Time had almost run out on Custer Greens Golf Course, a 9-hole public facility at the Battle Creek Veteran's Association (VA).

Although Custer Greens has been in existence nearly 60 years, its well-being has been threatened for more than two decades.

In the 1990s, laws changed to prohibit spending appropriated VA funds to help run the facility. Recently, Summit Pointe opted out of managing Custer Greens. That’s when New Level Sports (NLS), a nonprofit student-athlete support service, decided to oversee operations, and when John Fulling, certified golf course superintendent at Kalamazoo Country Club — and others — got busy.

Fulling, a member of Golf Course Superintendents Association of America board of directors, has helped lead a charge to restore Custer Greens. For five years, Fulling had been in contact with NLS Executive Director Chris McCoy to find a golf course where at-risk youths could learn golf and its life lessons. The pursuit ended when Custer Greens became available. The work, though, was just beginning.

“There was no equipment, no money, no nothing,” Fulling says. “It was borderline lost. We cut through grass that in spots was more than 1 foot high. It took nearly three weeks to get it back to something that resembled a golf course.”

Besides his staff, other golf courses in the region (including the famed Oakland Hills) and the Michigan Golf Course Superintendents Association lent a lot of helping hands. Vendors have also jumped on board.

McCoy, meanwhile, says Fulling’s commitment took him to another level of feeling better.

“John has always been so optimistic about what we have been trying to do,” said McCoy, who is also senior pastor at Faith Assembly Christian Fellowship Church. “He’s taking this on not as an outsider; it’s like he owns it with us. What John and so many others are doing here is amazing.”

Veterans, too, are pleased that Custer Greens, which is open for business and hopes to stage a grand opening in 2016, is encountering a revival.

“Veterans have told us they are more relaxed, are better spouses, and become re-engaged,” says Scott Ferguson, supervisor of the VA's therapeutic recreation section of social work service, noting that some veterans will actually work maintenance on Custer Greens. “Some veterans even have told us this has saved their lives.”

One of those veterans is First Sergeant (Ret.) Kevin Ott, who served in Kuwait as part of Desert Storm, where he’d participated in a ranger unit whose duty focused on long-range surveillance.

Ott grew up playing the golf course. Now he is connected as a former inpatient at the VA’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Clinic and is currently an outpatient.

“I learned how to play golf there and fell in love with it,” Ott, 49, said. “I used to be happy when they just mowed. I am so grateful for what they are doing with this. It gives us something to do other than sit around and play bingo.”

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