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Iowans swing away


Focus: Golf & Recreation

As spring temperatures rise, another golf season is heating up in Iowa. With ongoing development of new courses, the continued success of amateur and professional tournaments held here and increasing national recognition for the state’s links, Iowans are chipping in to support the growing success of the state’s golf industry.

For starters, if you’re addicted to the game but don’t want to take out a second mortgage on your house to pay for a round of 18 holes and a cart, there are plenty of places to get your fix. An abundance of high-quality affordable courses helps Iowa boast the largest number of golfers per capita of any state in the nation. Iowa Golf Magazine reports more than 9 million rounds of golf are played annually on Iowa’s 377 courses. And anyone who has grown up a 7-iron away from a cornfield can attest to the fact that Iowa has more nine-hole golf courses per capita than any other state.

As participation in the sport increases, so too does the game’s impact on the economy. Officials from the Iowa Tourism Office estimate more than 400,000 golfers spend in excess of $500 million on golf every year in Iowa. From caddies, to pro shops, to restaurants, hotels and real estate developers, it’s evident that golf pays.  Residents of neighboring states also play here. Shawna Lode, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Tourism Office, said a survey of travelers conducted in 1996 found that 49 percent of those responding said Iowa was “great for golfers.” That figure gave Iowa the highest approval rating among golfers of any state.

“We get people from other states because of our proximity to Minneapolis, Chicago and other larger cities,” she said. “What helps is that our green fees are so reasonable and it’s easy to get a tee time.”

Golf has also played a significant role in the growth and expansion of Greater Des Moines. Residential golf communities like Glen Oaks Country Club, The Legacy and the Tournament Club of Iowa attract home buyers, as many golfers prefer to live where they play, as well as retail and commercial development. They also help raise the bar for the quality of the sport in Iowa.

Glen Oaks, rated the best course in Iowa by Golf Digest, has been the site of the Allianz Championship for the past two years, drawing big-name golfers on the Senior PGA Tour, now the Champions Tour. The tournament returns to the gated community Aug. 18-24.

The Legacy Golf Course Community in Norwalk, developed last year by Hubbell Realty Co., received honorable mention in this month’s issue of Golf Magazine, which named it one of the 25 “superb” public-access courses among the more than 325 layouts opened in 2002. It is the first area course to offer global positioning system technology in all of its golf carts and the first to develop a community clubhouse in Central Iowa.

The Tournament Club of Iowa, a joint venture of Knapp Properties and Enebak Construction of Minneapolis, is designed by golf legend Arnold Palmer. Located in Polk City near Big Creek, Palmer’s “signature course” opens this week and is being marketed as the future home of the Allianz Championship.

Championship courses can also be found outside Greater Des Moines at Pella’s Bos Landen Golf Resort, The Harvester Golf Club in Marshalltown, the Amana Colonies Golf Course and the Lake Panorama National Golf Course.

“People here really enjoy golf and one has to believe all the development is a response to the demand,” said Bill Dickens, executive director of the Iowa Golf Association, a non-profit organization founded in 1919. “There are a lot of golfers and they want to play.”

That demand might be reflected in the IGA’s membership, which Dickens said is expected to grow from 27,000 members in 2002 to 30,000 this year. The association also has 250 member golf courses and clubs and sponsors eight state championships, including the Iowa Amateur and Iowa Junior Amateur championships. It is authorized by the U.S. Golf Association to measure and rate golf courses in accordance with the USGA Handicap System, and it plays a role in supporting the Iowa PGA; operating the Golf Foundation of Iowa, established in 2000; and reviving the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame and Museum project, which began in 1988, but still lacks a bricks-and-mortar home.

“Our job is to strive to preserve the integrity of the game and to make golf more enjoyable for all,” Dickens said.

The National Golf Foundation, which provides information, research and consulting services related to the business of golf, reported last month that golf course openings slowed for a second straight year in 2002, signaling that construction is coming back in line with demand. The NGF predicts that development will stabilize in 2003, based on courses currently under construction and expected to open this year. It attributes a drop-off in construction over the past five years to a slowdown in development of public courses, particularly those with a high-end daily fee. Meanwhile, the development of private clubs has remained steady, but it is expected to gradually decline due to more public courses being built and conversions of private clubs to daily fee.

Iowa, it would appear, is bucking that trend. But Dickens said it’s hard to tell.

“Golf is in such a funny place right now because there has been such astonishing growth in the last few years,” he said. “But there has been an upward trend in Iowa for development. I don’t know if we’re catching up or still behind compared to other states like Michigan that are saturated with courses. I don’t think we’re saturated because there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for courses.”

Matt Randall, vice president of Randall Corp., an Ames-based real estate management firm, has helped his father and his partners develop a new golf course in Ames. Cold Water Creek Golf Links, an 18-hole public course with a Scottish links design, is set to open this spring. Randall said other groups had been talking about building such a course in Ames for several years but failed to act.

“We felt there was a demand in our community for a course that appeals to golfers of all levels,” he said. “We did a lot of research and we found golf is on the rise in Iowa.”     

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