Since Operation Double Eagle — the Augusta, Ga.-based workforce-development program that provides golf course education
and job-placement assistance for veterans — began in 2020, 55 former service members have been through the program in eight complete cohorts, with a ninth cohort about halfway done.
Not every ODE graduate has gone on to a career in the industry, but more than 30% are currently working in the golf course or landscaping industry. And 50% of ODE grads have gone on to find employment in industries like pest control, sanitation and ancillary
industries, according to ODE project manager Jeremy Tindell.
Through Operation Double Eagle, a program under the umbrella of the Warrior Alliance, up to 15 selected veterans per session receive free education and a monthly stipend through the duration of the nine-week program, which generally involves a half day
of classroom education at Augusta Technical College in topics including horticulture science, golf course maintenance, turf management and irrigation, followed by a half day of hands-on, practical work at the program’s Double Eagle Performance
Center, a nonplayable par-3 hole nestled out of the way at Augusta Municipal Golf Course.
Once they graduate and are presented an Augusta Tech golf turf and landscape specialist certificate, they’re often introduced to industry representatives in their areas of interest.
Some gravitate toward landscaping. ODE graduate Christopher Blume has since opened his own small business in landscape construction, says Tindell.
Here’s a look at three veterans who have taken their ODE experience and turned it into a new career in the golf industry — in some cases, in life-changing fashion.
Matt Weber during his army days. Weber served in the army for five years before being medically retired in 2009, and graduated ODE in December 2021.Photos courtesy of Matt Weber
A December 2021 graduate of ODE, Matt Weber can’t fathom where he’d be today if he hadn’t gone through Operation Double Eagle.
Back in 2020, Weber — who served in the Army for five years before being medically retired in 2009 — was experiencing homelessness, living in his car with his service dog. In November of 2020, his work hours were cut, as was his position eventually,
due to the pandemic. Battling addiction to medications and alcohol abuse, he scraped together his few dollars and checked into a hotel.
In October of 2021, he was told of ODE through ForcesUnited, an Augusta, Ga., veterans service organization, but he was skeptical.
“I was in a dark place,” Weber says. “A lady (from ForcesUnited) got me into a cybersecurity program, and I did complete it, but it was very misleading as to how it was supposed to help veterans transition. She called back after all
that and said, ‘Hey, I know that didn’t work out, but this is completely different. I remember you’re a more hands-on-type of guy. You like to be outdoors.’ She sent me information about Operation Double Eagle. I was hesitant
at first because of the previous program I’d tried, but she said, ‘Before we get you enrolled, let’s have you talk with them and see if you’re a good fit.’ Jeremy and I talked for an hour and a half. After that, I felt
better about it. I was still a little hesitant, but I was willing to give it a shot.”
Weber and his late sister, Sarah Olivia Rish.
Though the nine-week program already was underway, Weber enrolled and quickly made up for lost time. Before he had even graduated, Tindell helped introduce Weber to Landscapes Unlimited, the venerable golf course contractor, at the Carolinas GCSA Conference
and Show in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“There were a couple of our (ODE) guys there,” Weber says. “Jeremy said that we were trying to get our lives back on track, trying to get settled. I actually interviewed before I graduated from ODE. They offered me employment two or
three weeks before I graduated. I graduated on Friday (December 17) and started the following Monday. I originally thought about starting after the first of the year, but that wouldn’t work. I’d been without a job too long. I had to get
out of the hotel I was in, so they put me to work right away.”
Shortly after starting at LU, where he still works as an equipment operator, he signed a lease for a home.
“It’s a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a two-car garage, with a privacy fence for myself and my dog,” Weber says. “Without ODE, I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at. I wouldn’t have my own house. I wouldn’t
have decent transportation. I wouldn’t have a place for my service dog to play. I wouldn’t have a place to call home. I wouldn’t have any of this, if not for them.”
Before ODE, Weber says he never would have envisioned he’d find a place in the golf industry.
“My version growing up was hitting golf balls across the street with a baseball bat. But I was hitting cows, so I had to stop,” Weber says with a laugh.
He played a round when he was about 16, but not since.
“My outlook on golf, for most of my life, has been … I guess you could say … critical,” he says. “I made fun of my friends who played. I respected the sport, but I made fun of my buddies for how they’d dress when
they’d play — the polka-dot pants and pink shirts.”
Operation Double Eagle changed all that.
“Going through the program opened my eyes to so many different things,” Weber says. “I saw golf from a different perspective. I started to see it through other folks’ experiences. I was more receptive to it. And there are so many
aspects that go into it — the marketing, food and beverage, grounds maintenance, equipment. I respect that about it.”
Curiously, Weber says he worked security for the Masters, but “I’d never really gone past the gates too much.”
That has changed with his work for Landscapes Unlimited. He was hands-on for a renovation LU recently completed at Augusta Country Club that involved work on greens, bunkers and tee boxes.
“I run everything from skid steers to bulldozers,” Weber says, “everything from delivery of sod to loads of dirt and sand, hauling material on and off the course, irrigation systems, grading, cutting … there isn’t much I
haven’t had a hand in.”
Weber, 37, isn’t sure where he’d like his career journey to go next, and though he might eventually pursue an assistant golf course superintendent position, he feels a certain sense of loyalty to Landscapes Unlimited.
“Just as important as ODE is, Landscapes Unlimited has been the best company I’ve ever worked for,” he says. “I have a lot of severe PTSD issues. I lost numerous combat brothers. Sometimes it requires me to leave work early. And
I’ve got this house and things I’ve never had to do before, like, I had to be here for the power people to do something to the power box. They’ve allowed me to take time when I’ve needed to focus on what I need to do for myself
— this home, my medical needs. They’ve treated me so well.
“I can’t imagine wanting to work for somebody other than Landscapes Unlimited. But I would like to be more stationary. I’d like to be able to grow professionally. And I’d like to have a family, and kids. I’d like to be a
superintendent at a golf course, so I’d know when I have to be there and when I can leave, instead of bouncing around four golf courses like I did this summer. I might look into an assistant superintendent job to see what’s out there.
“I do know I feel like now I’ve got the whole world in my hands right now,” Weber says. “I’ve got my own place where I’m raising my dog and my kittens. I’ve got a nice car and a fantastic career. The company I
work for is awesome. I really do owe everything to Operation Double Eagle and Landscapes Unlimited.”
Shannon Bowling, part of ODE's second class of graduates, currently works at Gordon Lakes Golf Club in Fort Gordon, Ga., as a golf course maintenance operator. Photo courtesy of Shannon Bowling
When it comes to ODE success stories, there are few more successful than Shannon Bowling’s.
Bowling, who will turn 50 in December, graduated from ODE’s second class in December 2020. A retired Army sergeant first class who spent nearly 20 years in the Marines and the Army combined, Bowling joined the grounds crew at the The Creek Club
Course at Reynolds Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Ga. After about 15 months there, he moved on to a similar position at Gordon Lakes Golf Club at Fort Gordon, Ga., where since April he has toiled as a golf course maintenance operator.
He left Lake Oconee semi-reluctantly.
“I was going to be second assistant superintendent there, but this job came open,” Bowling says. “My goal was to move up, but I had to decide if I wanted to do that or come up here.”
Gordon Lakes, a Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed military course, and proximity to home won out.
“It’s a 20-minute drive, instead of an hour each way, plus it’s a little more money,” Bowling says. “It’s actually more like a federal job, and I’m on a military post. I’m comfortable with that. I don’t
have to deal with the soldiers. I’m just dealing with the golfers who come to the golf course.”
Though Gordon Lakes has 27 holes to the 18 Bowling helped maintain at The Creek Club Course, the Gordon Lakes staff is roughly half the size.
Then again …
“We only have one type of grass here: bermuda,” Bowling says. “At Lake Oconee, it was bentgrass, zoysia and bermuda, so it’s a little easier up here.”
While Bowling says he might try to ascend the ranks in the industry, he’s aware there’s still much to learn. For now, though, he says he’s fortunate for the training and connections ODE provided.
“I told my wife I’m lucky to have found a job where I love what I’m doing,” he says. “I work on the grass and get to play golf, too. Now I have the advantage over the people I play with. I know where the pins are set —
because I set ’em.”
Steve Rumsey, a 37-year Army veteran, is now an assistant superintendent for Landscapes Unlimited thanks to joining ODE. Photo courtesy of Steve Rumsey
A chance encounter brought Steve Rumsey into the ODE program.
Rumsey’s wife, Hillary, attended a conference at which Tindell was a speaker. His message struck a chord.
“He gave his spiel, and she took that as, ‘I need to hear more about this. This is right for my husband,’” Steve Rumsey says. “When he got done, they got together and talked about what was going on. She got home and hit me
with the pitch and showed me the pamphlet. She knew I loved being outdoors, loved being out in the yard.
“But I hesitated calling him. It’s a pride thing. When you’re not doing anything … well, I gave him a call. We talked on the phone for 45 minutes. I told him what was going on. From the first minute of the phone call, I understood
I had a brother on the other side of the line, somebody who understood me. I got a good vibe from him. I went online and put myself in the course. From day one, I fell in love with what I was doing.”
A 37-year Army veteran who saw 13 overseas deployments and who ascended to the rank of sergeant major before retiring, Rumsey was working as a cableman for a major telecommunications company until 2019. On April 10 of that year, he was atop a ladder on
a power pole when, he says, a car bumped the ladder, causing him to plummet to the pavement below. The accident wrecked his feet, spine, shoulders and hips.
“I had traction, surgeries on my foot, hip and shoulder, injections in my back,” he says. “I had doctors telling me I’d not run again, telling me I wouldn’t stand up straight again, that I wouldn’t be able to lift my
own weight. My last surgery was in 2020. After the recovery time and all the therapy, I said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to have doctors telling me I couldn’t do something.’ I started doing a little more physical stuff on
my own. I ended up running a 10K, running a half marathon. I did the Army 10-miler. I was walking straight, able to do push-ups.
“But you know, from April 2019 to the time I started (ODE) class, I was in a dark, dark place. I felt useless. I wasn’t providing for my family. Depression was settling in. Not to the point it was in the suicidal sense, but I felt I couldn’t
do anything. Why do I exist? I was questioning myself. Why am I here? I knew I could still do some things, but I didn’t have a job. They let me go the same year as my accident, in June, and I had to find something. This course basically pulled
me out of a real, real dark place.”
Rumsey enrolled in ODE in October 2021. He started as an operator at Landscapes Unlimited in January 2022 and since has climbed the ranks to assistant superintendent.
A highlight, he says, of his time at LU was working on the Augusta CC restoration.
“We shut down when the Masters rolled in, and when we came back after the Masters, (LU’s) Brett Ambrose said, ‘You’ve got the knowledge. I’m going to put you someplace else. I’ll send you to Augusta Country Club,’”
Rumsey recalls. “I thought I had done some something wrong. He said, ‘No, you just need more training.’ So, I went to Augusta Country Club, where they were redoing all the greens. I was able to see it go from a green to a hole in
the ground to a green again. Doing that, and working with the architect, Tripp (Davis), was like a dream come true. Now I can say I’m a part of something so many people will be playing on.”
Rumsey also worked on a restoration at Sage Valley Golf Club just outside Augusta in Graniteville, S.C., and says he’s currently learning more supervisory skills from Ambrose.
“Minus my wife and kids, this has been one of the biggest joys in my life,” says Rumsey, 57. “I could see myself one day maybe being a project manager — with the guidance and help of the individuals I’m with now. Who would
have thought, from the first day I walked into that class, that I’d be where I am now? I thought I’d be out cutting grass or pruning trees. I’m really awed to be where I’m at.
“I never thought I’d end up on a golf course. I do wish Operation Double Eagle would get a little more recognition. To have a course like that hellip; never in a million years would I have thought I’d do something like this. The way
it’s brought forward, nobody is alienated. You’re no different than anybody else. You are a veteran. You are a family member. You have the same life story as every other veteran. This program makes you feel human.”
Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s senior managing editor.