A Legacy of Hope

A Legacy of Hope

The Folds of Honor Foundation, a nonprofit organization providing scholarships to spouses, children, and families of America’s fallen or disabled military and first responders, has made its mission to bring hope to those families during what is often the heaviest and the darkest of moments after loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice. Its symbol, a folded flag, is both a reminder and an inspiration of those moments and a call to action to not only honor those who have given their lives, but also an opportunity to empower their family members from every walk of life through educational opportunities.  

It is a vision that has since grown into a movement, as Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, USAF, founder and chief executive officer of Folds of Honor, has helped steward the organization since its humble origins as a small golf tournament hosted at the former Grand Haven Golf Club in Grand Haven, Michigan in 2006. Lt. Col. Rooney, an F-16 Fighter Pilot with three combat tours in Iraq and a PGA Golf Professional, was profoundly moved to hold the event after witnessing the procession of the flag-covered casket carrying the remains of Corporal Brock Buckling and his twin brother as they met his family on the tarmac. The Folds of Honor Foundation was established a year later and since 2007, the organization has awarded more than 44,000 educational scholarships. In 2022, the Folds of Honor Foundation granted nearly 9,000 scholarships alone for the ’22-’23 academic school year, and throughout its history, roughly 41 percent of all scholarships awarded represent minority recipients.  

When the Grand Haven Golf Club officially shuttered its operations in 2018, a small group of people came together to preserve the course as the birthplace of Folds of Honor. Envisioned as a haven, a tribute, a memorial, and a place of celebration, the golf course was reimagined as American Dunes with a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course design. Dubbed fondly at times as “the church Jack built,” American Dunes represents more than a collaboration of time, skill, investment, and passion, but a commitment to support one another and the stories of those who may be physically gone yet are never forgotten.  

“American Dunes represents a collaboration of countless like-minded patriots, who want this golf course to forever stand as a tribute to the birthplace of Folds of Honor, a safe haven for veterans who find rehabilitation through the recreation of the game, and a backdrop to celebrate our country and those who fought for its freedom,” stated Lt. Col. Rooney. 

American Dunes, which is a 7,213-yard, par-72 course sculpted through the iconic sand dunes inherent to western Michigan and the shores of Lake Michigan, features 30 bunkers, Triple Seven bentgrass greens, and generous, rolling fairways. The design reflects an artistic vision on par with the mission behind the experience as it reimagines the former tree-lined facility into a course full of drama and reverence, incorporating Nicklaus’ 18 major championships in names for each hole and plaques to honor the fallen and their legacy, and a Folds of Honor recipient.   

The course, which debuted in 2021, is also committed to raising funds and awareness for the Folds of Honor Foundation and announced it had helped fund $1.1 million for the nonprofit organization in 2022 alone after just two golf seasons. Doug Bell, PGA, general manager at American Dunes, noted the funds represent more than just the course and its pledge to donate 100 percent of its profits to the nonprofit, but a vision and an idea that has inspired individuals and organizations across the country.  

“We don’t want people to look at it and read that we, American Dunes, donated $1.1 million, but because the golf course is in existence with its mission in place, not only are people coming here to play golf and have specific events that raise money, but people all around the country—other groups that support Folds of Honor—are using American Dunes as a revenue tool, as an auction item, and when you add it all up, cash in the bank to Folds of Honor, because we exist, was $1.1 million. That is 220 military families who will receive a scholarship next year,” Bell said.   “[The owners] are blown away. We are blown away as staff. We are proud and the mission is coming true. Lt. Col. Dan Rooney had a vision to save the golf course from bankruptcy, create something so special that people will come, play it, and be inspired, you know, play your most patriotic round. People are coming from all over the country to do it and it’s working,” Bell added.