The Elbert Files: Trading bikes for clubs
Friday, July 26, 2013 7:00 AM
There’s a great story about the first time golf was played in Iowa.
The game took place in 1892 in Fairfield, which is where I’m headed today, and I’ll tell you the story in a minute.
As most of you know, this is RAGBRAI week, when teams of bicycle riders pedal their butts across Iowa, one roadside attraction at a time.
For some, it’s seven days of cornfields, town squares and church suppers. For others, it’s a weeklong beer blast of sweaty bodies, wet T-shirt contests and naked beer slides.
I’ve been going on RAGBRAI for more than a decade, not as a rider but as a driver and golfer.
I drive a van and haul a trailer for Team Larry, a group that was originally composed of Des Moines Register employees, but which is now mostly friends and family of friends of former Register employees.
RAGBRAI trivia question: During the past 41 years, how many Des Moines Register personalities have been featured on RAGBRAI?
Answer: six. Donald “OT Coffee” Kaul, John Karras, “Iowa Boy” Chuck Offenburger, cartoonist Brian Duffy, John Carlson and now Kyle Munson.
I’ve been playing golf on RAGBRAI since 2000, mostly on small-town nine-hole courses. At some point, I got the idea of creating a list of my favorite nine-hole golf courses.
Last year, I wrote a piece for dsm magazine about my favorite 18 golf holes in Central Iowa. This year, I did a companion piece for ia magazine, in which I list my nine favorite nine-hole golf courses.
Iowa has 263 nine-hole courses, more than any other state for reasons you can read about in ia.
Nor am I going to tell you all nine of my favorite courses. To learn that, you’ll have to buy a copy of the magazine when it publishes in September.
But I will tell you that I knew from the start that one course had to be the Fairfield Golf and Country Club, where Iowa’s first game of golf was played and where RAGBRAI overnights on Friday.
I haven’t actually played the course yet. I drove over to play it in May, but a storm hit Fairfield the night before and the course was unplayable. I did learn a lot about the Fairfield club, though, from member Steve Juskewycz.
The history of golf in Iowa began in the spring of 1892, Juskewycz explained, when Dr. James Frederic Clarke of Fairfield stopped in Chicago and saw some golf clubs in a window on State Street.
The doctor went in and purchased a driver and three balls.
Clarke had read about this new game of golf in Harper’s Weekly and decided to create his own course in Fairfield, Juskewycz said.
Clarke and a nephew, Charles Sampson, melted the tops off seven tomato cans to serve as holes. (I’m still trying to picture that.)
Then one day after work, the pair set out to create a golf course. As they proceeded down Main Street, they were joined by three others: Robert Louden, Charles Fulton and Wilbur Dole.
When the fivesome reached the end of Main Street, they laid out a course by sinking the cans into a pasture on a line that stretched out along the site now occupied by Fairfield Golf and Country Club.
Then, the five men shared the one club and three balls to play seven holes out and the same seven from the opposite direction on the way back.
“Shortly thereafter on May 16, 1892, a golf club – arguably the first golf club west of the Mississippi – was organized,” Juskewycz said.
That was five years, four months and 17 days before the first game of golf was played in Des Moines on Oct. 2, 1897.
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