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Brown’s book pays homage to Iowa golf

‘Golden Harvest’ a comprehensive look at the sport’s rich history

Submitted photo Rick Brown, a Fort Dodge Senior High and Iowa Central graduate, holds the Claret Jug with British Open winner Zach Johnson in 2015.

Rick Brown spent the better part of two years formally working on his recently-released book, “Golden Harvest.”

Brown’s passion for — and commitment to — golf in the state of Iowa has been with him nearly all along, though. So in many ways, the son of legendary Messenger sports editor Bob Brown has been both personally and professionally preparing for this publication his entire life.

“I’ve loved the game since I started working part-time for the late Fort Dodge Country Club pro Bill Hird when I was 13 years old,” said Brown, a 1972 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate. “I’d caddy for my idol, Tom Chapman Jr., in the Fort Dodge Amateur. I played varsity golf four years at FDSH and also competed two years at Iowa Central.

“Professionally (as an acclaimed sports writer), I was fortunate to cover a lot of major championships, including three Ryder Cups, two Masters and a lot of U.S. Opens and PGA Championships. My timing was perfect, because I got to cover the state’s greatest golfer, Zach Johnson. I started covering golf at the (Des Moines) Register in 1983, taking over for Buck Turnbull, and witnessed a lot of great players in hundreds of tournaments. I considered covering golf in Iowa as rewarding as a professional major championship, just because of the personalities involved and friendships I made.”

The 66-year-old Brown, an 11-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, immersed himself in both the history and culture of the sport for most of 2018 until the book’s release date last November. Even with his extensive background, Brown called it “an intimidating project” to try and capture all of the stories that have helped make Iowa one of golf’s most underrated and iconic territories.

“It was a labor of love for me,” Brown said. “Trying to get my arms around more than 100 years of golf in Iowa … I was scared to death that I’d leave something important out, and chances are I did. But I would tell anyone who asks that I took on the project with due diligence.

“Jon Brown, one of the state’s top amateur golfers, invited me to lunch sometime around 2013 and asked if I’d be interested in doing a book on Iowa golf history. I told him I was, but the demands of the newspaper business made it impossible to give the project the time it required. After I took a buyout from Gannett, the parent company of the Des Moines Register, in December of 2015, Chad Pitts, executive director of the Iowa Golf Association, brought up the book project again. I had promised the Street family I would finish a book on Chris Street, and that had to be completed. Once that was done in the spring of 2018, I got started.”

“Emotion in Motion, the Life and Legacy of Chris Street” was released in 2018. Brown’s first book, “100 Things Iowa Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die,” was published in 2016.

Messenger-area readers have plenty of reasons to give “Golden Harvest” a read.

“The Fort Dodge Country has a lot of mentions in the book, from Walter Hagen’s exhibition match there in 1925 to many of the state’s major championships the club has hosted,” Brown said. “That included the 1970 Fort Dodge Amateur, when Tom Chapman Jr. outdueled his dad, Tom Sr., for the title.

“One chapter includes the story of Willie Dunn, who designed many courses including Shinnecock Hills, site of several U.S. Opens. Dunn actually designed the Algona Country Club in 1920. Dunn won the first U.S. Open in 1894 at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island. But it was later ruled a single club couldn’t host a national championship, so Dunn’s title was erased and the 1895 championship is now considered the first. The story of how Algona got Dunn to design its course is in the book.”

Though Brown worked from an expert’s point of view on many of the topics, courses, and profiles, his greatest joy came from sharing the wealth of information with his audience.

“There are just so many great stories. I’m glad I got to tell some of them,” Brown said. “I was fascinated by the Dunn story mentioned above. I also discovered that Zach Johnson made a triple bogey on the first hole he played as a professional. ‘Great start to my career,’ he said.

“Writing about Iowa club pro Jack Fleck’s stunning playoff victory over Ben Hogan in 1955 never gets old. I also was struck by the story of George Roddy of Keokuk, the first African-American golfer at the University of Iowa. He never lost a singles match during his Iowa career, but never got to play in the Big Ten Championships because of the color of his skin.”

Pitts lauded Brown’s willingness to keep a treasure trove of stories alive and pass them along for future generations of enthusiasts.

“It’s amazing how much work Rick did in researching and writing this chronicle of Iowa’s golf history,” Pitts said. “This book gives the reader a much deeper dive into stories they already knew, as well as introducing them to some amazing things that we didn’t know anything about until now.”

“Golden Harvest” is available online through the Iowa Golf Association website (www.iowagolf.org). The IGA is also taking phone orders at (515) 207-1062, or (888) 388-4442. The book will be in pro shops across the state as well, though the COVID-19 global pandemic has delayed the delivery of books to Iowa clubs.

Brown graduated from FDSH in 1972, Iowa Central in 1974, and earned both Bachelor’s (1976) and Master’s (1977) degrees from the University of Iowa.

In 2016, UI officials placed Brown alongside his father on the Kinnick Media Wall of Fame in Iowa City.

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