Belle Plaine | Inducted 2010 | Category: Amateur Golfer/ Professional Golfer

Belle Plaine Country Club was a nine-hole layout, measuring 2,857 yards with sand greens. It was the training ground for one of Iowa’s most successful golfers, Lon Nielsen.

His father, Paul, a music teacher who later owned a bowling alley, didn’t want his son to learn the game on sand greens. So Paul spearheaded a drive to modernize those greens. And soon, Belle Plaine’s greens were green. Paul also pushed for a practice green. His son became a fixture there. And it was time well spent. He earned a scholarship to play golf at the University of Iowa. He made it to the PGA Tour, became a highly successful club pro and later won twice on the Champions Tour.

Learning how to win one of Iowa’s major championships didn’t come easy for Lon. He started the 1974 season on the mend after having surgery to repair a knee injury he had suffered playing intramural basketball as a junior. He was second at the Fort Dodge Amateur in 1974. He was second in the Iowa Amateur. And he was second low amateur in the Waterloo Open. He finally broke through and won the Northwest Amateur. “I was beginning to wonder about all those second-place finishes,” Nielsen said after his four-shot victory in Spencer.

He went on to win the 1975 Iowa Amateur at the Ottumwa Country Club. He had a six-shot lead at one point in the final round, but Tom Chapman Jr. caught him. Chapman’s final-hole bogey gave Nielsen a one-shot victory. Lon also won the Tournament of Champions and Lake Creek Amateur and was the Iowa Golf Association’s Player of the Year. A year later, after winning the Fort Dodge Amateur, he turned pro with a goal of making the PGA Tour.

He won the Sani in 1976 as a pro and again in 1982. He got to the PGA Tour in 1978. He won $119,416 in 124 starts between 1978 and 1983, with a tie for fifth in the Quad Cities in 1979 his best finish.

He then spent 20 years as director of golf at Crag Burn Golf Club in East Aurora, N.Y. He won the Western New York Section PGA title nine times, the match-play championship 10 times and more than 100 section titles overall. The section’s player of the year award is now named after him. Lon was named the PGA Professional of the Year three times. His tie for 11th at the 1986 PGA Championship is the best finish ever for a club pro.

Nielsen gained full status on the Champions Tour in 2004.

“Qualifying for this tour was a big day in my life,” Nielsen said. “It was a life-changing event.”

A “Lon-O-Meter” in the Belle Plaine Country Club clubhouse kept track of Nielsen’s earnings. He won twice, at the Commerce Bank Championship in 2007 and the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in 2009. He also lost a playoff in 2006 at the Jeld-Wen Championship, one of five runner-up finishes. He cashed in almost $5 million in winnings. Nielsen’s best year was 2008 when he finished 11th on the money list with over $1.2 million in earnings. Lon Nielsen was 67 when he passed away on January 20, 2021.

Career Highlights


  • Northwest Amateur Champion: 1974
  • Lake Creek Amateur Champion: 1975
  • Iowa Amateur Champion at Ottumwa Country Club: 1975
  • Iowa Player of the Year: 1975
  • Fort Dodge Amateur Champion: 1976
  • Waterloo Open Champion: 1979
  • Herman Sani Invitational Winner: 1976 and 1982


  • Nine-time Winner of the Western New York Section Champion
  • Ten-time Winner of the Western New York Section Match Play Championship from 1984 – 2002
  • Won the Commerce Bank Championship in 2007
  • Won the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in 2009
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