Mission Accomplished

USGA Member Plays Golf In All 50 States

March 18, 2007

By David Shefter, USGA

You could say Ken Hopkins likes to collect things. The 70-year-old has 2,500 golf books and programs along with 1,500 periodicals from various golf magazines and journals. He also has a dozen shoeboxes filled with scorecards from every golf course he's played since 1970. That number has now reached 516 and counting.

"I am thinking about adding a room to my house," joked Hopkins, who traces his first round to Reeves Golf Course in Cincinnati.

Ken Hopkins, retired since 1992, signs copies of his book, "Cleveland Area Golf" in December 2004. (Courtesy Ken Hopkins)

But the 24-year USGA Member has one more piece of memorabilia that can't be housed in any museum or clubhouse. Hopkins, who spends eight months in the Tampa, Fla., suburb of Spring Hill and the remaining four months in Westlake, Ohio, near Cleveland, has now played at least one golf course in all 50 states.

That dream was fulfilled last year when he completed the arduous task by playing in Alaska, Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. The journey concluded with a round at Wild Horse Golf Club in Gothenburg, Neb.

"I figured it would be very difficult," said Hopkins of his intended goal. Hopkins, the author of "Cleveland Area Golf" that chronicles the history of the game in northeast Ohio, started thinking more about the endeavor when he retired in 1992.

Originally, he wanted to play all of the top 100 golf courses on Golf Digest's list. But each year, that list would fluctuate, with new courses coming on and others going off. Plus, some of the clubs on that list such as Pine Valley and Cypress Point, are extremely difficult to get on without the proper contacts. So Hopkins, who started playing the game in 1956 while a chemical engineering major at the University of Cincinnati, changed his strategy. Through various vacations and business trips, he was able to knock more and more states off the list. By the time he retired, he needed just 20. One year on a trip to Yellowstone National Park, he played courses in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Utah.

Entering 2006, he had just five remaining. But Hopkins, a member of the Golf Course Collectors Society, knew Alaska might be difficult. You don't just get up and drive to Alaska. So he scheduled an Alaskan cruise, which enabled him to fly to Seattle and play a course in Washington, another missing state.

He also arranged a starting time for a course in Juneau, which was the first stop on the cruise. There was one minor problem: the ship was going to be two hours late getting into port. Fortunately, Alaska has plenty of summer daylight and the ship's golf professional made arrangements for Hopkins to be the first passenger off the boat.

When Hopkins arrived at Mendenhall Golf Course, he discovered it was only nine holes and didn't have any motorized carts. It also wasn't in prime condition. That didn't matter to Hopkins, who paid the green fee and rented a pull cart. While the course's shape didn't resemble Winged Foot for the U.S. Open, it did offer magnificent views of the Mendenhall Glacier and featured plenty of native flowers and foliage.

"The fairways were pretty stubbly," said Hopkins. "But it was golf."

And when his round was finished, the couple who managed the course prepared a special certificate, verifying he had played Mendenhall Golf Course on .

Forty-seven down and three to go. Next stop: North Dakota.

To vanquish the final three states off his list, Hopkins, a 15 handicap and a left-hander, arranged to rent a timeshare in Alexandria, Minn., the hometown of Tour player Tom Lehman. He took a day trip to Fargo, N.D., and to Mill Bank, S.D., in the northeast corner of the state to get Nos. 48 and 49. That left Nebraska to complete the journey.

Hopkins and his wife decided to take a special trip to see Mount Rushmore near Rapid City, S.D., and on the way home to Ohio, they worked their way over to play Wild Horse, where Hopkins had made a starting time. When the round was over, Hopkins had the assistant pro sign his scorecard, which would be added to his vast collection.

Now that this goal has been reached, what's next for Hopkins, who has already played courses in 18 foreign countries, including the historic Old Course at St. Andrews, ?

"People have been asking me that," said Hopkins. "I am thinking about doing all the provinces in . I have already played in Toronto and Vancouver. We need to plan a vacation for the Maritimes (Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island)."

For Hopkins, the collecting never stops.

More Hopkins

Hopkins' best round on a 6,000-plus-yard course came at Creekwood in the Cleveland area, where he shot a 72. His best round at his favorite course - Canterbury Country Club in Cleveland - is an 81. Hopkins said, "Canterbury has the best fairway grass I have ever seen." He once shot an 87 at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., the year before Hubert Green won the 1977 U.S. Open.

Among the top-100 courses he's played are Baltusrol (Lower Course), Canterbury, Inverness, Merion, Pebble Beach, Prairie Dunes and Riviera.

DavidShefter is a USGA staff writer. Send questions or comments to dshefter@usga.org.

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