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12 years of Rochester’s most patriotic tee-off

August 27, 2018
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Karla Madden and her ex-husband, Barry Erickson, both of Waseca, remember their son, Caleb Erickson, during the Presentation of Roses during the Tee It Up for the Troops, the 12th Annual Golf Benefit, Thursday at Willow Creek Golf Course. “It’s an honor to be here knowing Caleb will never be forgotten. But I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to hearing Taps again,” said Karla. Caleb was killed by a suicide bomber on Feb. 28, 2014, while serving in Afghanistan.

At half past noon on Thursday, 180 golfers teed off for the 12th anniversary of Tee It Up for the Troops, Rochester’s most patriotic golf tournament.

Over those 12 years, the event has established itself as one of the strongest and most well-attended charity golf events.

“We’ve been sold out since the beginning of the year,” said event chairman Lynn Clarey, adding that there’s often a waiting list of golfers who can’t get into the event due to lack of space. “It’s a beautiful thing. Some of the golf tournaments are going down, but ours is gaining momentum. There’s huge support for our troops.”

One of the ways that support is shown is through soldier sponsorships, which allowed 36 active military members to join Thursday’s tournament. Each foursome of civilian golfers was paired with a soldier to compete in a golf scramble for a chance at prizes.

Many of the 144 civilian golfers who joined the soldiers on the fairway, Clarey said, have returned year after year to show their support of local military.

“This has truly become a community golf event,” he said.

Tee It Up is also sponsored by generous contributions from local businesses and plenty of help from hardworking volunteers, many of whom are called on year after year to help set up the other symbol of Tee It Up — the 1,200 American flags that line the paths and fairway.

“It’s one of the largest displays of American flags you’ll probably ever see,” Clarey said.

Students from Rochester high schools and volunteers from Adult Teen Challenge help set up and take down those flags every year in a lengthy process that can only be described as a team effort.

In addition to organizing an afternoon of golf that regularly packs the holes at Willow Creek Golf Course, Tee It Up hosts a short ceremony honoring visiting members of the military and local veterans. This year, they paid tribute to seven World War II veterans from Southeast Minnesota as well as two Medal of Honor recipients who have now visited the event for two consecutive years.

Four local Gold Star families were also honored in a ceremony recognizing their sons killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ceremony included the presentation of a wreath honoring those fallen by the Gold Star families and placement of roses on the four battlefield crosses. Taps was played and Rochester’s Caledonia Pipe Band performed “Amazing Grace” as the families were escorted off the green.

“It’s something to watch,” Clarey said of the ceremony, which left some in tears. “And then you’re supposed to go out and have fun after that.”

Rochester’s Tee It Up for the Troops is one of 58 golf tournaments being held all over the nation since the organization, based in Burnsville, was established in 2005. In the past 10 years, this charity golf event has raised more than $550,000 for veterans and veteran service organizations. Clarey said the Rochester tournament usually raises more than $60,000 every year.

Half of the money raised is donated to nationwide organizations such as the Fisher House Foundation and Disabled Sports USA. The other half supports local programs such as Beyond the Yellow Ribbon and Operation Hometown Gratitude or to provide funding for retreats for soldiers and their spouses at Ironwood Christian Ranch.

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