the presence of the bikers’ arrival; participants see hair whipped back as the Blackhawk made its way to the green turf.
And when bagpiper Jim Smith, a veteran of Vietnam, soon made his way toward the clubhouse as he paced forward to the harmonies of “America the Beautiful” & “God Bless America,” the goose-bumps on the respective skins of all in attendance were collectively raised. The communal hairs on attendee’s necks then stood in salute as organizers instructed players to never allow the Stars & Stripes donning the flagsticks to touch the ground during the day’s play.
A four-word encapsulation of Tee It Up For The Troops can no doubt be offered with: They Do It Right.
A slightly more extended synopsis can be presented with: While September 11th is a date linked with pain, Tee It Up For The Troops has annually addressed those wounds for us and bandaged them with pride. Just like they have for our soldiers.