Ben Frotscher didn’t play his first round of golf until he was 12 years old.
He discovered the sport later than most, but his dedication to a goal he set in college has allowed him to catch up at a rapid rate.
Frotscher’s goal was to play every golf course in Iowa and almost 20 years later he is only eight courses away.
“I can’t believe I’m this close,” Frotscher said. “I’m almost relieved.”
Frotscher spent 2.5 years in Newton covering area high school sports teams for the Newton Daily News. He covered Prairie City-Monroe’s most recent boys’ golf team championship.
And he golfed at Gateway Recreation Golf Course in Monroe a lot back in the day.
“I had a golf booklet that I used for discounts and Gateway was always in it,” Frotscher said. “It’s not expensive, and it was never too busy so I liked playing there.”
Frotscher also said he golfed a lot at Diamond Trail Golf Club in Lynnville because he always played well there. It’s wide open and his best nine-hole round ever was a 2-under-par on that course.
Frotscher has played 407 courses in Iowa so far. There are 19 courses he’s played that are no longer open, including the Newton Country Club.
“That was a nice course,” Frotscher said. “I am sad it’s not there anymore.”
Another one of the 19 courses no longer open was the first course he ever played back in 1996 — Credit Island Golf Course in the Quad Cities. And he tagged along with his uncle and cousin that day.
“My family was in Eastern Iowa visiting relatives. My Uncle Jerry, and his son Jake, were going golfing while we were there,” Frotscher recalls.
“They asked if I wanted to tag along. I’d never golfed before, but my uncle said not to worry because we were going to a course that didn’t care about that kind of stuff. My uncle happened to have a mismatched set of clubs in the garage and off we went.”
Frotscher, who has worked in the University of Iowa Center of Advancement for the past five years, doesn’t remember much about that initial round 25 years ago but said he hit the green on one of the par 3s and wound up making par.
“I remember thinking ‘well, this isn’t so bad,’” Frotscher said. “And I’ve never given up the sport since.”
Frotscher, who started his journalism career in Creston, took lessons and starting golfing on a regular basis after playing that first round in 1996.
His local course growing up was the Gowrie Golf and Country Club, a nine-hole track in North-Central Iowa.
Frotscher played on his varsity golf team in high school all four years and earned first-team all-conference honors his junior season. He had an up and down senior campaign.
“I loved golf, but I knew college golf wasn’t in the cards for me,” Frotscher said. “So I started playing courses in and around my college town. I generally stacked my class schedule so that I had a free morning or afternoon each semester so that I could have time to golf.”
Frotscher used the book “Golf Courses of Iowa: A Complete Book of Iowa Golf Courses,” by Roger Aegerter, to find courses, but found out over time that it wasn’t completely comprehensive. Neither was any online resource, which meant cobbling together a list over time.
The goal for Frotscher over the past 15 years or so was to play around 20 new courses in the state each year. It’s been a slow and steady process, but the 2006 Simpson College graduate has eight courses to go. Six of those are public and two are private.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Westwood Municipal Golf Course PGA Professional Brad Sponseller said. “I would think it would be pretty tough to do for someone who is still working. I think a retired person would have an easier time.
“There are many small town nine-hole courses that I think some would even be hard to find.”
Three of those courses left on his list are in Central Iowa. He had plans to play Echo Valley Country Club in Norwalk this past weekend and hopes to play Westpointe Golf Course in Urbandale sometime later this month.
Frotscher sometimes has to get creative when trying to play on a private course, but he said he has a friend who is a member at Echo Valley that is going to get him on.
The hardest course on his and everyone’s list in Iowa is the Talons of Tuscany in Ankeny. It’s a private course owned by businessman Dennis Albaugh, who doesn’t allow just anyone to play on it.
“I have sent hand-written letters to private courses and country clubs before,” Frotscher said. “I usually explain to them what I am doing and they generally have had no issues with me playing there. One time I wrote a letter to Sioux City Country Club and tried to pay for a round when I got there and the club pro didn’t charge me because he thought what I was doing was cool.”
Frotscher’s plan is to leave Talons of Tuscany for last and hope he gets a chance to play the course.
The other five courses on his list are in Northwest Iowa. He hopes to take a weekend trip in June to knock them out. Those courses are The Ridge Golf Club in Sioux Center, Grand Falls Casino and Golf Resort in Larchwood, Willow Creek Golf Course in LeMars, Whispering Creek Golf Club in Sioux City and Sun Valley Golf Course in Sioux City.
Aside from the 407 total courses he’s played in Iowa, Frotscher also has golfed in 25 states and on three continents. He’s golfed in Thailand, Italy, Mexico and Canada and played 498 total courses. Frotscher also paid more than $500 to play at Pebble Beach in 2016.
And he’s already figured out his next goal.
“I want to play golf in all 50 states and in every continent that has a golf course,” Frotscher said. “Fifty states will take a while, but I’ll get there. Alaska and Hawaii will take some time.”
In an article that appeared on golfcrusade.com, Frotscher said he has kept every scorecard from every round he's ever played, except that initial round at Credit Island. He also collects golf pencils from the courses he's played.
He’s played Gateway Recreation Golf Course in Monroe 26 times and his low score was a 2-over-par 38.
His next longest number of plays in Jasper County came at Diamond Trail in Lynnville. His lowest score of the 10 rounds he’s played was a 2-under-par 34.
Frotscher played Westwood Municipal Golf Course seven times, Colfax Country Club six times, Newton Country Club five times and Oakland Acres Golf Course twice.
His lowest score at Westwood was a 12-over-par 82. He shot a 4-over-par 40 at Colfax and a 5-over-par 40 at Newton Country Club. At Oakland Acres, Frotscher shot a 7-over-par 76.
His best 18-hole score ever came at Highland Park in Mason City. He shot a two-over par 74.
“Iowa has a lot of golf courses. Outside of North Dakota, I believe Iowa has the most golf courses per capita,” Frotscher said. “We have a lot of great small-town, nine-hole courses. At best guess — I’d say two-thirds of the courses in the state might be nine-hole courses.”
Frotscher, during his time in Newton, also found ways to mix work with his golf pleasure.
In 2009, he played Coldwater Golf Links in Ames for the first time after an Iowa State football media day.
In 2010, he played Tama-Toledo Country Club for the first time after covering the Newton girls golf team in their Little Hawkeye Conference meet. That same year, he played Fairfield Golf & Country Club for the first time prior to covering the Lynnville-Sully softball team in a regional final win in Eldon.
In the article at golfcrusade.com, Frotscher listed some of his favorite courses and even outlined his best places to go on a weekend golf trip for out-of-state golfers.
“When I look at my favorite golf courses, I look at affordability, playability and general aesthetics,” Frotscher said. “Everyone is different. Every golfer is different.”
The most unique golf courses in Iowa, according to Frotscher, are Ida Grove Golf and Country Club and Fairview Hills Golf Course in Malvern.
“Ida Grove is known for its castles and castle-like structures in Iowa. The course is no different, featuring a draw bridge across a creek on the course,” Frotscher said. “Malvern is a nice small-town golf course near Council Bluffs, but it had one unique wrinkle — AstroTurf greens. I basically had to treat it like the British Open course and bump and run anything onto the green because my shots were not holding on fly. I did hear that it now has grass greens, so that’s terrific.”
Frotscher said most people in Iowa think the best course in the state is The Harvester Club. He thinks Davenport Country Club is the best course and feels like Cedar Rapids Country Club is the most underrated.
The golf trip Frotscher would send an out-of-state golfer on would include Spirit Hollow Golf Course in Burlington, Davenport Country Club, Cedar Rapids Country Club, Stone Creek Golf Club in Williamsburg, The Harvester Club in Rhodes, Des Moines Golf and Country Club in West Des Moines and The Wakonda Club in Des Moines.
“Let’s start the weekend getaway at the No. 1 public golf course in the state, Spirit Hollow Golf Course near Burlington,” Frotscher said. “At Des Moines Golf and Country Club, you can play the Solheim Cup layout from when the club hosted the women’s Ryder-Cup style event in 2017. And Wakonda is the site of a yearly Champions Tour event. It’s a stone’s throw away from the Des Moines airport so it’s a good place to end the weekend.”