Heroes Golf Course, on Veterans Affairs campus, is their cause

Heroes Golf Course

Vietnam veteran Walter Donaldson plays on the nine-hole Heroes Golf Course in Westwood in 2002. A fundraiser to repair and maintain the golf course is being held Wednesday. (Anacleto Rapping / Los Angeles Times / November 26, 2002)

A miraculous thing happened to Heroes Golf Course in January. It turned green.

That, of course, prompts two questions: What is Heroes Golf Course and how can a golf course not be green?

Heroes Golf Course could not be more aptly named. It is a nine-hole layout in Brentwood on the grounds of the Veterans Affairs complex. It was created by the nearby Hillcrest Country Club in 1946 to honor returning World War II veterans.

That mission hasn't changed since, but there have been lots of sand traps and unplayable lies along the way.

Now there is a big push to make the course worthy of its name, to get it up to the standards we should all demand for the war heroes who work and play golf there.

A key moment in that push is a fundraiser at the course Wednesday night. Celebrities will come out, broadcasting stars Al Michaels and Rich Eisen will host the program, and it will reflect the behind-the-scenes work of veteran television executives Steven Bochco and Andy Friendly.

Writers and producers Bochco ("Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue," etc.) and Friendly ("Entertainment Tonight," executive producer of CNBC, etc.) are friends and had been involved in other charitable causes together. But those were bigger, glitzier things. This one, a scraggly little golf course that few knew and fewer cared about, struck a chord.

After a few visits and some volunteer work on the grounds, located right around the corner from UCLA's Jackie Robinson baseball stadium and its big 2013 national champions sign, Bochco and Friendly were hooked on the cause.

Heroes Golf Course became much more than just a place for vets recovering at the nearby VA hospital to get in a few cheap rounds. Several vets started volunteering to work the course and do the heavy maintenance needed for even a par-three layout that plays to about 1,200 yards.

Jobs were created, loyalties to the place born. Dozens, and then scores, of vets volunteered to work, some even graduating to paying jobs.

Friendly visited.

"The pro shop is a Quonset hut," he says. "It looks like something out of 'MASH.' Or kind of like Kevin Costner's driving-range shack in 'Tin Cup.'"

He talked to Bochco. It became more than just a couple of Hollywood guys with time on their hands. The symbolism was too much to ignore. Here were young men, returning with serious injuries from wars that kept us safe, discovering a therapeutic outlet in a golf course, either playing on it or maintaining it.

Should they (Friendly and Bochco), among the millions of protected beneficiaries of the veterans' efforts, not at least make it the best little golf course in the world?

And so it began.

First came a donation of $200,000 from the Community Justice Foundation to install an irrigation system. Before that, the vets crew lugged hoses to all corners and tried to keep the grass growing that way.

"We'd get a little patch here, and another there," says Shane Parrish, "but it would be mostly brown and dirt in between."

Then the irrigation system went in and, presto, green grass. Everywhere. Like a real golf course.

"We kind of looked up one day," Parrish says, "and it was all green."

Phase I was a success. The course is open. The public is returning ($11 greens fees on weekdays, $13 on weekends). The lies are grass now, not mud.

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