Round of a Lifetime provides dream golf trips to people with congenital heart defects

By
Eric Lindquist
The Leader-Telegram

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Sunday, July 09, 2017 | 12:39 p.m.

Pebble Beach.

For golfers, the mere words evoke visions of historic U.S. Opens, spectacular ocean views and perhaps the sport's greatest test.

Playing a round at Pebble Beach Golf Links represents the ultimate bucket list item for folks around the world who love golf.

Remarkably, thanks to a hard-to-believe chain of events beginning with a much-loved young man from Philadelphia we never had the pleasure of meeting, my son, Jackson, and I recently checked that item off our list, playing 18 holes at Pebble Beach with two close friends, Leader-Telegram photographer Dan Reiland and his son Tyler.

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The famed seaside links did not disappoint.

From the pristine condition of the entire course and the magnificent "Cliffs of Doom" lining holes eight through 10 to the panoramic views of Carmel Bay and the gorgeous par 5 finishing hole tucked between the clubhouse and the Pacific Ocean, the whole experience was a treat for the senses.

Our special day was made possible by the Round of a Lifetime Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that grants rounds of golf on world-class courses to people who meet two requirements: They are born with a congenital heart defect and love golf.

Jackson, 19, who was born with a complex condition called tetralogy of Fallot with absent pulmonary valve and underwent the first of his four heart surgeries at 5 months old, makes the cut on both counts.

We heard about Round of a Lifetime from his pediatric cardiologist and family friend, Dr. Allison Cabalka of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who immediately thought of Jackson when she received an email about the foundation. She has witnessed a smiling Jackson carrying his clubs off the 18th green at Madeline Island Golf Club and has fielded questions about how soon he could play golf after a minimally invasive procedure to get a new pulmonary valve at age 15. The answer, by the way, was two days.

Jackson, who first teed off with plastic clubs in the backyard at age 3, filled out an application, wrote an essay and did an interview before being awarded the all-expenses-paid trip. Given the option of three amazing courses, he quickly settled on Pebble Beach, widely considered one of the most beautiful courses on the planet. It had us California dreamin' for months before finally flying to San Francisco and driving south on iconic Highway 1 the last week in June.

Honoring a loved one

Round of a Lifetime was established in 2010 by friends and family of Philadelphia resident Andrew Maciey, who died suddenly from his congenital heart condition, familial dilated cardiomyopathy, at age 24.

His relatives and buddies, who fondly recall all the good times they shared with Andrew on the golf course, decided that awarding dream golf trips to heart patients would be the perfect way to honor Andrew's memory.

"Congenital heart disease touches so many, and in our own special way, we are giving a little bit of Andrew, and a lot of hope, to individuals and families across the country," said Joe Maciey, Andrew's cousin and president of Round of a Lifetime.

The foundation also raises money and awareness of congenital heart disease -- something that nearly one of every 100 babies is born with in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- through an annual golf tournament in memory of Andrew.

"Andrew was a great person, and it was tough for all of us to lose him so young," Joe Maciey said. "The fact that we can continue his legacy by providing trips of a lifetime for people suffering from congenital heart disease has been such a great thing for me and my family."

I can personally attest that it is also a fantastic gift for recipients, and we are unbelievably grateful that Jackson was selected as the foundation's third recipient. While we are fortunate Jackson has been generally healthy and able to participate in golf, tennis, soccer, basketball and other sports, the trip was a wonderful reward for a young man who has overcome a lot of obstacles that are not par for the course for most kids.

Day to remember

When we discussed the most memorable aspects of a day we'll never forget, Jackson immediately mentioned the generosity of the foundation, which even provided such extras as souvenir hats for our entire foursome, two nights at the posh Inn at Spanish Bay and lunch at a Pebble Beach restaurant, where my wife, Susan, and our daughter, Katie, joined us as we dined around fire pits overlooking the 18th green.

"I'd like to thank Round of a Lifetime from the bottom of my heart for picking me to have this surreal experience over so many deserving candidates," Jackson said. "They provide a positively unforgettable experience for people that have gone through so much adversity."

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Of course, Jackson also talked about the spectacular views, the dramatic cliffs and his appreciation for how good the pros must be to shoot under par on a course of that caliber.

Though I'm pleased to report none of my shots landed in the pounding surf, our group did knock a few balls over those majestic cliffs. On one hole, Dan was able to persuade a nice woman walking her dog on the beach to climb part way up a steep embankment to retrieve his ball and toss it up to him on the fairway. Anything to save a lost ball penalty.

Probably to the chagrin of the group behind us, it was difficult not to take photos of every hole, both to mark the occasion and to record the sheer beauty of the setting on California's stunning Monterey peninsula.

It was easy to see why Tom Watson, who broke my heart by chipping in on No. 17 to beat my childhood golf hero Jack Nicklaus at the 1982 U.S. Open in one of many iconic moments at the site, once called Pebble Beach "one of golf's greatest combinations of land and sea."

Though our foursome was lucky not to encounter the gale-force winds that bedeviled the rest of the field there in the 2000 U.S. Open when Tiger Woods won by a record-breaking 15 strokes and was the only player to finish under par, our scores were nothing to write home about, with the exception of a solid 82 by Tyler, a former North High School golf team member. Jackson's score, in particular, was sabotaged by the many large, deep, strategically placed bunkers lining every hole. (Everybody dreams of spending time at the beach in California, right?)

Still, we all got our share of pars -- including Jackson, Tyler and Dan on the signature par 3 No. 7 with the green surrounded on three sides by ocean and me on the par 5 No. 18 thanks to a memorable third shot over the famed cypress tree guarding the green.

But this round wasn't really about scores. It was about making memories, and by that standard it was a huge success for us all.

When we'd finished No. 18 and posed for the final photos by the green, we all agreed the experience had undoubtedly lived up to its name.

It was indeed the round of a lifetime.

This article is written by Eric Lindquist from The Leader-Telegram and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.