It never fails. Every time we schedule one of these trips, we stay up a little too late the first night. That’s how it went this time too. The ribeyes and wine were the perfect pairing for our conversations and considering the Middle Pin boys don’t get a lot of face to face time off the golf course, we did it pretty big that first evening at my place in Wichita. Finally, we managed to force ourselves to go to sleep around the time when most bars in our old stomping grounds would already be closed. We had a couple big days ahead. People were calling it the Middle Pin Western Kansas Mega Weekend. OK, maybe not people. But I certainly was.
We had the route planned down to almost the minute. There was no possible chance we were going to keep that schedule and we’d have to call some audibles along the way but planning it was part of the fun. If we didn’t stay up too late every night, we had a good chance at pulling it off: five or six courses across five or six counties spanning two different time zones.
We loaded our gear, filled up with coffee and tylenol, and pointed the pickup west on highway 54. The overcast sky and misty fog dampened just about everything in the truck, apart from our excitement. We had an early check in at our hotel for the weekend but left early enough to get a golf fix at around the halfway mark of our three hour drive.
Cannonball Golf Course in Greensburg sits just to the south of the highway on the east side town, just around the bend from the new John Deere dealership. There’s a lot of new buildings in Greensburg. That’s what happens when tragedy strikes a Kansas community like that: the people rebuild. It’s hard not to notice and think about all that the community has dealt with over the last fifteen years. I like to think that there’s been a lot of community healing on those greens.
We had the place to ourselves that morning. It wasn’t one of those picture perfect days that just makes you want to play golf. It was more of a Scottish coast kind of day on the Kansas prairie, it was a little too cool and damp for most people, other than a couple of addicts who were trying to stay on schedule. The walk allowed us to stretch our legs and kept us from getting too chilly. We talked a little business, agreed on the wager for the weekend, and knocked another county off my list on my way to playing nine holes of golf in every county in the state before jumping back in the truck and pointing west again.
We pulled into the parking lot of our next stop for the weekend in the early afternoon. The misty fog had given way to some higher cloud cover but looking out the back windows of the clubhouse at Cimarron Golf Club, we knew we were in for quite the treat. The moisture in the air seemed to make the grass even greener. We’ll have more to share specifically about the course itself in the weeks to come so won’t get into the hole-by-hole specifics here other than to say this: Cimarron is a bucket list small town course for golfers in this state.
The story of Cimarron from this trip was the people. We had the pleasure of meeting up with Cimarron native, and Buffalo Dunes Superintendent, Clay Payne, after we played the first three holes. Clay was the main reason why we planned this whole trip so it was great to meet him in person. Clay’s dad, Jake, is the Superintendent at Cimarron. It’s easy to see that attention to detail and pride in their work run pretty deep among the Payne clan. Jake was too busy fine tuning the course for a tournament the next day to join us for a match but stopped to chat a couple times. Probably for the best. I don’t know that I could handle getting beat by two of the Paynes on the course in the same day… Plus, getting a chance to spend more time listening to Jake’s old cowboying stories is just another excuse to get back out west again soon.
The clouds began to break giving way to one of those beautiful, big sky sunsets right as we were finishing the round. We threw the drones in the air to capture this special place in all its golden hour glory. We look forward to creating an online space that represents Cimarron Golf Club as well as it does in person. More on that later.
We drove in the dark back to Garden City, grabbed a bite, and tried to get some sleep. Another big day was around the corner.
The Tylenol the next morning was for the golf soreness rather than some alcohol induced headache. We left Garden City headed west with a two-telephone-pole fog blanketing everything around us. Right about the time we entered Mountain Time, the fog peeled away and the sun beamed down on the beautiful lushness of Tamarisk Golf Course in Syracuse.
I’ve given about anyone who would listen an earful about this course since I had the pleasure of playing it several years back. It was such an expected experience and I couldn’t wait to relive it once again. My only fear was that I misremembered it or over exaggerated my experience five years ago and built it up into something that it wasn’t. Those fears washed away after the first couple holes. This place was exactly what I remember it to be: a golf oasis literally carved out of the tamarix bushes along the banks of the Arkansas River. We were a little early in the year to see the salt cedars in full bloom but the wall of flora mere steps from the fairway on holes four through seven was still intimidating and the bushes gobbled up a few shots that were a little too far offline. Neither of us played particularly great but we had a blast playing one of my favorite nine hole courses in Kansas. It seems like a long way out there, so far west, it’s in a different time zone, but it’s well worth it.
From Syracuse, we drove south to Johnson City, and back to Central Time, for another new course in another new county on my quest. Prairie Pines Golf Course is a fantastic little nine hole course on the north side of town, right across the street from the airport for all you pilots out there. The course has a lot of character with sweeping doglegs on holes one and six, each curving around the driving range, and another on the long par-four fourth hole that bends directly into the prevailing south wind. I’ll admit it, I found a little bit of a groove at Prairie Pines so that definitely influences how fondly I’ll remember the course. It isn’t overly long and actually plays to a par thirty-five but we also caught the course on a day when the wind was only blowing in the teens so I’m guessing the course plays a lot tougher than that during the summer windy season. The greens are big, the conditions are great, the guy in the clubhouse was really nice and it was a great little capper to a fun morning before we headed back to Garden City for a late lunch and an hour of rest before our big grand finale of the tMP Western Kansas Mega Weekend: Buffalo Dunes.
We were looking forward to the company for our afternoon match as once again Clay Payne joined us to show us around his course. We also were joined by Buffalo Dunes Head Professional, Jason Hase, a tall, slim guy who absolutely mashes a golf ball, and Assistant Superintendent, Mitch Chalkley, the youngest of our group that seemed to always be playing from the fairway and always putting for birdie. It was pretty clear that those three boys, playing on their own course, were going to out-class the tMP boys in this little match from the time our first shots landed. They were all playing from the fairway on the first hole while we were playing from the native grass through the sweeping dogleg. It was a feeling that we got used to the rest of the round…
Outside of missing a lot of fairways, it was a perfect round. Playing the course and talking with those guys, you can feel the excitement building around this property that is getting a lot of love as being one of the top municipal golf courses around. Clay, Mitch, and Jason, showed us all of their recent renovations, like the redesigned green complexes on holes three and fourteen as well as the completely new green for hole number eight, and shared the vision for what architect Zach Varty has planned for the years to come. Make no mistake, Buffalo Dunes was already a fantastic golf course. But what they are doing, and have planned, is going to catapult this course to the top of a lot of lists.
There were some fantastic shots: Jason driving over the green on the par-four fifteenth, Mitch going two under through the first four, Clay’s monster drives all afternoon, but especially the stinger into the wind on the sixteenth. Jason finished even. Clay and Mitch tied a few strokes back from that in what should be a great starting point for their year-long rivalry. The Middle Pin boys held it together and didn’t embarrass ourselves too badly. We finished the last several holes during a perfect Western Kansas sunset which bathed the property in the most amazing light. A damn good ending to a great couple days of golf.
We retired to Clay’s home to rehash the round, fellowship, pass a guitar back and forth and play some of our favorite music. Clay’s wife Samantha deserves a shout out for opening her home to hoodlums like us. We were basically two strangers before this weekend. Now, we were sitting around talking about work, life, music, families, goals, and of course, golf. What struck me was that a game brought that group of people together, but it quickly went a whole lot deeper than that. And I found myself thinking how much I look up to those guys for doing what they’re doing. They have a vision. They know where they’re going. And I’m a true believer that they’re going to get it done. These guys could be doing this anywhere. But they’re doing it here. They’re doing it in Kansas and they’re doing it for golfers like us. That’s so badass that I can barely comprehend it.
Of course, we did it again that night too. We stayed up way too late and the alarm clock rang way too early the next morning for our drive back to the east. It never fails. Everytime we’re around good friends, doing something that we love to do, I guess that’s just what is going to happen. Which reminds me: I need to add tylenol to the shopping list before our next trip out west.
We’re Glad You’re Here