ORLANDO, Fla. -- For roughly anybody over the age of 15, it was a veritable JFK moment, four decades removed.
Every American acutely recalls where they were, what they were doing, who was watching nearby as well as the feelings of unfettered shock, awe and disgust that followed when the Twin Towers disintegrated into ash nine years ago.
As the 10-year anniversary of the attacks approaches next fall, an incredibly ambitious organization would like us to instead embrace the emotion that flowed the following day, Sept. 12, 2001, when patriotism began running at a fever pitch as a nation metaphorically circled the wagons.
|Patriotism and golf can go together well. (US Presswire)|
An undeniably affirmative program called Golf 9/12 was launched Tuesday at Lake Nona Country Club, with a litany of prominent athletes, coaches, luminaries and idealistic dreamers throwing their considerable weight behind the notion that some of America's finest hours followed one of its most tragic incidents. We'll get to the details of the initiative in a moment, but here's the crux of what the organization is about.
Nine years ago, former San Francisco 49ers star Jim Stuckey was standing on his backyard dock in South Carolina, holding the hand of his then-4-year-old daughter Mary Frances, trying to get his head around the previous day's terrorist events, when a military plane from a nearby base flew overhead.
In a spontaneous move, Stuckey quickly asked his daughter to salute the massive transport plane as it lumbered above the marshland behind his home. The pilot, flying unusually low, spotted the pair.
"He tipped his wings," Stuckey said Tuesday, his eyes tearing up at the thought. "He knew that we were with him. That's what it's all about for me."
That's what the new program's all about, period -- rekindling the sense of unity the nation felt in the aftermath of the attacks. And like most things American, this plan is unbridled, unhinged and utterly massive in its scope.
"You have to have a big, hairy, audacious goal," said Johan Immelman, the former commissioner of the Sunshine Tour and one of the two primary movers behind the idea.
The immensity of the idea didn't stop a slew of sports stars and influential figures from signing on, all with the hope that the fire we felt inside after the attacks can be rekindled.
"We thought, what can we do to unite people when they seem more divided than ever?" Immelman said.
In short, rally and remind the country of what it felt like nine years ago, when the united part of the United States wasn't just some quaint, antiquated notion we embraced during Olympic years.
Each year, Immelman's group will help clubs stage tournaments across the country on the first Monday after 9/11, with all of the tournament leaderboards linked and a percentage of proceeds benefitting various Sept. 11-related memorials and charities. Next fall, on Sept. 12, the day after the 10-year anniversary of the attacks, Golf 9/12 organizers hope to have 220 courses across the country signed up for the largest multi-venue golf event in the world.
Guys in Florida can play against their pals in California. A portion of the green fees, $12, will go toward the Golf 9/12 program. Clubs will organize the events independently, putting their own spin on things and hopefully staging parties afterward.
The sentiment is pretty simple.
"What carried us through that time was a national sense of unity," said Col. Ray Horoho, a member of the Golf 9/12 board of directors whose career-military wife survived the Pentagon attack. "We want to recapture how we all felt on 9/12."
Impressively, the impetus behind the organization is a pair of expatriate South Africans, Richard Davies and Immelman, who now reside in Charlotte. Sometimes, it takes a fresh view from afar to remind us homegrown types what we so often take for granted.
"I am standing here as a proud South African who thoroughly enjoys living in America," said 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman, Johan's son. "We can all get together and unite and stand for something."
Said the elder Immelman: "Freedom is not just an American thing. It's an international thing."
As the various heavy hitters associated with the organization spoke, it was hard not to get a Srixon-sized lump in your throat. One by one, generals, luminaries and athletes poured out their guts on the subject of patriotism and why it's more important than ever to realize that we're all in this deal together.
Gen. Buck Kernan, the commander of U.S. forces at the time of the attacks, was overseas when the Twin Towers fell and hustled off to New York City as soon as he was back on U.S. soil.
"I saw the spirit of America like I had never seen it before," Kernan said. "It was powerful. Our national security is at risk, but so are our national values. This is not just about the sport of golf. It's about national values and the spirit of being an American.
"Time has slipped by and that enthusiasm, that ethos, we have lost a little about the essence of being an American."
As for those on the golf front who are backing the sweeping initiative, Trevor Immelman is joined by major winners Davis Love and Lucas Glover, among other tour players. Glover was actually stuffing press releases in bags Tuesday and placing them on chairs for the media in attendance. Davies recruited him during the Quail Hollow tour stop a few months ago.
"Before he got it all out, I said, 'I'm in,'" Glover said. "I believe in it. We're going to make this work and it's going to be huge."
Given the emotional, can-do timbre of the day, nobody disagreed. Lou Holtz, a Lake Nona resident who supports the program and a popular speaker on the rubber-chicken circuit, nearly blew the roof off the joint with his completely impromptu remarks.
"I believe in this country," Holtz said. "And I'm tired of people making apologies for it."
I shot a glance over at Glover at that moment. He would have charged up San Juan Hill armed with nothing but a putter at that moment, with the 9/12 board members and most of the audience right behind him.
Someday down the road, once the Golf 9/12 plan gains traction, Johan Immelman aspires to have "880,000 golf balls in the air" simultaneously around the world.
Big, hairy and audacious? Check, check and check.
The group is actively recruiting clubs and courses to partake in the inaugural event in September -- so far, several dozen have already signed on as sites, Immelman said -- and the ambitious particulars are spelled out at the website www.Golf912.org.
Perhaps the day's most gulp-inducing moment came when Tim Lang, a Marine who was injured in Iraq and has since endured 48 surgeries in four years, implored his fellow Yanks to keep the post-9/11 spirit alive by whatever means necessary. If we can't get behind that general sentiment, maybe we don't deserve to be Americans.
"All I would ask," Lang said of the attacks, "is that we don't forget this."