Five Elected to Iowa Golf Hall of Fame


The Iowa Golf Association has announced the election of five new members to the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame. The "Class of 2009" will raise the total membership in the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame to 43.

Rodney Bliss Jr., Dick Bruns, John Liechty, Steve Spray and Betty Thye will be inducted into the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame this spring on May 1, 2009. The induction ceremony will take place at Glen Oaks Country Club in West Des Moines. There will be a reception for family and friends beginning at 6 p.m. with the inductions to follow at 7 p.m.

Rodney Bliss Jr.

Even before coming to Iowa, Rodney Bliss Jr. had already made a name for himself in golf circles. Born and raised in Omaha, Neb, Bliss Jr. had won six Nebraska Amateurs and a Nebraska Open before moving to Des Moines at the age of 37. Bliss continued his extraordinary amateur career in Iowa by winning three Iowa Amateur titles in 1951, 1955 and 1961. He also won the Des Moines City Championship three times.

His accomplishments extended well beyond Iowa and Nebraska. Bliss was twice an alternate for the U.S. Walker Cup team and played in two U.S. Opens, 10 U.S. Amateurs, and four U.S. Senior Amateurs. His best finishes included the semifinals of the 1934 U.S. Amateur and the quarterfinals of the 1954 U.S. Senior Amateur.

Bliss was runner-up in the 1933 NCAA Championship and recorded runner-up finishes in the 1933 and 1935 Western Amateur. Bliss was also the low amateur in the 1934 U.S. Open finishing ahead of Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan.

Rodney Bliss Jr. was inducted into the Nebraska Golf Hall of Fame in 1991and is also a member of the Cornell University Sports Hall of Fame. He passed away in 1989.

Dick Bruns

Dick Bruns of Cedar Falls will become the fifth golf course superintendent inducted into the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame. Bruns has served the game of golf in many capacities. He became the superintendent of Washington Park Golf Course in Cedar Falls in 1958 and a few years later he became the Director of Parks and was responsible for the upkeep of all the city's green spaces, including the Washington Park and Pheasant Ridge courses. After winning the city golf championship in 1960 he gave up his amateur status, added the title of golf professional, and gave lessons until 1973.

In addition to his long career in Cedar Falls, Bruns helped promote golf by serving for many years as a board member for the Iowa Golf Course Superintendents Association (IGCSA) and the Iowa Turfgrass Institute (ITI). He was president of the IGCSA from 1964-65 and was a founding member of the ITI, serving as president in 1984 and again in 1997.

Doug Snook, the long time superintendent at Waverly Golf Course, said the following in his letter supporting the nomination: "Dick Bruns . . . has been a mentor for me and many others in the golf business and has provided guidance to us throughout his long career."

Bruns received the Meritorious Service Award from the ITI in 1986 and the IGCSA Distinguished Service Award in 1995.

John Liechty

John Liechty of Marshalltown compiled an impressive list of accomplishments as an amateur player in Iowa. After a 1955 Iowa Junior Amateur victory, Liechty played his collegiate golf at the University of Iowa and was a three-time letter winner from 1957-59. In 1958, John was a Second Team All-American. After his college career, Liechty continued his strong play, becoming the Iowa Amateur of the Year in 1960.

Over the next several years Liechty won 10 of Iowa's designated major championships. His victories included the Iowa Amateur (1964 and 1971), the Northwest Amateur (1960), the Central States Amateur (1960 and 1961), the Herman Sani Invitational (1964 and 1968), the Iowa Masters (1972 and 1973) and the Fort Dodge Amateur in 1966.

Liechty experienced success on the national level as well, winning the prestigious Broadmoor Invitational in 1963 and qualified for the 1960 & 1963 U.S. Amateurs. Liechty currently resides in Leawood, Kan.

Steve Spray

Steve Spray displayed an incredible talent for the game as both amateur and professional player and had success no matter where his playing career took him.

A native of Indianola, Iowa, Spray began his amateur career with a win in the 1958 Iowa Junior Amateur and gained national fame by winning the 1959 Western Junior. For college he went south to Eastern New Mexico University where he won individual National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Championships in 1962 and '63. Spray won a total of five of Iowa's designated majors, including the 1963 Iowa Amateur, 1962 Northwest Amateur, 1962 and '63 Central States Amateur, and the 1963 Tournament of Champions. He also made his mark on the national scene with quarterfinal appearances in the 1960 and 1963 U.S. Amateur.

After these accomplishments as an amateur, Spray decided to test his skills at the professional level. He won the 1966 Waterloo Open, the 1972 Herman Sani and also notched wins at the New Mexico and Arizona Opens in 1973.

Spray competed with notable success for several years on the PGA Tour, highlighted by his win in the 1969 San Francisco Open and a fifth-place finish in the 1968 U. S. Open, won by Lee Trevino at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y. During his PGA Tour career Spray appeared in three Masters, seven U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships.

In 1976, Spray accepted the position of head professional at St. Louis Country Club, where he still shares his passion for golf today. While serving as a club professional he continued his impressive playing career winning Gateway Section PGA Championships in 1977 and 1979, as well as being named the 1984 Gateway Section PGA Player of the Year. He has qualified for the National Club Pro Championship nine times

Spray served as Gateway Section president in 1993-94 and is a member of the Gateway PGA Section Hall of Fame. Additional honors include membership in the NAIA Hall of Fame and the Eastern New Mexico University Hall of Honor.

Betty Thye

Betty Thye has been one of Iowa's great golf volunteers and supporters throughout her life. In her letter nominating Thye, former Iowa Women's Golf Association president Jill Blackwood states that "Every woman golfer in Iowa has benefited from her efforts and they will continue to benefit in the years ahead."

Thye served on the Iowa Women's Golf Association Board of Directors for 25 years beginning in the 1960s. During that time, she served as IWGA Vice-President from 1984-85 and President from 1985-1988. She was also the Chair of the Course Rating Committee (1970-77) and helped the USGA establish women's course ratings throughout the state.

Thye was the director of the Iowa Wife-Husband Championship 1978-85 when it was held in Okaboji and was the largest tournament of its kind played on one golf course - over 500 players.

Her service to the game of golf didn't stop with the IWGA. As a member at Burlington Golf Club, she contributed her time and talents to help the junior golf program. She has mentored several generations of junior golfers on the rules of golf and values of the game.

In a letter supporting Thye's nomination Iowa Golf Hall of Fame, member Jock Olson wrote: "I first met Betty in 1976 when I became the head golf professional at Burlington Golf Club. Thirty-two years later, she is still one of the biggest promoters of the game that I have ever known. She is the greatest volunteer that I have ever known, as well as a very good player in her own right."

Betty Thye, now 91, lives in Burlington. She continues to donate her time as a volunteer for golf, her church and her community.

Complete information about the induction ceremony can be found at www.iowagolf.org.


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