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Online extra: More about Jim Brown's golfing dream

If you haven't read the First Person story about Iowa banker Jim Brown, "4,000 miles for a round? No problem", click the link below. Then read the online extra. It would make more sense that way, but feel free to read it any way you want, or just look at the photos!

Online extra: More about Jim Brown's golfing dream
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Before returning to St. Andrews, here are some things about Jim Brown’s bank not covered in the print article. Hardin County Savings Bank, with assets of $150.2 million, has the fifth-oldest bank charter in Iowa. You can check out the bank on its website, where Brown and several of his employees will fill you in about the bank and its products in video clips. The state non-member bank is one of a number of Midwestern institutions that have commercial bank charters despite being called savings banks. Brown succeeded his father as president of the bank in 1988.

Eldora, Iowa, an agricultural community northeast of Des Moines, is far removed from the windswept coasts of Scotland. Yet the game that was invented in St. Andrews is well represented in Eldora, where the Pine Lake Country Club has a nine-hole course built in 1927 and designed by Leo F. Wolcott. Brown has played there his whole life. He says it is typical of courses in Midwestern communities. Given a small population base, having just nine holes keeps the maintenance cost down, he says.

Quoting from the Pine Lake Club’s website, “The course is cut out of thick woods, which makes for narrow fairways and lots of challenges from trees and hills.” In other words, quite a bit different from your typical Scottish links course.

A lot of golf in Scotland, and elsewhere in the U.K., says Brown, is played on links courses. “Links” refers to the sandy, treeless, undulating terrain that links land and sea, he says. Another characteristic of links courses is highly changeable weather, often including stiff winds. “Think Royal St. George,” says Brown in a reference to site of this year’s British Open tournament, where the first two days were placid and the second two ferocious.

“For most amateur golfers—and some pros—weather like that makes it tough to play medal golf,” says Brown, referring to stroke play, where competitions are determined by the cumulative number of strokes. By contrast, match play (where each hole is scored separately) is better suited to links golf. “That way,” says Brown, “you don’t lose the whole round if you have a bad hole, you just lose that hole.” Most competitive golf in Great Britain is match play, he says, whereas the opposite is true in the U.S.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club, where Brown is a member, has two Meetings each year. The Autumn meeting, mentioned in the main story, runs over three weeks, says Brown. You play at least 18 holes a day. Week one is foursomes (also called “alternate shot” in the U.S.), in which you play with a partner on the New Course (built in 1895). The second week is individual match play on the Old Course. Week three is a medal round on the Old Course. It all culminates in the Annual Meeting. Brown has participated each year since he became a member in 2003. This year he played in the Spring Meeting for the first time. It’s a one-week medal event on the Old Course. He has also played many other courses throughout Scotland, often with friends from the States who are golfers.

Brown’s most memorable moment in connection with his Royal and Ancient membership isn’t actually a golfing moment. It was being invited to attend the ceremonies commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the club in 2004. The two-week celebration (time seems to be different in Scotland!) ended with a special dinner for members and spouses inside a four-story tent that seated 1,200 people.

As for playing the Old Course, Brown says weather is the biggest variable—“it can ruin a round or make it easy.” Either way, he says, you meet people from all over the world who come to play the famous course. Having a caddy is not required. You can use pull carts or carry your own bag. But the caddies add a real flavor and are very knowledgeable… if you can understand them. Many of them have a thick accent. Riding carts are still very unusual in Scotland, says Brown.

“Most Scots play quickly,” he adds, “three or four hours for 18 holes. Maybe it’s so they can hit the pub to get out of the weather,” he jokes. That pace is no problem for him. They play quickly in Eldora, too. “We can pretty much walk out and play nine holes in an hour and half.”
 
Golf the way it’s meant to be played. Of course having a seven handicap helps, too. Fairway golf is quicker.

 
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Iowa banker Jim Brown on the 18th fairway of the Old Course in St. Andrews, with the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, where he is a member, behind him. This is a good weather day, although it can change quickly. A seven handicapper, Brown can shoot in the 70s here on a day like this.
 
 
 
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At this year’s R&A Spring Meeting with good banker friends from Iowa. Most golfers will recognize the bridge over the Swilken burn on the 18th fairway from television coverage of the British Open. It was last in St. Andrews in 2010.
 
 
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Outside the Club before a formal dinner, which are held four nights per week during the Meetings. Always black tie; kilts optional.
 
 
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A closer view of the R&A clubhouse, overlooking the 18th green. People from all over come to play the Old Course and walk around the famous club. The R&A does not own the Old Course. It is one of seven local public courses managed by the St. Andrews Links Trust.
 
 
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Jim with his two daughters in 2005. This gives a good view of the Swilken burn and its famous bridge. The grandstands are set up for the Open tournament, during which Brown served as a Marshal in the final round. If he saw a cell phone or camera, the first request would be nice, “Be smart, put it away,” he’d say. After that, it’s the police.
Bill Streeter

Bill Streeter has been a full-time business journalist for 40 years, 34 of them with ABA Banking Journal. During his time with the magazine, he rose from Assistant Managing Editor to Editor-in-Chief. He has guided the magazine’s editorial direction since 1985 and has been an observer of momentous changes in banking, from the introduction of ATMs to the 2008 financial crisis and passage of the Dodd-Frank Act. In 2012 Streeter became Editor & Publisher, responsible for the Banking Group overall including the magazine, ababj.com, and related e-newsletters.

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