Vail Veterans Program hosts wounded warriors for golf and general fun-having |

Vail Veterans Program hosts wounded warriors for golf and general fun-having

Michael Spivey, of San Diego, takes a drive on the practice range while getting instruction from Red Sky Ranch Director of Golf Instruction Larry Rinker while playing the course with the Vail Veterens program Wednesday in Wolcott.
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About the Vail Veterans Program

The Vail Veterans Program provides rehabilitative sports programs to United States military personnel who have been severely injured while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and to the troops that support those efforts.

The program is open to wounded warriors and their families, building confidence and hope through skiing, snowboarding and outdoor summer recreational activities.

The Vail Veterans Program is a volunteer organization and hosts wounded warriors and their families free of charge.

Send donations or contact them at: P.O. Box 6473, Vail, Colorado 81658; 970-476-4906; email:

VAIL — Smash factor; it’s the ultimate guy statistic.

The Vail Veterans Program is back in town this week for some golf, and they’re all about the smash factor – which might be one of the great names for a rock band, but is actually an awesome golf statistic.

Pat Martinez has the week’s biggest smash factor. Basically, it measures how hard a golfer hits the ball off the tee. Martinez’ smash factor is around 150, which means his tee shots carry about 320 yards – usually straight, which just isn’t fair.

The good karma crew

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This week’s dozen or so guys are not a high maintenance group. They want to have as much fun as possible, which they could do sitting on concrete blocks talking with each other.

“Look at him! Look how good he’s hitting it! Five minutes of work with the doctor!” bragged a Red Sky Ranch club pro.

“Doctor?!? You?!?” retorted one of the golfers. “Maybe a proctologist!”

“They don’t want down time. They want to play as much golf as humanly possible,” said Cheryl Jensen, Vail Veterans Program founder and executive director.

These guys also ooze climate karma.

They played Beaver Creek on Monday. Not a drop of rain fell on them while it poured in Vail, just a few miles away. Wednesday they played Red Sky Ranch. They teed off in the sunshine as it rained on everything east of Wolcott. Before long it rained them too, but the sun shined on them before anyone else.

Speaking of good karma, the guys were having dinner in Vail’s Bol, a bowling alley and restaurant. They tend to attract attention because they laugh loudly and often. A couple in Bol asked about them. After it was all explained to them, they handed over a credit card and told Bol to put $700 from the Vail Veterans’ expenses on their tab. Their only requirement was that no one could ever know who they are.

The veterans are here for fun, not necessarily a fundraiser – but if you want to make a donation that’ll be dandy.

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Challenge coins

Randy Nantz is here. He’s director of program services for the Green Beret Foundation and a wounded warrior. He and Jensen were comparing challenge coins. They’re awarded when soldiers do something outstanding.

Nantz earned three before he was hit. Now he has hundreds.

“Someone will walk up to me and say ‘Thank you for your service and your sacrifice,’ and hand me a coin,” Nantz explained.

Jensen got hers from Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno, so yeah, hers is bigger.

The guys keep a challenge coin on them almost all the time for several very good reasons, such as …

“Someone will slap one down on the bar, and everyone else is supposed to slap theirs down too. If you don’t have one with you, you have to buy that round,” Nantz said.

Jake Keeslar was here in 2009 for a Vail Veterans Program ski trip. When Jensen asked him to this summer’s golf trip, he thought about it for less time than it takes to measure the smash factor.

Keeslar was serving in the Army in the Middle East when he was hit by a homemade bomb in 2006. He’s a double amputee.

“It’s all about the guys, getting out here for some recreation,” Keeslar said. “Cheryl takes the time to understand what everyone needs.”

Larry Rinker is a former PGA touring pro and Red Sky Ranch’s director of golf instruction. Smash factors are good, but chipping and putting are better. He loves these guys for several reasons, mostly because they’re easy to coach.

Tuesday, for example, he gave a short game clinic and spoke for about 20 minutes.

“I was pleasantly surprised. They remembered what I said and applied it,” Rinker said.

Gary McCord, CBS golf analyst, is in town to play with the group, because he likes these people.

“It’s fantastic to watch them. Their enthusiasm is palpable,” McCord said.

McCord hit fourth off the first tee, acting out a limp as he laughed his way to the tee box. The other three in his group had already hit their drives dead solid perfect.

“I got a little tendinitis in my left knee,” McCord said smiling.

“So do I,” laughed Nantz. “I have an extra knee back at the hotel if you need one.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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