Vince Flynn and “The Golf Course Call”
by CECELIA MacDONALD and KATHRYN SCHNEEMAN
In the midst of revitalizing the Alpine Resort, a fun story has resurfaced about “The Golf Course Call”: an event that changed the life of the late Vince Flynn, author of 13 political thrillers. This call catapulted him from the ranks of the self-published to the top of the New York Times’ bestsellers list.
Flynn, who was in Door County for a friend’s wedding on Sept. 12, 1997, was part of the groom’s foursome, which also included St. Paul, Minnesota, bar owners Danny and Kris O’Gara. The golfers were on the fifth hole when Flynn took the call from his newly acquired agent, Sloan Harris, who had been keeping Flynn apprised of a bidding war among New York publishing houses. They were clamoring for the rights to republish his first novel, Term Limits. Until then, the industrious, 31-year-old Flynn had been selling books out of the trunk of his car and through a few Minnesota bookstores.
Flynn grew up in suburban St. Paul, the fifth of seven children in an Irish-Catholic family. Grappling with dyslexia, he described himself as a C- student, but he was able to earn an economics degree from the University of St. Thomas. After successfully working in sales for Kraft General Foods, he surprised his friends by quitting that job and working as a bartender to pay bills so he could devote more time to writing a novel.
He met groom-to-be David Warch – a patron at O’Gara’s top-shelf bar – and found in him a loyal supporter. In fact, Warch scraped up seed money that enabled Flynn to self-publish after receiving more than 60 rejection letters. Warch even took Flynn’s photo for the back cover.
Warch, a native of Appleton, chose to show off Door County by bringing his guests to the Alpine, but Flynn’s frequent phone calls were delaying the game.
“Get off the damn phone! You’re up,” Warch told Flynn.
Flynn responded by turning his back and swatting his friends away. Warch remembers that when Flynn finally ended the call, he looked stunned and said, “I just got signed by Simon & Schuster for a two-book deal.”
Danny O’Gara piped up, “Hey, Vinnie, that’s great! You can pay me back for the last three years, since you were writing while you were supposed to be working at our bar.”
New York literary agent Harris recalls, “When Term Limits started selling like hotcakes in the Twin Cities, the fiction buyer at Barnes & Noble took interest in Vince, and word got out about this talented and charismatic man who went his own way when publishing didn’t understand his book.”
Flynn was still stunned when they reached Alpine’s scenic 18th hole. He sat there on the bluff, mesmerized by the panoramic view while overlooking Lake Michigan on that sunny Door County day. The foursome cracked open cans of beer to celebrate his great good fortune.
O’Gara said, “Vinnie just sat there, just looking.”
No doubt Flynn was contemplating how his life was about to change. He could afford to have a family, for one thing, and in fact, he soon met his wife, Lysa, and they eventually raised three children.
Perhaps his creative imagination grew larger wings that day. He was already in the early stages of bringing to life his iconic character, Mitch Rapp, who has lived on in a movie, books and T-shirts. Flynn’s astonishing career led to an invitation to join President George W. Bush for a limousine ride, and King Abdullah II of Jordan hosted him in the royal palace – and even cooked him dinner.
What Flynn could not have imagined was the ripple effect that his writing would have on readers all over the world before his premature death from prostate cancer in 2013 at age 47.
Whatever his reverie on the bluff, it was broken when a golf ranger approached the group. O’Gara recalled, “We thought he was going to take our beers away and tell us to move on, even though there wasn’t anyone behind us, but instead he just smiled and said, ‘Yep. It’s beautiful.’”
The following day, Flynn ushered wedding guests into the stave church at Björklunden in Baileys Harbor, and during the reception, news of his publishing contract escalated the existing level of celebration. When asked whether the new millionaire bought rounds of drinks, Warch chuckled and said, “He couldn’t. It was an open bar.”
A suggestion has been made to the Alpine staff that the newly renovated clubhouse bar feature a Vince Flynn cocktail in memory of “The Golf Course Call.” Perhaps a mixture of Gray Goose vodka (his favorite) and pomegranate juice (which sustained him during his illness) would be a fitting tribute from his loyal fans after finishing the 18th hole.