BY JEFF FALK
To become the best amateur golfer he could possibly be, he had to step outside his comfort zone. When he did, not only didn’t Dan Brown forget his roots, he made a conscious effort to stay connected with them.
There is little debate as to whether or not Brown is the finest amateur player in the Harrisburg area. What is debatable is if Brown has exhausted his entire golf potential.
Brown, a resident of Cleona, is currently gearing up to defend his Harrisburg District Golf Association’s Player of the Year award. It is a title he has won in each of the past three summers.
Not only hasn’t any other Lebanon County resident ever accomplished that feat, no local player has ever won one HDGA Player of the Year award.
“No, I don’t think anyone else from Lebanon ever did,” said Brown when asked of his accomplishment. “But it was a goal of mine. When I first started playing golf, I didn’t think about it. But my goals became to win the (Lebanon) County amateur, the (Harrisburg) district amateur and to win the points championship.
“Number one, you definitely have to play well,” Brown continued. “I don’t care if you play in every event. Number two, I’ve played in some state events and played well, which is a bonus (in the points standings).”
There are about 300 players who compete in Harrisburg District Golf Association events, which are contested throughout the summer on the finest tracts from Chambersburg to Lykens. Tournaments are conducted almost every weekend and those fields number between 50 and 60 contestants.
Points are awarded based on the sizes and strengths of fields. The fewer events a contender plays, the better he has to play.
“No, I didn’t think I’d win it three times,” said Brown. “Yeah, I did it, but it’s a matter of persevering and doing well in tournaments. Believe me, there’s guys who want to win it.
“There’s guys who come from all over to play in those tournaments,” continued Brown. “The talent in Harrisburg is pretty good. You’ve got 20-25 guys who can win any week. In Lebanon, you have seven guys who can win any week. That’s no disrespect towards Lebanon. I grew up here.”
Brown won the Lebanon County Amateur championship in 2011, has teammed with Brian Auman to win two W.B. Sullivan Better-Ball-of-Partners titles and has collaborated with partner Andy Gibbons on three Lebanon County Better-Ball championships. In some ways, Brown had to taste that local success before being able to compete with the top players in the area.
“The majority of golfers will tell you that when you win an individual event, you feel better inside,” said Brown, 47. “It was a great feeling when I won the Lebanon County amateur for the first time. I don’t put myself above anyone. We all (in Lebanon County) kind of feed off each other. It was a matter of watching each other. I learned from the school of hard knocks.
“You can play every week, at the best courses in the area, and they’re all in great shape,” added Brown. “That’s (Harrisburg) where the best players are. It was just a progression. I started playing at Pine Meadows in the team matches. I was a fast-pitch softball player and I just got bit by the golf bug. I wondered why the guys I was playing against were better than me. So I started to practice.”
Other Lebanon County notables who compete in Harrisburg District events include Gibbons, Auman, Jim Gardner, Chris Gebhard, Cody Kersey, Jesse Brown, Rick Troutman and Roger Karsnitz, among others. But as impressive as that list is, no one seems as committed or has experienced as much success as Brown.
“Brian (Auman) and I won the Sullivan for the first time in 2000, and we dominated,” said Brown, a 1984 graduate of Cedar Crest. “While we were playing I said to Brian, ‘Dude, there’s no one here who is going to beat us.’ I always looked up to Roger Karsnitz, and I beat him. Eventually, my game just got there. I figured, ‘I’m practicing and playing as much as they are, I should beat them.’
“That was a stepping stone,” Brown added. “It was around that time I started progressing towards the Harrisburg events. The best of the best are in Harrisburg. Those guys are studs. But it got to a point where everybody would say when we pulled up, ‘Here come the Lebanon guys.’ It was always a friendly rivalry, but we’ve cemented the Lebanon-guys-versus-the-Harrisburg-guys thing. We do it for the competition. It’s just a bigger venue.”
“I think golf is that type of thing,” said Brown. “I’m not a spring chicken, but I think you learn how to play over the years. You get smarter. You realize there’s more to it than just going out and smashing it. And there are times when you get hot and you play pretty good.
“It is a process,” Brown continued. “I know I’m not a professional. But when it comes to amatuer golf, against pretty much everyone, I think I can win. I compete as hard as I can, and I’m just thankful I can still go out there and do it.”
This so-called ‘Brown golf evolution’ is rooted in fast-pitch softball and Prescott, where he grew up in the early 1980s. Brown experienced first-hand the hey-days of Lebanon County fast-pitch softball as a player, up until his mid 30s.
That’s when he discovered golf.
“To be honest, when you played Class A softball, you were at a tournament every weekend,” said Brown. “When I played golf, I wasn’t near as good (as he is now). I decided I didn’t want to play softball any more, I just wanted to pursue golf. But you need a good partner, a good wife. Someone who understands what it takes to pursue your dreams. It takes a lot of time.
“That’s where I think I have a little more inside of me,” concluded Brown. “I see people with potential, but maybe they only get to 70 percent (of where they could be). But maybe they don’t want to get there.”
They are called priorities.