Tournament Club Of Iowa – Best Of Intentions
By E. Nolan
You’ve played the course. We all have. The course begging for a tweak here or flip there. We’re all experts as golfers, especially when our ball ends up in a particularly unplayable spot. It’s not our fault… it’s the architect’s, the manager’s, the superintendent’s. “This hole could be so much better if…” and “Who in their right mind puts a tree there?”
That’s where career golf management professionals like Stephen Kahler come in. Stephen essentially earned a Masters in golf management through Troon, then branched out on his own to take on courses needing or (more importantly) wanting help… courses like Arnold Palmer’s Tournament Club of Iowa, just north of Des Moines.
I first played the Tournament Club in 2012 and loved it (mostly). It’s more accurate to say, “I loved what it could be.” Admittedly, the first hole on each side bothered me, taking driver out of hand… forcing long irons… forcing layups. My least favorite holes were 11 and 12 – a short par 4 with so much potential wasted by dense overgrowth, followed by a dogleg hole that essentially forced a layup to a small area most double-handicaps could never reach the green from. Those four holes bothered me but, otherwise, the rest of the course design impressed. I left absolutely convinced of how great Tournament Club of Iowa could be… IF. It would take some undertaking, and a serious commitment from ownership and membership but, man… would it ever be worth it!
Enter the undertaker – Stephen Kahler. He, too, saw the enormous potential, and was excited to find incredible support amongst an ambitious ownership and passionate membership. Everyone was ready to dig in.
The Tournament Club of Iowa you’ll play next time will be quite different from the TCI you played before. One of the principal architects in the original project (Jim Felton) even toured the property with Stephen, offering up a notebook full of suggestions. “Another set of tee boxes (The “Masters”). Removing a few punitive trees. Changing pars on a couple holes.” That was just the beginning.
“Honestly,” Kahler stops still to emphasize his point. “Every. Single. Change… was suggested and made with the goal of enhancing the golfer’s experience. There were some things we didn’t want to give up but had to because they just made more sense overall.”
That started with flipping the nines. The new starting hole (former #10) now has better teeing areas and wider landing and approach areas, vastly improving playability. Everything I disliked about the former #11 (now #2) is gone and almost everything I disliked about the former #12 (now #3) has been adjusted. “Where you usually land,” Stephen pointed out (right side of the fairway) “You can reach the green now. Those trees that used to block your approach… gone.” And the rest of that back nine needed little to no improvement.
“We did hate giving up that (former) closing trio,” Kahler admits, contending many felt it was the best closing stretch in Iowa. “But those three holes are still as great as they ever were, and… maybe even better.”
Better? How could they be better if they weren’t changed?
Because… now that’s not the end of the story – now you get to play nine more holes! Plus, in May of 2021, Tournament Club of Iowa opened Palmer’s Pub, a new and fully-stocked “Halfway House” conveniently on the way to the new Hole 10.
The new 10th used to be an awkward opening Par 5, a hole with an elevated tee shot that punished great drives by most with a roll into wetlands. Now, it’s a stellar Par 4 – a one-less-shot concession they gladly made once Jim Felton informed them the former 6th hole was actually “miss-parred.” Far back as anyone could remember it had been played as a long and awkward Par 4. It was built to play as a Par 5. “I’m telling you,” Stephen says with contagious excitement. “Everything just makes so much more sense (now).”
That’s a lot of changes for a course that has shattered play records the past two years, with over 75,000 golfers visiting since the season opened in 2020. “We didn’t have to make the changes. People would have kept coming. We wanted to make the changes. And the reception has been fantastic!”
Speaking of receptions, the hilltop clubhouse has been completely remodeled – separating the Copper Oak restaurant area from the event space – and Tournament Club of Iowa still offers convenient (almost) on-site lodging packages with the QUBE Hotel. “We don’t own or manage the hotel,” Kahler points out. “But we complement each other very well.”
There are an awful lot of compliments associated with the Tournament Club of Iowa these days. Stop by this season to share your own.