"The first time we walked out of the truck, it was just dirt, trees and grub, and wild chopped grass," Dombrowski recalled. "They knew at that point in time, that this was a great piece of property."
The ground proved as fertile as Dombrowski's imagination.
That "dirt, trees and grub" have had quite a transformation. The once unruly piece of land has evolved into such a pristine piece of property that it was selected Missouri's second-best golf course in Golf Digest's most recent rankings. The creation, Dalhousie Golf Club, also was cited among the top 10 private courses nationally for 2003.
While accolades continue to roll in through print and from the people that visit daily, Dalhousie is enjoying the kind of week that Dombrowski once dreamed about. The course will host its first major tournament this weekend when the Missouri Golf Association pays a visit with the Missouri Mid-Amateur Championship. The 130-player field will compete Saturday and Sunday. Earlier this week, the course was named the site of an American Junior Golf Association tournament in 2007.
Recently celebrating its fourth birthday, Dalhousie is definitely hitting its stride. The clubhouse is quickly taking shape and is due for completion in March. Membership has grown to 275 members, 85 of which are national members. Dalhousie also has 211 social members. Upscale houses are rising around the course.
Where tractors used to roam, stretch limousines now transport high-rolling golfers who take overnight jaunts from around the nation. Thursday evening, a group from Detroit was loading clubs into the trunk of a limousine for a return home. Earlier in the week, a group flew in from Toledo, Ohio.
"That's happening more than people realize," Dombrowski said.
It's a dream scenario playing out that few people other than Dombrowski could have imagined.
Dombrowski, 58, is partners in a health care management company, Hawthorn Group, with his brother, Alan. Cord Dombrowski also had a dream that had been festering for years.
Dombrowski started playing golf around the age of 5, but through most of his adult life he has had a fascination with golf course design. While others hit from a sand trap, Dombrowski wondered how the bunker was built. In his early years, he fed his passion by reading golf architecture books, examining sketches and pictures, enamored with the shapes and physics of a course -- things like how water drainage played into the construction.
He was introduced to professional golfer Ben Crenshaw in 1989 and soon became part of an Austin, Texas, investment group for a golf turf -- Crenshaw Bentgrass. Dombrowski formed a lasting friendship with Crenshaw, which only increased his thirst for knowledge about the golf industry.
"Being close to him, you can't help but learn something," Dombrowski said. "Just keep your mouth shut, just follow him around and you're going to learn a lot."
He said he learned a whole new layer about the game of golf, design and strategy. He continued reading books and traveled to Ireland and Scotland, taking pictures and notes along the way.
By the mid-1990s, the passion was hitting a whole new level. He traveled two years from Arizona to South Carolina, meeting with private club owners and course developers, picking their brains.
"Some people go to museums, I go to golf courses," Dombrowski said, chuckling at his quirk. "I've been on so many golf courses that I've never played. I just walked them from tee to green, and just looked, walked the land and walked the property and took it all in."
He did it all not knowing if he ever would take the leap and build a course.
In 1999, the passion finally required action. Dombrowski made his first call to Bob Kay, a friend in Austin, who referred him to Scott Sayers, who was Crenshaw's business manager. Within a week, Dombrowski and three members of Crenshaw Design were surveying the property off Bloomfield, just south of Cape Girardeau.
A seasoned business man, Dombrowski put a grandiose plan in motion. In addition to the championship caliber course, an upscale housing development called for 735 living units over 800 acres.
"It's a big step from adding on to your garage at home to taking on something like this," Dombrowski said. "Whether it's jumping into health care management or this, regardless of what you do, you gotta have a good plan. If your plan's solid, if you hire the right folks and get the right advice, then it's just a matter of implementation. I felt confident I could implement it; the scary part was developing a plan."
The diamond-cutter was then brought in, as Gary Nicklaus of Nicklaus Design, drew up the design. Construction began and the course opened to membership in June of 2002.
The course, which emerged with a Scottish-links style with prototypical American golf course architecture, was an unexpected gem that has since received rave reviews from tee to green.
Dombrowski is just as proud of the staff as he is of the creation. Dombrowski's first hire was Jack Connell, the former Cape Giradeau Country Club professional who became the director of golf. Andy Diero of O.B. Sports became the general manager, and the course formed an alliance with LPGA Karen Stupples, who is the club's touring professional.
"The best I can do, and I think I've done this, is hire the best, talented people you can find that are very well experienced in specific areas," he said.
Dombrowski takes great satisfaction in the course's involvement in youth and amateur golf, and said the biggest compliment the course and its staff can receive is when people fly in from places like Detroit to play a round of golf.
"How often do you see this in Cape Girardeau, picking up guys and taking them to their airplane?" Dombrowski asked. "And it's not so much the limousine, it's just what's going on. This is the level of service we're providing for people outside this area. These guys can golf anywhere in the world. They can go to Pebble Beach, Trump National, they decided to come here. And why? We've got a great product and we've got great people service."
And a man with a dream.