For 77 years, the magical pull of the Sioux Valley Amateur Men's Match-Play Golf Tournament has drawn golfers of all shapes and sizes and abilities, with each year 128 of them qualifying in one of eight flights for the forever honor of becoming a Sioux Valley Am Flight Champion.
Of course, the "real" Champion deservedly comes from the rarified air of the Championship Flight, which pits the best of the best against each other year after glorious year.
Enhancing this merriest of merry-go-rounds is the fact that most all of the golfers who circle the Sioux Valley Am on their calendars first thing every year also serve as the best of the best ambassadors for this Northwest Iowa jewel.
Beyond the many "locals" who continue to espouse the Sioux Valley Am magic every year, there also are distant admirers who never fail to participate each year, including Sioux Cityan Todd Sapp, who has been coming to Cherokee every year since he was a teen, more than 35 years ago.
Sapp, one of the most popular Sioux Valley Am players ever, and a two-time Champion here (2005-2006) who makes no bones about this being one of his most favorite tournaments, continues to recruit the top golfers to Cherokee, including 2007 and 2009 Champion J.D. Anderson of Des Moines, and this year's newly crowned Champion, Bret Taylor of Council Bluffs.
In 2007, after he finally convinced Anderson to play here, Sapp told local organizers "I just cut my own throat."
He had to utter those same chilling words this year after he finally convinced Taylor, a former Sioux City club pro at Two Rivers, Dakota Dunes, and Green Valley. Yup. Taylor beat Anderson in the finals Sunday to win in his first trip here, including a 1-up victory over Sapp in the semifinals.
The fact that Sapp's love of the Sioux Valley Am and its people, the Cherokee Golf & Country Club course, and this community overrides any personal ambitions speaks volumes to the character and integrity of Todd Sapp.
May he never run out of throats.
After winning it all Sunday, Taylor told me he would never miss the Sioux Valley Am again, and that he will now help take this tournament to new heights by spreading the word in his huge circle of Midwest golf contacts.
"I had no idea, absolutely no idea," said the Council Bluffs native, who wanted to - but couldn't - play in such tournaments while serving as a club pro. "This tournament is an absolute gem, and I promise you I'll be here every year from now on. Todd's told me about it for years and he was always so very positive about it. It's all Todd said about it and more.
"It's obvious this community loves Todd by listening to them cheer for him. I understand that. Someday, I want them to have the same feelings for me. I want to earn that special bond like Todd has with Cherokee."
I just love this course," continued Taylor, who now works in sales in the truck equipment industry after leaving the golf business seven years ago so he could regain his amateur status and play in weekend tournaments instead of working them.
The powerfully built father of two college-age boys, Taylor said his love of the sport is especially meaningful for the many fast friendships he's forged through the years, including Sapp and Anderson.
"We're all very competitive and want to beat each other, but we're still best of friends on and off the course," explained Taylor. "We just all played in a great golf tournament against each other and here we are sitting down and having a beer together. It's great. There's nothing like it. And the people I've met here are simply wonderful. Every one of them. What a wonderful three days I've had here."
Taylor also had special praise for the tournament's chief organizers Jason Spooner, Billy Spindler, and Chris Jenness, and for the fabulous condition of the Cherokee Golf & Country Club course and its superintendent, Brandon Brown.
"The tournament is great, the course is great, and is it ever a blast to play!" exclaimed Taylor. "It's really a fun golf course. We're going to grow this course and this tournament and spread the news about what you have here. I'm so glad I finally listened to Todd and gave it a shot."