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FD Am’s future depends on its willingness to change

Event needs to modernize its thought process while still embracing tradition

Messenger photo by Eric Pratt Nate McCoy putts at the Country Club during the Fort Dodge Amateur.

Nate McCoy’s oldest memory from the Fort Dodge Amateur has very little to do with the tournament itself.

“I remember being really little and coming up here one of the years my dad won it (Iowa golf legend Mike McCoy was the FD Am’s Open Division champion in 1993, 1994 and 2000),” said McCoy, a former high school state gold medalist and all-Big 12 performer at Iowa State University. “I ended up having to hang out in the clubhouse and swimming in the pool because I couldn’t sit still and was too young to understand what was going on.

“I caddied for my dad a few times here, too. I have terrific memories and a lot of positive things to say about the Am and the (Fort Dodge) Country Club, of course. To me, it’s still one of the big ones. Always has been.”

McCoy is 29 years old now. He’s back on the state’s amateur circuit after a stretch as a professional, and in 2019, was named the Iowa Golf Association’s Leahy Medalist in the men’s open division. The current Ankeny resident also works for the IGA.

In other words, McCoy checks all the boxes when it comes to the future of this tournament. And he could be a valuable ally for an event that used to draw well over 200 players, but now — like most older amateur competitions in Iowa — struggles to crack 100.

McCoy is young, talented — he finished a single stroke out of first place in last weekend’s FD Am — and respectful of a tradition 73 years in the making here. He also knows that in order for the tourney to not just survive, but grow for a new generation of players, the right steps need to be taken starting today.

“I think it would be a shame if events like the Fort Dodge or Carroll Amateurs continue to struggle (to attract golfers),” McCoy said. “Part of my responsibility through the IGA is to both promote and help rebuild these tournaments. To embrace the history, and make sure younger players stay interested and involved.

“Iowa has an awesome, unique, almost ‘mini-tour’ of Ams: Fort Dodge, Carroll, the Northwest, the Southeast. Amateur golf in Iowa was always a big deal all the way through my dad’s generation. It was the thing to do and the place to be all summer long. Someone like (Fort Dodge Hall of Famer) Dave Sergeant would say the same thing. My dad and his friends did a lot to promote the game, the amateur circuit and these communities, just like the golfers before them. Now it’s our turn.”

The Fort Dodge Amateur has over seven full decades of winners in its scrapbook on one of Iowa’s oldest and most well-respected courses. But that isn’t enough moving forward. An Open Division field that has dwindled from 140 as recently as 2009 to less than 50 today is partially a sign of the times, but should also serve as a warning.

We may never see a full FD Am field again, but the right changes could bring the numbers back into a respectable range. For starters, the IGA needs to separate out the state match play championships, which have started the day after the Am’s conclusion for nearly a decade. Many of Iowa’s amateur heavyweights understandably won’t play in consecutive tournaments without a break.

Locally speaking, the FDCC should put an extra emphasis on Am week and use members to rally around it. Offer a food or beverage tent from a local establishment for the players. Maybe some live music Friday or Saturday evening after the conclusion of a round. Bring back the big scoreboard and the loud-speaker system to introduce the golfers. Ask kids to be ball spotters (I remember doing that for a couple of years back in the day).

Find other signature ways to make the FD Am unique, and show the field how much it is valued — first to attract the players, then to increase the retention rate.

A golfer like Nate McCoy is your target audience: not just because of his ability, his age or his lineage, but because he’s always pictured the Fort Dodge Amaetur as a family event rather than just a tournament. Once the FDCC and the community embraces this concept, a renaissance could very well follow.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports

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