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A Slice of Home in the Desert

Soldiers in Iraq keep golf skills sharp

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AL ASAD, Iraq--­It's hard to practice your golf swing when you live in a sand trap. But soldiers of the Headquarters Company, 593th Corps Support Group, have a solution.

Next to the unit's headquarters, former streetlight poles have been bolted to concrete protective barriers in order to hang a shade canopy in the air. Two small Astroturf-covered platforms, which can be moved from 20 to 70 feet away, sit on the ground next to a covered bucket filled with golf balls.

Many staff members have golf clubs in their offices, including group paralegal NCO Staff Sgt. Joshua L. Quinton of Seattle, Wash.

"It's a good release. It's nice to get out of the office for even 10 minutes to hit a few balls," Quinton said. "It kind of takes you out of this place for a minute."

Welcome to golf, Iraq style. The greens are artificial. The fairways are sand. The clubhouse is a military base.

The driving range was the brainchild of Support Operations Sgt. Maj. Clinton A. Beers of Boise, Idaho, who took inspiration from the driving range nets at golf stores. Beers, who attended Borah High School, saw Iraqi streetlight poles that had been knocked down by tanks or other vehicles, and came up with the idea.

"I love golf," Beers said. "I thought if I could get my hands on a couple of those, I could make it happen."

The initial driving range was completed at the end of September. For the basic equipment, the soldiers turned to stateside donors.

One of those was Tom Trigg, an insurance salesman and avid golfer at the Vashon Island Golf Club in Seattle. After meeting Quinton on the course in Seattle, Trigg offered to help.

"Boredom is probably the biggest thing for these guys," said Trigg. "They're sitting around waiting. I said, 'Maybe you guys could use some golf balls for entertainment.'" Quinton, he said, jumped at the opportunity.

But, Trigg said, just a few balls probably wouldn't suffice.

"We tried to get them enough so they could just hit them into the desert," Trigg said.

So he put up a sign in the Vashon Island clubhouse, asking for donations of golf balls. Because many golfers are one-time users of balls, the collection grew quickly.

"You'd be surprised how many people wanted to contribute," Trigg said.

Eventually, Trigg had six five-gallon buckets full of balls, and about 40 to 50 clubs. The clubs are all types, Trigg said, from drivers to irons and everything in between.

"We figured there would be something for everybody," Trigg said.

Many of the used golf balls are from Trigg's collection and have his name on them.

"I figure some Iraqi's going to come after me, wondering who this Tom Trigg guy is," he said.

Trigg contacted officers at Fort Lewis in Washington, and eventually was able to get his donations loaded up onto a pallet headed on a supply plane for Iraq.

"It's surprising how efficient the military is," Trigg said. "You put a guy's name on a bucket of balls and it gets to him in Iraq."

The largesse of the Washington golfers has the soldiers in Iraq well-supplied. Although Trigg wanted to provide them with enough to just knock into the sand, the soldiers have turned out to be as protective of their golf equipment as they are of their more essential gear.

Still, there appear to be plenty to go around.

"We could lose 500 balls in the desert and still have a thousand left," Beers said.

Despite the size of the canopy, which is 40 feet tall by 60 feet wide, they occasionally have a golfer who manages to miss it. But the problem is a rare one, Beers said.

The military doctrine of constantly improving the fighting position has been applied to the driving range. There are plans to have a working streetlight pole installed, which would essentially allow it to be open to golf enthusiasts 24 hours a day.

"Pretty soon we'll mount that and we'll be able to hit balls at night, too," Beers said.

The canopy is raised with a pulley system, which allows it to be lowered during severe weather. If it isn't lowered during high winds, the canopy acts as a sail and billows out of control, Beers said.

Quinton, who built the platforms and maintains a set of clubs for others to borrow, said they are also thinking about building a small putting green out of concrete in the break area.

Despite the opportunities the driving range offers, Quinton doesn't expect it to take his golf skills to professional levels.

"Hopefully it's maintained what I had before I left, which wasn't very good," he said, smiling.

Likewise, Beers said he hopes to keep his game up as well as his handicap, which stands at eight. To help it along, he recently ordered a custom set of clubs and had them sent here from home.

"I don't have time to do it every day, but I do it when I can," he said.

A version of this story originally appeared in The Anaconda Times, a weekly U.S. Army newspaper printed for the servicemembers and civilians stationed at Logistical Support Area Anaconda in Balad, Iraq. News Editor Shea Andersen contributed to this story.