August 22, 2022 – RICK BROWN
Iowa is the home of global golf champions and captains. Titles brought home by Iowans include the Masters, (British) Open Championship, U.S. Open, U.S. Mid-Amateur, U.S. Senior Amateur and many other significant global events. Iowa can simultaneously claim the most 9-hole courses in the U.S. as well as being home to the captains of next year’s Ryder Cup team and Walker Cup teams.
What we lack is our own centralized place to organize, support, and celebrate the excellence that is Iowa Golf. The Iowa Golf Association Foundation – led by lead donor Michael Coppola – has been working quietly over the past 9 months to rectify that.
“I must do everything I can, financially and otherwise, to make this happen,” said Coppola, a Des Moines real estate developer and owner of Echo Valley Country Club in Norwalk.
Fundraising is under way for Golf House Iowa, a building that will be home to the Iowa Golf Association and all its programs, as well as the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame. The building will be owned by the Iowa Golf Association Foundation, the IGA’s 501(c)(3).
Coppola has donated $1 million to the project. Golf House Iowa will be built on land that Coppola has also donated, overlooking the 9th green of Echo Valley’s Creek Course.
Coppola’s generous gift is a major piece of the fundraising goal, which was recently raised to $5 million due to increased construction costs. Well over half of that total has been raised so far.
“We want to inspire others to get involved,” said Coppola, who is helping lead the fundraising initiative. “We’re attempting to build a platform that I believe is going to take Iowa golf, and more importantly, the programs to the next level.”
Chad Pitts, executive director of the Iowa Golf Association, said that Golf House Iowa is important for many reasons.
“It’s operationally and philosophically strategic for the IGA and our Foundation to have a permanent home,” Pitts said. “But we’re really doing this for our community of Iowa golfers. Golf in Iowa and around the world has been experiencing positive growth and we need to create a space that supports both current and future participation. Golf positively impacts quality of life, education, and economic development and that’s good for everyone in the state.”
Golf House Iowa would be much more than just offices. It will also include a golf simulator, indoor and outdoor putting greens and multipurpose meeting rooms that would be used by grow the game initiatives like First Tee and Youth on Course.
The Iowa Golf Course Superintendents Association will also have offices in the building. So will the IGA Foundation, which promotes golf and preserves history through many programs including the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame, the Herman Sani and Ann Griffel Scholarships and the Youth on Course program. The Sani and Griffel scholarships award $42,000 annually.
The new facility would house the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame and Museum, which will celebrate the game’s past and serve as motivation for the future. In addition to Coppola’s gift, the early contributions of some Hall of Fame members have really jump started this project.
“The family of the late Joe Brown, Mike McCoy, Gene Elliott , Jim Carney, and many others made significant gifts early on,” Pitts said. “Without their financial support and participation, we would not be where we are today. It’s a testament to their appreciation for the game of golf that they would step up and contribute in the fashion that they did.”
Pitts said that the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame would give its members a place where their collective legacies would be honored in permanent fashion.
Golf is the game of a lifetime. And those donating to Golf House Iowa would be helping set the table for future generations to appreciate Iowa’s rich golf history and enjoy the game for years to come.
Why is Golf House Iowa so important?
“With every mission, and every business, you need a platform,” Coppola said. “And for the IGA, Golf House Iowa will be the platform for everything it does.”
This is not the first time the future of the game has prospered from Coppola’s generosity. The Sani Scholarship fund, which is financed by donations and a percentage of entry fees from selected statewide tournaments, was struggling to find enough money to endow those scholarships.
Coppola was approached around 2013 about making a donation to keep the scholarships – $2,000 a year for four years – up and running. Coppola attended a Sani Scholarship dinner, and was deeply impressed with the award winners. He did some research on Sani, who purchased Hyperion Field Club in 1936 for back taxes and gave it back to the membership. Sani was also the first executive director of the IGA and served in that role on a volunteer basis for more than 30 years.
“I thought, “Man, this is a great story,’ ” Coppola recalled. “I talked to my brothers (Arthur and Edward) and we decided to do it. The kids were inspirational. And the Sani story just took me over the edge. I said, “It’s perfect, we’ll do it.’ ”
The Coppola brothers donated $250,000 to help endow the Sani Scholarship in 2015.
“Sometimes you know it’s something you’ve got to do, and sometimes you’re not sure,” Michael said. “Well, I knew it was something we needed to do.”
Witnessing the Sani Scholarship winners in person, and hearing their stories, was the driving force behind Coppola’s decision to lend a helping hand.
“What inspired me to get involved wasn’t just the IGA,” Coppola said. “It was more about seeing the great work that was being done through the scholarship fund the IGA administers and being in the room when those kids received their awards. It was easy to see that somebody was doing something right. And when I gave the money to the scholarship I had zero concern whether or not my money would be spent wisely. Because I could see the results right in front of my eyes. That’s where I wanted my money to go.”
Golf House Iowa has been talked about for years, and often greeted by detours like the recession in 2008 and COVID-19 in 2020.
“We went down many paths the last several years, and the deal didn’t get the inertia it needed,” Coppola said. “The lights were on, but no one was moving the needle.” Initially, Coppola offered land for the project. Then he added a $500,000 donation.“I said, “Now let’s raise some cash. I’ll help.’ ”
Coppola has since doubled his contribution to $1 million, and volunteered his time to help raise the remaining money.
Golf House Iowa’s doors will be open to everyone, with a mission of growing the game of golf.
“The union of Golf House Iowa and Echo Valley made perfect sense to me,” Coppola said. “This must happen.”
The Sani and Griffel scholarship winners also motivate Coppola to help make Golf House Iowa a reality.
“The level of excellence they have is inspirational,” Coppola said. “That’s why I’m here. And they’re inspirational for those who aspire to be just like them. This platform (Golf House Iowa) is going to celebrate those past, present and future participants in this game. It isn’t just a game. It’s more about your life. It’s a way to enrich your life.”
Coppola looks into the future and sees a day when McCoy, one of Iowa’s greatest amateur players, sits in a meeting room at Golf House Iowa and talks to a group of youngsters about what the game of golf has done for him.
“It’s about enriching lives through golf,” Coppola said. “How do we change a life through the game? And it might not even be on a golf course. Twenty-five years later, a kid is going to say, “Mr. McCoy talked to me about what the game did for him. And one thing he said really got to me.’ ”
As a golfer Coppola isn’t motivated by how many rounds he plays in a year. It’s more about the canvas that golf provides.
“When you walk among golfers you can see what it does for them,” he said.
“It’s about how many times I touch certain moments out there. Different things happen that allow me to learn, to create, to do all the things that are fun to me. It’s about seeing something in a richer perspective than what it currently is. How would a kid learn something they wouldn’t potentially learn? That’s what you can do for a kid. That inspires me.”
Coppola sees Golf House Iowa as a way for the Iowa Golf Association to grow and expand its programs.
‘“If you watch them up close and personal, you can see they do some really good work here and they don’t blow their horn,” Coppola said. “I want them to blow their horn. I want more kids to know there is a path through this game. And Golf House Iowa is going to be the sanctuary.”
The bottom line for Coppola is this: Golf House Iowa is a perfect way to grow the game for the future, a legacy that will continue to give for generations. Youth will be served. “You can see that they make me feel good about writing a check,” Coppola said. “Not the bricks and mortar.”