- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2008

Relaxing in Baghdad isn’t the easiest thing for military personnel, but thanks to Bruce Riddle, a Rockville, CPA and member at Lakewood Country Club, troops there are finding it a little easier to get their minds off the turbulence.

Riddle’s nephew, Steven Labows, is a naval officer who is on a one-year assignment with the Army in Baghdad. When he arrived, he found a small, make-shift driving range built on a dump just behind one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, which the Army had taken over and turned into an operations center. Through a series of e-mails, Riddle got involved. His nephew said hitting balls in the 120-degree heat was hard on the hands, and their biggest need was for gloves. Riddle went to work, and while raising money for gloves he came across others with contacts who were interested in helping and his efforts blossomed into a network of people and companies in the golf industry that wanted to help the military build a real driving range.

Lakewood pro David Crawmer hooked Riddle up with Kevin Perry and Marshall S. Schattner at myclubguru.com, a Washington-area used-club network, which donated clubs. Fellow Lakewood member Rich Goldwater had a contact at International Management Group, the Cleveland-based company that represents many tour players. Vijay Singh’s agent stepped up and sent driving range mats courtesy of the former Masters and two-time PGA champion. Ernie Els sent hats and shirts. Riddle contacted Titleist and got a wholesale price on gloves for the $3,500 he raised.

Seeing momentum for the project, commanders in Baghdad gave the troops permission to expand the range and build a second one on the other side of town. Now there are reports of two-hour waits to hit balls on weekend nights.

“I took it personally and once it got rolling it just seemed to be the right thing to do,” says Riddle. “Once the word started spreading around, people just started sending things.”

The range now has a landscaped teeing area with palm trees and mats placed on platforms. Troops ” from the enlisted to the highest-ranking generals ” hit balls into an expansive desert landing area with white sandbags outlining target greens and signs marking distance.

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