Fairways of Dreams - An Iowa Golf Journey
Everyone knows the famous exchange between Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ray Kinsella from Kevin Costner's "diamond in the corn field" classic...
"Is this Heaven?"
"No, it's Iowa!"
Field of Dreams put Iowa on the sports landscape in a way never seen prior. In addition to making every grown man that has ever seen it cry, the movie beautifully showcased how balance can be achieved between the wants (recreation) and needs (farming) of the land.
A baseball diamond may only take up approximately three acres of fertile land in the Nation's Heartland. A relatively small patch compared to say, a golf course? A small nine hole course would consume at least sixty acres, while most 18-hole tracts consume at least 150-200 acres, often times much more. Those figures make another famous line from the movie even more important when considering the commitment of land resources...
"If you build it, they will come."
Life-long Iowa resident Ben Frotscher, 36, has certainly followed the eerie whispers of the Ghost of Shoeless Joe. We're not talking about the first part of that quote, rather the part about showing up. And boy did he!
He came, he saw, he played... almost every single golf course in the state!
At the most recent unscientific tally of golf courses within the borders of the Hawkeye State, there are 396 different courses. Frotscher has played 388 of them.
If you include the nineteen more he has played that have since closed, he's teed it up at over 400 courses in his home state! By comparison, the current home states of your Golf Crusaders possess only 351 (South Carolina) and 289 (Tennessee) courses.
Surprising? Yes. Impressive? Extremely!
In this time of uncertainty, when so many cannot enjoy the game we love (thanks a lot, corona-virus), we felt it was appropriate to shine the spotlight on a few folks whose golf journeys we've admired. It's with that in mind we invited Ben to sit down with us for a little chat about golf in the heartland and what made him want to tackle such a quest (in a relatively short amount of time!).
BMAC: To kick us off Ben, how's it feel to be so close to your goal? Ben: I honestly can't believe I'm this close! I'd say I'm almost relieved.
Dooner: I'd just be really tired.
Studio audience: (roaring laughter)
Dooner: When did you get into golf? Who introduced you to the game?
Ben: My first round of golf was 25 years ago. My family was in eastern Iowa visiting relatives. My Uncle Jerry, and his son Jake, were going golfing while we were there. They I asked if I wanted to tag along. I’d never golfed before, but my uncle said not to worry because we were going to a course that didn’t care about that kind of stuff. My uncle happened to have a mismatched set of clubs in the garage and off we went to the now closed Credit Island Golf Course in the Quad Cities (the course flooded easily, being situated near the Mississippi River).
BMAC: Any memories from that first round that made you want to come back?
Ben: I don’t remember much of the round, but I do remember that we were on a par 3 and my tee shot landed on the green, and I wound up making par. I thought, “Well, this isn’t so bad.” And I’ve never given up the sport since. After that first round, I remember getting a few lessons and starting to golf on a regular basis at my local golf course—Gowrie Golf and Country Club, a nine-hole track in north-central Iowa.
Dooner: When did golf become an obsession (or choose your own word for it)?
Ben: I started to golf on a nearly daily basis while I was in high school. I played on varsity all four years at my small high school in north central Iowa. I think that’s when I really started to enjoy playing courses other than my home course.
Dooner: When did you start keeping a list of courses played?
Ben: Probably after my first couple years. I can tell you that my first round was in May '96. That first year, I played 162 holes. By the end of year two. it was up to 369. By the time I made it my fifth year, I played 900 holes of golf for the year. I would guess I played five or six areas courses that first year or two. After my first five years or so, there were about 25 Iowa courses on the list.
Dooner: Most people (that play a lot of golf) might think they have played 100 courses until they sit down and start making the list. Most would struggle to come up with half that. BMAC: SO TRUE! The list is so important!
BMAC: At what point does someone say to themselves, "I'm going to play all the courses in my state"?
Ben: I started to throw the idea around while I was in college, more than 15 years ago. During my senior year in high school, I had a really up and down season (scoring wise). I loved golf, but I knew college golf wasn’t in the cards. So, I decided to start playing courses in and around my college town. I would generally stack my class schedule so that I had a free morning or afternoon each semester so that I could have time for golf. My goal—over the past 15 years or so—has to been to play around 20 courses in the state each year. It’s been a slow and steady process, and now entering 2020, I have eight courses left to play.
Dooner: As a follower of yours on Instagram, I know you played some really nice rounds out of state too! How many courses have you played overall?
Ben: Well, 388 current Iowa courses, plus nineteen more that closed, plus 89 out-of-state (498 total).
BMAC: Incredible milestones coming up!
Dooner: Iowa doesn't exactly jump to the forefront of people's minds when they think of golf. What's something most people don't know about the Iowa golf scene that they should?
Ben: Iowa has a lot of golf courses. Outside of North Dakota, I believe Iowa has the most golf courses per capita. We have a lot of great small-town, nine-hole courses. At best guess - I'd say two-thirds of the courses in the state might be 9-hole courses. State had public money available back in the 1960s to build community recreation (Wikipedia citations needed).
We also have some of the most well-known course designers represented around the state.
Tom Bendelow probably has his name on the most golf courses in Iowa, including Dubuque Golf and Country Club, Elmwood Country Club (Marshalltown), Fort Dodge Country Club, Mason City Country Club, Ottumwa Country Club, and Sioux City Country Club.
Harry Colt and Charles Hugh Alison designed the Davenport Country Club.
Willie Dunn, Jr. designed the nine-hole Algona Country Club in northern Iowa.
Pete Dye designed both 18-hole courses at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club.
Tom Fazio designed Glen Oaks Country Club in West Des Moines.
Keith Foster designed The Harvester Club, located 30 min. northeast of Des Moines.
Perry Maxwell designed Veenker Memorial Golf Course in Ames.
Donald Ross originally designed the Cedar Rapids Country Club.
Rees Jones worked on two Iowa golf courses—Grand Falls Casino and Golf Resort in northwest Iowa and Riverside Casino and Golf Resort south of Iowa City.
Arnold Palmer designed the Tournament Club of Iowa, Des Moines area (pic below)
BMAC: Following that up - do you have a style of course you prefer? Classic vs Modern or Parkland vs Links vs Mountain, etc.?
Ben: Classic courses are no problem when the irons are working and putts are falling.
BMAC: If that were the case, Dooner wouldn't like classic courses...
Dooner: Good one.
Ben: Haha! I'd say I lean more towards links courses. I like the openness and options that they provide.
BMAC: Got any favorites?
Ben: The Harvester (Iowa) and the set of courses at Streamsong (pictured below @frotsch84).
IOWA GOLF TRIP
When we retire, there are dreams of owning an RV of some kind, with the goal of taking month long golf trips around the country to play in places we currently cannot. We asked Ben where we should spend a few days when we come to Iowa and where should we play? He came up with such a great itinerary (even though some may be private now - who cares), we wanted to include it in its entirety:
Friday 8 a.m. | Spirit Hollow Golf Course—Burlington (pictured above - credit to course)
Let’s start your Iowa weekend getaway at the No. 1 public golf course in the state, Spirit Hollow Golf Course near Burlington. It really is one of my favorite courses in the state, in part because the course just feels like it’s always been there (it’s only about three decades old). It’s always well-kept, and it’s at a great price point—around $80 for a round. Also, it’s out in the country and has very few houses on the course—making it great for getting away from it all.
Friday 2 p.m. | Davenport Country Club—Davenport
Hop back in the car and take an hour drive up to historic Davenport Country Club, originally designed by renowned golf course architects Harry Colt and Charles Hugh Alison. In 2014, the course underwent renovations, and it now looks even better. I played it last year, and it’s a beautiful—yet challenging—course. It honestly may be the hardest course I’ve played in Iowa. If your game is not up to snuff, you’re going to struggle.
Saturday 7 a.m. | Cedar Rapids Country Club—Cedar Rapids (pictured above/club credit)
Before leaving eastern Iowa, head up to Cedar Rapids and the Cedar Rapids Country Club, a beautiful Donald Ross design (restored by Ron Prichard in 2015) in the heart of the city. There are some great elevation changes throughout the layout. It’s a classic, old school, country club feel. It’s probably one of my favorites within 30 minutes of where I live.
Saturday Noon | Stone Creek Golf Club —Williamsburg (pic right/cred to course)
It’d be a mistake to come to Iowa and not play a small-town, nine-hole golf course. We have so many great ones, but this one designed by former PGA Tour professional D.A. Weibring is always in great condition.
Saturday 3:30 p.m. | The Harvester Club—Rhodes
Formerly the No. 1 public course in the state, The Harvester Club went private a couple years ago. Located about 30 minutes northeast of Des Moines, The Harvester Club is a very different country club feel than Davenport Country Club or the Cedar Rapids Country Club. It’s a much more open layout, but it’s equally challenging.
Sunday 7:30 a.m. | Des Moines Golf and Country Club—West Des Moines
Choose your 18 and off you go on a Pete Dye-designed course. I honestly have a hard time choosing which course I like better. You can always get a taste of both courses & play the Solheim Cup layout from when the club hosted the LPGA version of The Ryder Cup in 2017.
Sunday 12:30 p.m. | The Wakonda Club—Des Moines
Site of a yearly Champions Tour event, The Wakonda Club is a great old school track overlooking downtown Des Moines. The William Langford-designed, 18-hole course is a classic parkland-style course. It’s a stone’s throw away from the Des Moines International Airport, so it’s a great place to end your weekend in Iowa.
NOTE: There is no Black Panther merchandise or paraphernalia sold at Wakonda Club. We at The Golf Crusade feel this is a gross oversight by the club and will not play it until this is rectified. If you don't get that joke, you may be on the wrong website.
Course most people would say is the best course in Iowa?
The Harvester | Keith Foster design (pictured below - credit: www.theharvesterclub.com)
Course that is actually the best course in Iowa (your opinion)?
Davenport Country Club | Colt & Allison (pictured below - credit: www.davenportcc.com)
Most Underrated Course?
Cedar Rapids Country Club
We're coming in for a Hawkeye football game - where do we play?
Riverside Casino Course in Iowa City called Blue Top Ridge (Rees Jones design)
University of Iowa's Finkbine Golf Course (Robert B. Harris design)
Side note: A newly expanded Kinnick Stadium debuted last fall. Check out this preview written by the guy we're writing about: https://bit.ly/3ccAVeQ
Most difficult course to get on was (or still is)?
Talons of Tuscany, privately owned in Ankeny by an Iowa businessman. Haven't played it yet - will probably be the last course standing when all said and (almost) done.
Best Par 3?
Des Moines Golf and Country Club, North Course, No. 12 (above) —horseshoe-shaped green with a bunker in the middle and water in front. From back to front, the green spans almost 100 yards.
Best Par 4?
No. 16 at Davenport Country Club, dubbed the 'Hole of Grief' because Sam Snead knocked his tee shot into Spencer Creek that runs along the hole, losing his chance of winning The Western Open in 1951 (believed to be the first-ever televised golf tournament).
Best Par 5?
No. 9 at Davenport Country Club. I still remember playing the hole with three guys I’d never met before and everyone’s reaction was, “Whoa!”
Most Unique Golf Course?
Ida Grove Golf and Country Club—Ida Grove is known for its castles and castle-like structures in Iowa. The golf course is no different, featuring draw bridge across a creek on the course.
Best picture you've taken in Iowa?
I hope it’s still yet to come when I finish playing all of the courses later this year.
Most Difficult Course?
More than a decade ago, I played Fairview Hills Golf Course in Malvern, which is located just southeast of the Omaha/Council Bluffs area. It was a nice small-town golf course with one unique wrinkle—it had AstroTurf greens. You basically had to treat it like a British Open course and bump and run anything onto the green, because my shots were not holding on the fly. I did hear that they tore out the AstroTurf greens a few years ago and built grass greens, so that’s terrific.
What is the 'thing' you collect from each course?
I have every scorecard of every round I’ve ever played, except for my first round at Credit Island. I also collect golf pencils from the courses I’ve played.
Here’s a scorecard that has some feels. This was the last round of golf I got to play with my dad (Nicole is my sister). My dad would pass away the following month from a heart attack.
Favorite golf destination outside of Iowa?
A few years ago, I went on a week long golf trip with my friend, Josh, to Canada and swung into northern Idaho and Montana. Some beautiful golf courses and some mostly good golf!
(CRUSADER NOTE: Ben's being modest! We were blown away by this trip. Flew into Calgary, then played Silvertip, Stewart Creek (pictured above) and Banff Springs. THEN... drove to Idaho to play Coeur d'alene and a number of other courses that made us so jealous that we stopped listening and started planning our trip up there!)
Once you play out your Iowa roster, what comes next? I’d like to play a round in every state, then a round on every continent that has a golf course. So far, I’ve played golf in 25 states & on three continents (North America, Europe, Asia).
This was a ton of fun! We hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we did speaking to Ben and putting this together. We encourage you to give him a follow on Instagram so you can enjoy his own personal Iowa version of The Golf Crusade. While we wish we could go play a course as cool sounding as Talons of Tuscany with him for his final Iowa round, we hope our travels allow us to tee it up with him sometime in the future.
We leave you with the vitals from a fellow golf addict and overall good dude. Thanks for reading and stay safe out there!
Dooner & BMAC
The Golf Crusade
THE FROTSCHER FILE
NAME: Ben Frotscher (FROT - sure)
LIVES: Iowa City, Iowa
IN THE BAG
Driver & Hybrids: Taylor-Made
Flatstick: Bob Toski Mighty Mite II (came with the mixed set used in first round)
COURSES PLAYED: 496
BEST ROUND: 74 (+2) at Highland Park in Mason City, Iowa
FAVORITE COURSE PLAYED: Pebble Beach
COURSES LEFT TO PLAY IN IOWA (help out Ben if you know a guy!):
1. The Ridge Golf Club, Sioux Center
2. Grand Falls Casino and Golf Resort, Larchwood
3. Willow Creek Golf Course, Le Mars
4. Whispering Creek Golf Club, Sioux City
5. Sun Valley Golf Course, Sioux City
6. Echo Valley Country Club, Norwalk
7. Westpointe Golf Course, Urbandale
8. Talons of Tuscany Golf Club, Ankeny