Solheim Cup Visitors Experience "Iowa Nice"
By Susan Thompson
The 2017 Solheim Cup held at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club August 14-20 set an attendance record. Fans visited from more than 25 countries, with half the attendees coming from outside of Iowa,
Some of those out-of-state visitors found accommodations at the Clover Ridge Resort, which has offices at the Lake Panorama National conference center. Clover Ridge is an interval owner resort, and people who own vacation weeks elsewhere can trade into Clover Ridge.
Lisa Leiby lives in Fleming Island, Florida, about 20 miles southwest of Jacksonville. “The day the United States won the last Solheim Cup in 2015, I sent a text to my friends saying, “Solheim Cup 2017 Des Moines, Iowa. Road Trip!” I am a timeshare owner, found the Clover Ridge Resort was about 45 miles from Des Moines, and booked a unit,” Leiby says.
One of the friends receiving the Leiby’s text was Leigh Florez, another timeshare owner. It didn’t take her long to jump onto Leiby’s road trip bandwagon, and booked a second two-bedroom unit at Clover Ridge.
Two other Fleming Island friends joined the planning — Pattie Jenkins and Jane Smith. Unfortunately, Smith became ill over the past year, and a month before the trip decided someone else should fill her spot. That person was Melonie Whitaker, who lives in Lenoir City, Tennessee.
She and Leiby first met in September 2015 on a cruise ship. They hit it off immediately, and as Leiby tells it, “even our husbands like each other. We all just get along so well, and have so much in common.”
The weekend before the Solheim, the three from Fleming Island set out by car for Tennessee. They stayed overnight at the Whitaker home, before making a second daylong trip to Lake Panorama.
None of the four had spent time in Iowa, although some had been in other Midwest states. Whitaker was born and raised in Ohio. “I knew Iowa would be farmland, but I had no idea of the expansiveness of the farms. I took several pictures of the farms with multiple grain silos. We grow lots of corn in Ohio, but it’s not the same as in Iowa. The rolling fields are beautiful,” she says.
Leiby is originally from Philadelphia, and had never been to the Midwest. “I knew Iowa was famous for its corn, agriculture and friendly people,” she says. “I was pleasantly surprised at how much corn I would see and how friendly the people really are. When we first entered the state, we saw beautiful fields of corn for miles and miles and miles. It was amazing.”
Jenkins had visited other Midwestern states, but never Iowa. “Iowa was what I expected geographically — beautiful farmland, open spaces and corn. I anticipated the good people of Iowa to be conservative, friendly, down-to-earth and caring, and I hit the nail on the head,” she says.
Once the foursome found their way to Lake Panorama, the real fun began. Their first day they visited the Britches n’ Bows Country Store east of Panora. Whitaker tells the story. “What a unique little place, down a gravel road on a farm, a great shop,” she says. “The owner, Kandi Meinecke, took our picture by the corn field. As we were leaving, she gave us fresh tomatoes from her father’s garden.”
The visitors asked Meinecke where to find fresh sweet corn. She told them to go to Hometown Foods where there would be a shopping cart in the produce aisle filled with corn picked that morning. “We followed her directions, found the corn, and had the best evening meals three times of corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes and cheese curds,” Whitaker says.
That evening the women decided to take lawn chairs and sit at Boulder Beach, where they got another dose of “Iowa Nice.” Jolene Wright had taken her two Yorkies on a golf cart ride, and stopped to chat with the women.
“Earlier in the day, we had talked about how to get out on the lake,” Whitaker says. “We wanted a boat ride, but couldn’t find any place to rent a boat or take a tour of the lake.”
After hearing their desire for a boat ride, Wright said she might be able to help them. “She did not take our name, and had no way to find us,” Whitaker says. “I really didn’t think anything would happen.”
This is where this author steps in. Jolene told me of her encounter the next morning as we were on our way to women’s golf league at Panorama West. I checked with hubby Larry on our schedules for the week, and decided to track down the foursome. A call to Clover Ridge got me a phone number, and the offer of a two-hour Lake Panorama tour Thursday afternoon was made and accepted.
“It was just amazing, and really unheard of, you tracked us down and agreed to take four ladies you had never met out on your boat,” says Whitaker.
Now back home, Leiby says they have been spreading the word about Iowa. “When we told our ladies golf group about how we met you, and how you took us on a two-hour ride on your pontoon boat, they literally dropped their jaws. Lake Panorama is so beautiful,” she says.
All the women offered praise for their experiences at Lake Panorama. “The staff at the front desk was wonderful,” Jenkins says. “We soon became known as the Florida Girls around the resort.”
The “Florida Girls” ate several meals at The Links in the LPN conference center. “The food at the restaurant was fabulous,” Leiby says. “Every meal was delicious and the walleye was the best fish I’ve had in a long time. John Dinnebier was very engaging and always wanted to know how we were and how he could assist us. The condos were very clean, larger than expected, and the beds were comfortable.”
Whitaker also commented on The Links. “We all had the walleye at least once. For dinner one night, I asked the chef if he could grill or bake my walleye, although the menu shows it breaded or potato encrusted. The chef agreed to grill my fish, and it was fantastic,” she says.
The four women enjoy playing golf, and squeezed in some rounds at Lake Panorama National. “The golf course was wonderful,” says Jenkins. “It was nice to play a course that is not as flat as they are in Florida.”
“The golf course is really pretty and very challenging,” says Whitaker. “They let us leave our clubs on the golf carts and stored them for us the entire week we were there. We thought that was a nice extra.”
One afternoon the group headed to Winterset. “We had a wonderful afternoon in Winterset, and the bridges of Madison County were a highlight of the trip,” says Jenkins.
The women saw several of the bridges, strolled the Winterset square, and came back to Clover Ridge to end the day by watching the “Bridges of Madison County” movie. “It was so much fun watching the movie right after we had just been there,” says Leiby.
Of course, the main event for the Iowa visitors was the Solheim Cup in West Des Moines. They attended Wednesday to watch practice rounds and the junior teams competition, then returned Friday.
“We arrived bright and early and got an opportunity to see the ladies practice their putting and caught a few great pictures,” says Leiby. “The golf course was beautiful and the tournament was very organized. It was exciting to see each team approach the 18th hole to complete their round and receive a congratulatory hug from Julie Inkster, the U.S. team captain.”
Florez says the intensity and patriotism of the fans at the Solheim was reminiscent of when she attended the Olympic Soccer Games in Athens, Georgia, in the 1990s.
“There was great pride in the accomplishments of the U.S. golfers, and polite regard for the European's successes. It was a very different experience from other tournaments I've attended in that this was not about the golf course, but rather about the players and the team spirit,” Florez says.
“Our experience at the Solheim Cup was lovely and everyone from the bus drivers, shop attendants, food service and entrance ticket attendants were so polite and informative,” Jenkins says. “I have been to many PGA and LPGA tournaments and my experience in Iowa was the best, by far.”
Whitaker says she also loved the Solheim competition. “I think Des Moines did a great job setting it up. At first, we thought the bus ride from the parking lot was too long. But really, it was a great location. They had plenty of buses ready and waiting to get us to the gates,” she says.
And Iowans continued to do what they do. “While we were watching the golf, we talked to several people who were local and were members of the Des Moines Golf and Country Club,” Whitaker says. “Everyone we talked to was so friendly.”
Lake Panorama may not have seen the last of these travelers. “I would love to come back to Iowa again, and I think my husband would enjoy it,” Jenkins says. “I didn't realize how many golf courses you have there.”
Leiby says she also hopes to visit with her husband someday. “I think he would really enjoy the challenging golf course, the beauty of the lake and beach, and the friendly people. And I would love to show him The Bridges of Madison County.”
“I can’t say enough about the friendly people of Iowa,” Leiby continues. “From the front desk staff at Clover Ridge, to the owner of PJ’s Grill in Panora, and the staff at the Hy-Vee Pavilion at the Solheim Cup, we were always greeted with a smile and they wanted to know where we were from and what our plans were during our stay.”
The next Solheim Cup in 2019 will be in Scotland. Shortly after that, attention will turn to the 2021 competition in Toledo, Ohio. All four of these recent Iowa visitors are already thinking the same thing – “Road Trip!”