Remembering Lou King, visionary golf marketer, former PGA executive and a champion for Veterans
By Bob Denney
Louis (Lou) King Jr., who elevated the Amana Refrigeration brand worldwide; helped create one of the most significant events in Iowa sports history and founded a model golf rehabilitative programs for veterans, died Saturday evening in Iowa City at University of Iowa Hospitals following a brief illness. He was 93.
Born in Perry, Missouri, to Louis King Sr., a Presbyterian circuit minister and Hazel Cowan, King was one of six siblings. A standout basketball and football athlete in high school, King received scholarship offers at age 16. He chose to enlist that year in the U.S. Navy but was sent home until he reached 17 when he enrolled in the Navy V-5 flight program and went on to quarterback the 1944 national championship Seahawks team.
King earned his wings as World War II ended, and along with five Seahawk teammates accepted athletic scholarships to Tulsa University, a school they had defeated on the way to the national championship. King spent one year on campus, long enough to meet Eunice Knowland, whom he would marry.
From 1946-47, King enrolled at the University of Iowa where he became starting quarterback for the Hawkeyes. After graduation, King declined a $500 offer to sign with Buffalo (pre-NFL) for a $7,500 salary. “I decided to make more money as a door-to-door salesman. I loved it,” he once said. After spending 10 years working for Pillsbury, he arrived at Amana Refrigeration in 1958.
King advanced through sales, marketing and advertising at Amana, and was a member of its Board of Directors and Executive Committee.
After decades of proving his sales acumen, King began playing golf at age 30. It soon became his passion. “I love it for its principles of integrity and honesty and self-reliance,” he said.
It also was the best path to meet customers, King discovered, and he used that platform for advancing Amana’s brand and entertaining customers and retailers. The Amana VIP Pro-Am was created in 1967, first as a closed event, then open to the public at Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City. The event drew as many as 20,000 fans at its peak, with a guest list that featured sports and Hollywood celebrities, many of the finest golfers in the world and country western performers from Nashville.
It was dubbed “the Masters of the pro-ams,” and was the envy of corporate competitors.
“The Amana VIP was tremendous, and Lou guided it,” said 1968 Masters Champion Bob Goalby, whose said his friendship with King blossomed from the start. In time, Goalby helped handpick a group of professionals to wear the signature white Amana cap.
“Lou was the guy who made it all work. He treated the little guy the same as the big guy,” Goalby said.
Goalby wore the Amana cap in 1968 when he won The Masters, a triumph overshadowed by Roberto De Vicenzo signing an incorrect scorecard and missing a playoff.
“I had played in the first Amana VIP in 1967 at the Greenbrier before it was opened to the public and moved to Iowa City,” said Goalby. “The Amana cap program actually began that summer after Julius Boros wore the cap and won the PGA Championship.”
As Senior Vice President of Marketing at Amana Refrigeration, King energized the Amana VIP Pro-Am. From 1968 to 1990, held at the Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City, it set the standard for pro-am events nationwide. “Many tried to copy it, and Amana had the head start,” Goalby said. “Amana was a clean, well-run company and projected so well in hosting an event like that.”
The Amana VIP also was the premier fundraising event for the University of Iowa athletic scholarship fund. It included the largest single donations to women’s collegiate sports.
In 1982, King was lured to the PGA of America, becoming executive director of an Association with a membership then just over 7,500. The PGA needed financial reorganization and King was its premier recruit. He served until 1987, guiding a plan for improved revenues and championing the Ryder Cup – actively campaigning in meetings with television network executives to resurrect a competition that was once lopsided in America’s favor and in danger of being forgotten.
King, who was inducted into the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame in 1993, went on to be a consultant for several golf companies before devoting himself to another passion – serving America’s veterans in the nation’s heartland.
When Riverside Casino & Resort in Riverside, Iowa, opened in 2006, King showed up at the door of Chief Executive Officer Dan Kehl carrying a list of 30 action items that, Kehl remembered, “Lou said would help grow my business.”
High on King’s list was moving the Iowa PGA Section headquarters from Cedar Rapids to Riverside and beginning a golf program for veterans.
The resort opened the Rees Jones-designed Blue Top Ridge at Riverside in 2007, which led to King launching the GIVE (Golf for Injured Veterans Everywhere) program.
King’s vision was, he said. “Provide a cost-free program to the veterans that features the instruction of a PGA Professional, the partnership of the local Veterans Administration Healthcare System and a welcoming golf course.”
The chemistry worked so well that GIVE operates today at three locations: at Riverside, at The Falls as Grand Falls Casino & Resort in Larchwood; and at Warrior Run Golf Club in Norwalk.
“There’s no question Lou was solely responsible for the success of the GIVE program and changing the lives of more than 2,000 veterans,” said Kehl. “Lou made it a reality. There really wasn’t anyone like him. He gave me hope and made me feel good about life. I was in awe of him. He was one of those rare people I look up to.”
The GIVE program didn’t stop at Iowa’s borders. It is an inspiration for PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere), which is administered by PGA REACH (the PGA of America’s Foundation) and conducted in 32 of the 41 PGA Sections.
“The remarkable healing value that golf provides for our veterans is an experience that Lou King recognized from the start when he created GIVE, an exceptional program that flourishes in Iowa,” said PGA REACH Senior Director Ryan Cannon. “Mr. King’s inspiring example, and the connection between PGA Professionals and our veterans continues to be one of the most enriching endeavors in our game. The PGA of America and all those associated with PGA REACH mourn his passing.”
Through his efforts to elevate the Iowa PGA Section, King’s legacy continues.
“We count ourselves fortunate that Lou King’s passion and genuine care for others was channeled through the game of golf,” said Iowa PGA Executive Director Greg Mason. “Lou loved the PGA Professional, and it showed in his work to boost the Iowa PGA’s future. By his drive to make the GIVE program a standard bearer for the country, Lou left an indelible mark in our industry. We are deeply saddened by his passing and know that his spirit will always be with us.”
Lou King is survived by his wife of 73 years, Eunice; three children: Louis III, Susan and Timothy; a brother, Charles Calvin King; four living grandchildren, Erin Burnson, Nicholas, Tim Jr., and Christopher; and four great-grandchildren, Alli and Sara Scott; and Hudson and Oliver King.
King was preceded in death by four siblings, and a grandson, Louis IV.
A private family memorial for Lou King will be conducted at a later date. Any memorial donations are requested to be sent to the GIVE Foundation, Attention: Bobbi Adamson, 3184 Highway 22, Riverside, Iowa 52327.