MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) - Golf has become a guiding light for the Wallace family, helping them repair their lives and get through some very difficult times.
Christopher and Jonathan Wallace are not out just playing 18 holes a day, although at times that’s part of the curriculum at the Golf Academy of America. They’re among a growing number of military veterans learning the business of golf in hopes the game becomes their next career.
“Golf has become part of our therapy, both individually and collectively. We’re getting our lives back, little by little,” said George Wallace.
Mike Betz of the Education Corporation of America said that’s happening more and more with troops seeking the next step in their lives when they return home after serving in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Golf becomes part of their rehab,” said Betz, the ECA’s military student initiative general manager. “Then they go out and chase that little white ball and there’s something restorative.”
ECA is the parent company for the five golf academies located in San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, Orlando, Fla., and on South Carolina’s Grand Strand region. Betz said academy inquiries from veterans have increased as they consider turning a hobby into a vocation. Former service members made up fewer than 20 percent of the 850 academy students in 2005. Seven years later, the school says more than 30 percent of its 1,200 enrollees have military backgrounds.
The Wallace family needed something to cling to after years of service.
Christopher, 29, joined the military out of high school and spent a decade in the Army. Jonathan, 26, was a military police officer who worked for the Secret Service at military bases throughout the world. Injuries led to their discharges. George, 56, worked at the Department of Energy site as a rigger, wearing three suits to protect against radiation as he checked equipment for leaks. He worked at the Savannah River Site nuclear plant for 31 years until downsizing cost him his job.
“I always felt I was destined to be a warrior,” Christopher said.
Christopher was on the front lines for several missions during the earliest days in Iraq. He will not discuss what he calls atrocities of battle. He developed inoperable brain tumors that caused up to 30 seizures a day. The Army told Christopher the tumors came from exposure, he said. He could no longer serve and his separation from the life he dreamt about since childhood devastated him.
“When they took that away from me after I was injured, it crushed me,” Christopher said.
Christopher said he lost all hope in 2008 and put a loaded shotgun against his chin as he planned to end the pain once and for all. It was that moment he got a call from his former wife saying they were expecting a child.
“My daughter saved my life,” he said.