Fairways Department - By Dick Harmon
Provo firefighters search through the wreckage of the Fairways Media offices in downtown Provo a week after a fire that destroyed the 100-year old building. The fire, which started in the basement of the Los Hermanos restaurant below Fairways Media, was started by “spontaneous combustion” of restaurant towels stored in the prep kitchen, according to Provo City’s Fire Marshal reports.
Randy Dodson’s cell phone contacts, relationships, and family are his most valuable possessions but it was hard to preach that the night his Fairways Media offices burned down on downtown Provo’s Center Street.
That night in February, Dodson was having dinner with me and Vince Recine, general manager of Utah’s PGA Tour Superstore, at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas some 377 miles away. We had just finished attending media day for the historic Las Vegas Country Club where owners unveiled a statue of Rat Pack star entertainer Dean Martin before a great round of golf.
Dodson received a text from this magazine’s art director, Garrit Johnson, who was working in the office a little late that night. Johnson said he smelled smoke, went outside and saw smoke billowing out of a back wall vent of Los Hermanos Mexican restaurant’s basement a few floors below the Fairways Media offices. Johnson immediately dialed 911 and while waiting for firefighters to arrive, he grabbed his computer and a handful of his external hard drive storage devices. Firemen did not allow him to return to the building. Reportedly, a firefighter fell and injured his arm trying to access the basement where an investigation days later claimed recently laundered towels spontaneously caught fire. It didn’t help that the main floor of the restaurant was undergoing resurfacing and hardwood floor stain fumes engulfed the 100-year-old building.
Dodson sat at dinner receiving photos and texts from Provo, watching in sober silence as flames overtook the building and burning through the roof. An army of firefighters and pump trucks used hoses to dump thousands of gallons of water on the fire and the roof above his offices. The fire and weight of the water crushed the roof and sent two of Fairways Media’s four offices through the floor all the way through the restaurant into the basement.
The photos and Johnson’s reports made Dodson sick. It was like each message through cyberspace dumped a brick on his chest. One after another the updates came.
After a sleepless night, he canceled the next day’s plans and returned home where snow and freezing temperatures turned the building’s smoldering remains into blocks of ice. He couldn’t inspect anything for a week.
The fire destroyed Dodson’s offices. The decor included a framed and signed poster by Billy Casper and tournament hole flags used at the USGA’s 2012 Amateur Public Links Championship at Soldier Hollow. It took down two autographed collectible PGA Tour bags by Craig Stadler and Johnny Miller, which Dodson paid nearly $2,000 for at charity auctions. Gone were nearly 28-years of back issues of Fairways magazine, the official voice of the Utah Golf Association, boxes of collectible vinyl rock and roll records, two sets of original framed first year Apple Computer posters, framed magazine covers and tournament posters from Johnny Miller’s Champion’s Challenge at Thanksgiving Point that included autographs of every golfing legend and celebrity that played over the life of that tournament. Gone also are computers, monitors, camera equipment and printers as well as smoke and water damaged files containing client contracts.
Also lost was a big chunk of Utah golf history, books of color slides of years of tournament play featuring some of the historic top pro and amateur players from the past 27-years. Gone also is a significant file of old black and white Utah Open and Utah State Amateur photograph originals donated by former sports writer Roger Graves. Dodson’s own desktop computer was filled with water, his computer screen melted, an executive desk and credenza donated to him by his father were destroyed as were two golf bags and clubs belonging to Jesse, his son. Jesse also lost a framed autographed picture of Karl Malone and John Stockton from the glory days of when Fairways Media published the Utah Jazz HomeCourt magazine. Historic framed photos of Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Billy, destroyed. Gone are the Utah State Amateur Media Day trophies and nameplates that were the only record of winners, a fun icon of local media who cover golf in the state.
More than 50 percent of the Fairways office floor is simply gone, as is 100 percent of the roof.
As devastating as this fire of 2019 was to Dodson, his employees and the publishing home of the UGA, it hasn’t killed the spirit of the crew. Remarkably, they found temporary space within a day at TAMS, a computer recycling business in Pleasant Grove owned by a friend, Brad Morley. On the cusp of a deadline to publish the Utah Book of Golf and the February issue of Fairways 18 digital magazine, the staff missed just about 36 hours of actual production time.
Slowly, like Phoenix rising from the soot, a recovery took hold. TAMS remarkably recovered data from Dodson’s external hard drives. The hard drives saved by Johnson’s quick-thinking action saved many years of digital photographs, story layouts, graphics, videos and production software. New computers and camera equipment will be purchased. A Gofundme effort triggered by East Bay Golf Course Head Professional Brett Watson drew an immediate response and Dodson’s business insurance is expected to cover some losses outside the valuable, irreplaceable collectibles.
Fortunately, former UGA Executive Director Joe Watts is working on a book chronicling the history of golf in Utah taken from the pages of Fairways magazine, of which he has one copy of each Fairways issue published from 1992 through 2017. “If there was anyone you’d want to have those copies in hand, it would be Joe Watts,” said Dodson. That collection takes the sting out of losing all the back copies of the magazine, now in ashes or waterlogged.
Bruce Strom, manager of Wasatch State Park for the state of Utah, found replacements for the signed Billy Casper poster and Publinx hole flag, leftovers from the national championship and the 50-year anniversary flag from Wasatch golf course. Dodson has spent hours reconstructing contracts and paperwork and his bookkeeping files, slowly reestablishing his business foundation.
Remarkably, by holding this magazine in your hands, you have a trophy representing the overcoming of a disaster, commemorated by the fire icon in the cover’s Fairways logo flag.
In weeks following the destructive blaze that left most of Fairways Media offices in the rubble of trusses, soot, ash, ice and garbage, firefighters pumped nine truckloads of water out of the basement of the restaurant. Dodson had worked at that location in historic Provo for eight years.
Dining with Dodson that night in early February when he got word of the fire, witnessing his pain ever since, and seeing he and his staff doggedly rise up through the big takedown, has been inspiring.
It’s hard to start over. But he realizes his greatest assets are his relationships over a lifetime and the 27-plus-years of the magazine. I first met Dodson when we both worked at the Daily Herald in Provo in the 90s before there was the Internet. He doesn’t quit, even in a string of bogeys and the danged doubles. He always believes a birdie is just around the next green.
That’s an attitude you can play with every single day.
Dick Harmon is a sportswriter for the Deseret News and a frequent contributor to Fairways.