Nothing hurts more than losing a best friend. After his high school buddy lost his life in Afghanistan, Billy Sampson took it upon himself to find a way to honor his good friend. To date, he has raised more than $600,000 to put family members of fallen soldiers back on their feet through the gift of education.
Sampson, the director of golf at Spring Island’s Old Tabby Links, learned a decade ago about Folds of Honor, a charitable organization providing academic scholarships to family members of disabled and fallen veterans throughout the country.
The idea came from Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, who on his way back home from his second tour of duty saw a family’s somber reaction to the casket containing deceased soldier Brock Bucklin. Rooney knew that there needed to be a way for the legacy of these soldiers and families to be celebrated and rewarded, and so he formed the Folds of Honor Foundation in 2007.
From that came Patriot Golf Day, a celebration to honor our military while enjoying the challenge and excitement of playing the game of golf. Each Labor Day weekend, golfers come together to support both Folds of Honor and PGA Hope, an organization created by the PGA to encourage disabled veterans to play golf to improve their physical and mental well-being.
“Dan came and did a seminar at Carolinas PGA, and I came up to him and asked how I could help,” Sampson said. “He put it back on me and told me I knew what to do, I just had to figure out a way to do it.”
Sampson’s friend Karl Kimball started an annual golf marathon to raise money for Folds of Honor, which led Sampson to start one of his own. And so, in 2009, he set out on the daunting task of playing 114 holes of golf in a single day, all to raise money for a cause that meant so much to him.
When he finished, Sampson felt like he conquered the world, making a difference for multiple families and giving kids and spouses an opportunity to improve their future through education. Although he was the lone golfer taking on the task at Old Tabby Links, there were many more cheering him on from the Lowcountry and beyond.
“It’s very emotional,” Sampson said. “You want to try to do as much as you can. It might be a lot at first, but you start getting inspired by the amount of texts you get from military and friends. They really pump you along.”
One of his favorite moments came in 2012. After 120 holes at Callawassie Island, Sampson was on pace to play 200 for the first time. As he walked off the ninth green, he saw a familiar face. A Sergeant Major who he met through Folds of Honor, stationed at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, came all the way down with his family to watch him play. Due to the family’s phenomenal support, Sampson ended up breaking that 200-hole mark while strengthening an amazing bond and friendship. It was an unforgettable and rewarding experience that Billy, his family, and the soldier’s family will remember forever.
Now, after a decade of marathons, he’s raised an amazing $640,000 for Folds of Honor scholarships, and he plans on breaking the 700K mark this year as he sets out once again for a full day of golf on Sunday, Sept. 6.
And with the many trials and tribulations that this year has brought, it makes it more important than ever to honor and support those who have gone above and beyond to serve our beloved country.
“I would love to see everybody just donate a little bit,” Sampson said. “Now, more than ever, I take lots of pride in getting the word out more than ever before. It’s a time where we can all do something we can feel good about. Every dollar counts, and more so this year than any year in the past.”
Written by Wes Kerr