On a rainy day in June, the clouds cleared just in time for Travis Gambee to show off his disc golf course.
He's not the owner, technically, but the new 18-hole layout on the Custer Greens Golf Course at the Battle Creek Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center wouldn't be there without him.
As the sun peeked out and helicopters from the nearby Air National Guard Base flew overhead, Gambee and his 12-year-old daughter, Kasey, navigated the course that he and his friend Eric Dingman personally designed, with input and financial support from the local disc golf community.
Like a proud new dad, he spoke glowingly about its potential.
"I wanted to build a disc golf course and wanted it to be used," Gambee said. "It's on the VA property and I know it's going to be utilized, and it's going to be utilized in a way that helped me, so other people can do it the way that I did it."
Gambee is a US Army veteran, having spent nine years in the service with the 118th Infantry Regiment. The Richland native said he struggled to adjust back to civilian life, and while receiving treatment at the Battle Creek VA, a friend introduced him to disc golf.
"I had a really tough time transitioning from military life to civilian life and was really a shut in," Gambee said. "My first time out throwing a disc, I fell in love with it and after that I was hooked. I was out almost every day practicing and for two years every weekend I was in a tournament, traveling around to play in them."
Gambee said his newfound love of the sport helped him in his recovery. He lost nearly 50 pounds and improved his self confidence. "It got my mind off of reliving in the past," he said, "to looking at how I can get better at this sport."
Disc golf also provided bonding time between father and daughter.
"Usually I would sit at home and watch movies on the couch all day, and it would get boring," Kasey Gambee said. "So my dad asked if I wanted to play and I said sure. I just practiced a lot with my dad, and he taught me a lot of stuff he learned from his friends.
"It gets me out of the house. My mom always wanted me to do a sport, and I never really liked the other sports, but this sport is actually really fun to play."
Kasey Gambee finished fourth in her age group at the 2017 PDGA Amateur and Junior World Championships in Iowa, and has won 10 tournaments since 2016. She herself designed the short tee pads for the Custer Green disc golf course.
"She started playing, and she just got better and better," Travis Gambee said. "We talk about everything (when we disc golf). Nothing is off the table... The more we did it, the more the communication opened up between us. We grew closer the more we started playing the game."
The nonprofit New Level Sports Ministries is contracted by the Battle Creek VA to run the publicly open Custer Greens Golf Course. Gambee and Dingman, members of the Mitten State Disc Golf Club, approached Denise McCoy of New Level Sports about potentially putting baskets on the 18-hold ball golf course located on the VA campus.
"We love sports for both veteran therapy and youth, and our effort here is to make this course a family atmosphere, and disc golf is a perfect fit," McCoy said. "It works as therapy and something for kids to do... It's exciting to see the life added to the course, so we're extremely pleased."
The course layout and scorecards are available on the free disc golf app called UDisc. It is open to the public for a $3 walking fee or a $9 cart fee, with an option for a $50 annual membership for walking.
There is talk of eventually bringing tournaments and fundraisers to the course, as well as adding new tee pads. Gambee said he's already got a name for a tournament — Custer's Last Throw.
"You build it, they will come," Gambee said. "And they are coming."
Nick Buckley can be reached at email@example.com or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley
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