"If you build it, they will come" proves true for tennis in Iowa, too

CHARLES CITY, Iowa -- For as long as he can remember, Mark Kuhn has been riding a tractor at the family farm in Charles City, Iowa. Which is why, as a kid, whenever Mark wanted to see beyond the soybeans, he would go to his grandpa's house, where the old man would take him on exotic adventures. 

"He introduced me to his short wave radio and he took me places all over the world," Mark said. 

Including England, where one day they stumbled on a BBC broadcast of the Championships, Wimbledon. For Mark, it was instantly game-set-match.

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Mark Kuhn used to listen to tennis with his grandfather on his short-wave radio.

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What did he like about it? 

"Well, the accent was neat," Mark said. "And we quickly got the way it's scored. We didn't understand it -- why does it go from 15, and then 30 and then 40 ... and then love?" 

It was the beginning of what became a lifelong obsession with Wimbledon. Of course, a lot of people like Wimbledon and grass court tennis. But what makes Mark outstanding in this field is what is now out standing in his field. 

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Mark Kuhn turned his family's cattle farm to a Wimbledon-style grass tennis court.

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What once was his family's cattle feed lot is now the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club -- a replica of Wimbledon's center court. 

It took Mark a year and a half to build it. Then he learned to maintain it during an internship with the Wimbledon ground staff. 

And that's all he wanted -- just to grow and groom the grass. Which is why Mark was surprised as anyone when, after he built it, they came from around the world to play on his court of dreams.

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The All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club, a replica of Wimbledon's center court. 

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Kids from Minnesota and Iowa came to compete in an invitational tournament. And even umpire Barron Whittet, also from Minnesota.

"When I found this place in the middle of Iowa in a corn field, I was like, 'Get in the car,'" Whittet said. "I came down as fast as I could."

What happens when you build it and they do come?

"They'll come from anywhere and everywhere and they come from all times of the night," Mark said.

But despite that, Mark said he never wishes he didn't build it.

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Visitors to the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club in Charles City, Iowa, 

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Mark lets people play for free -- with a reservation -- and, so far, tennis fans from 42 states and six countries have made the pilgrimage to this tennis heaven here among the Iowa cornfields. 

What would his grandpa think when he saw that? 

"He'd be very pleased, I know he would," Mark said. 

How could he not be. And certainly if there are short wave radios in heaven, you know he's listening.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, email us: OnTheRoad@cbsnews.com. Special thanks to the BBC for audio from Wimbledon.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.