Durham County

In Durham, 24-hour-golf marathon, Fairway of Honor pay tribute to fallen veterans

Karl Kimball, director of golf at Durham’s Hillandale Golf Course, has an annual tradition of writing the names of servicemen and women who died defending their country in recent wars on the course – 191 names this year.
Karl Kimball, director of golf at Durham’s Hillandale Golf Course, has an annual tradition of writing the names of servicemen and women who died defending their country in recent wars on the course – 191 names this year. cseward@newsobserver.com

Endurance and speed normally aren’t key facets of a golfer’s game, but those are the skills that are most important to Karl Kimball every Labor Day when he embarks on a 24-hour golf marathon.

That’s how Kimball, director of golf at Hillandale Golf Course, observes Patriot Golf Day. Every Labor Day, golf courses across the country focus on raising donations for Folds of Honor, a nonprofit that provides scholarships to the children and spouses of members of the military who were killed or disabled while defending the nation.

The faster Kimball plays, the more money he raises because some donations are pegged to the number of holes he completes.

“Last year I played just over 18 rounds of golf,” said Kimball, 58. “(When) I start out, my first round of golf, I’ll play in about 50 minutes. Then, at night, it slows down because it’s dark.”

Kimball’s son Chase, now 15, once asked him why he chose to hit the links for 24 hours straight.

“Really, the only answer I have,” said Kimball, his voice choking with emotion, “is that sometimes, in order to bring attention to something that needs it, something extraordinary has to happen.”

But for Kimball, playing golf around the clock – something he is doing for the sixth time this year beginning at 6 p.m. Monday – wasn’t enough. So this is the third year that he has also created a “Fairway of Honor” at Hillandale’s 18th hole dedicated to the North Carolinians serving in the military who were killed since the War on Terror began in 2001.

This year’s memorial, lined with miniature U.S. flags, is 150 yards long. It features the names of 191 deceased North Carolinians, in letters 14-inches high, painted onto the turf.

Kimball devoted 8 hours, spread out over two days last week, to painting each and every name. He was assisted by volunteers – including members of Boy Scout Troop 438, where Kimball is Scoutmaster – who held handles attached to ropes stretched across the turf so that each line of names was uniformly straight.

“The first year I did this,” Kimball said, “I had an old Vietnam veteran come into my office with tears running down his face. He shook my hand, said thank you, turned around and left. That was it.”

That was enough to persuade Kimball to make the Fairway of Honor an annual tribute.

Over the past three years, the Patriot Golf Day events at Hillandale – where it has actually expanded into Patriot Golf Week – have raised nearly $43,000.

Since Patriot Golf Day got its start in 2007 through last year’s events, courses across North Carolina and South Carolina together have raised about $2.5 million, said Ron Schmid, executive director of Carolinas PGA.

Since Schmid doesn’t have a course of his own, he has played his part the past few years by driving Kimball’s golf cart during his marathon rounds. Actually, make that golf carts – a trio of red-white-and-blue carts donated for the occasion by golf cart manufacturer Club Car – since electric golf carts run out of juice before Kimball does.

Schmid is impressed at how well Kimball, a former member of the PGA Tour, can play as the hours tick by.

“In the politest way, he’s no spring chicken,” Schmid said. “To continue to play golf the way he does is pretty incredible.”

Last year, Kimball’s cumulative 24-hour score was 40 under par.

“I’m taking over 1,000 swings at a golf ball,” Kimball said. “The first (round) feels like it takes 10 minutes. The last one feels like it takes 10 days.”

Strategically placed glow sticks – at the tee box, in the middle of the fairway, on the flagstick and in the hole – help Kimball navigate the course in the middle of the night. Also essential: a glow-in-the-dark ball.

And whenever Kimball’s stamina starts to flag, he gets a pick-me-up on the 18th hole when he reaches the Fairway of Honor.

“Myself and my driver, we’ll take our hats off every time we go by it,” Kimball said. “We’re reminded why we do this. ... We’ve been given the gift of our freedoms because somebody was willing to stand in harm’s way and fight for those freedoms.”

David Ranii: 919-829-4877, @dranii

Interested in donating?

You can donate to Folds of Honor online via Karl Kimball’s 24-hour golf marathon at http://bit.ly/1VHixwS.