Tom Underdown’s father served in World War II as well as the Korean War and Vietnam War. He later suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and turned to alcohol to deal with the invisible wounds of war. Underdown always wished there was a way to help suffering veterans like his father.
Inspiration would come many years later. In 2010, he was seated next to an Army sergeant on an airplane. The sergeant spoke about two of his soldiers who had recently lost limbs. Underdown felt an immediate calling to do something.
With the belief that golf is a sport that anybody can play, Underdown started Fairways for Warriors in November of the same year. The nonprofit organization assists veterans through the game of golf.
“No matter what the physical disability is, we have adaptive technology for them to play golf,” Underdown says. “We provide veterans with a relaxing environment where they are surrounded by other combat vets. Golf is the vehicle we use to bring everyone together but the camaraderie is what keeps them coming back.”
The organization helps people like Vietnam veteran Jack Wiseman, who was only 18 years old when he lost his left arm in an ambush. He says he struggled when he first arrived home but that he has been sober for the last 37 years.
“I became involved with golf around the start of my sobriety,” he says. “As a born-again Christian, I love the spiritual and family aspect of Fairways in addition to the golf.”
Last May, Fairways for Warriors opened TLC, Training and Life Facility, in Kissimmee. The 8,000-square-foot facility includes indoor golf simulators, workout equipment and counseling rooms. Formal golf clinics are held every two weeks. Veterans are also able to take advantage of a wide variety of free activities including fitness classes, bible studies, group and individual therapy sessions, and fun get-togethers such as barbecues and poker nights.
The team at Fairways for Warriors also helps veterans find jobs and housing. The organization puts 95 percent of every dollar donated toward assisting veterans and their families.
Some veterans not only participate in Fairways for Warriors activities but they also give their time to the organization. They have found that helping their fellow veterans has helped them too.
Yaritza Perez, is a former Marine who trains veterans at the center. She recalls that she isolated herself before Fairways for Warriors came along. “Fairways got me out of the house, and being around other veterans helped me to come out of my shell,” she says.
BJ Jackson, who lost both of his legs in Iraq in 2003, currently serves as a board member and national spokesperson for Fairways for Warriors. “The Training and Life Center is like a second home,” he says. “I get so much out of helping other veterans. It’s a healing mechanism where we work on our own issues and struggles while mentoring others.”