There’s a story. Of course there’s a story – and it’s one that makes for a good day trip, among other things. A single tree on a 613-yard par-5, the second hole on a links-style golf course, is not bestowed the honor of a nickname without a story. As trees tend to go on golf courses, this one was a problem. For starters, it was huge – a “goliath” as Sand Creek Station head pro Zach Frey described it. And it was also directly impeding architect Jeff Brauer’s intended design for the hole.
Now, Brauer had dealt with trees well before he took on Sand Creek Station, which opened in Newton in 2006. He has been designing golf courses for nearly four decades, launching his career with Kemper Lakes Golf Course, site of the 1989 PGA Championship, the first of many indelible enterprises. He knew just what to do with this goliath: He’d use it, leaving it to stand as a massive, golf ball-swallowing sentry guarding the green, which sits 613 yards away from the tee box, depending on what tees you play from. “It’s basically a catcher’s mitt ready to catch any ball that attempts to get by,” Frey said.
With the presence of that gargantuan tree, now affectionately named after the architect himself, the second hole became one of the most difficult on the course. But the delight of navigating the links at Sand Creek Station stems far beyond mastering an approach shot around Brauer’s Tree. For Kansas City golfers – a day trip to visit Sand Creek Station is worth the journey, both in terms of getting there and in taking on this exceptional golf course.
That journey culminates in a scenic treat taking golfers along the rolling hills and railroads of Newton, Kansas. That trip also features the longest par-5 in the Sunflower State, water on eight holes, and native grasses – as opposed to the typical tree-lined fairways and other common parkland course features seen most often in this region.
Brauer, much as he did with his eponymous tree, used the landscape around him to create a course that presents golfers with a historical narrative, both through golf and the town of Newton itself. The par-5 16th is invariably the most recognizable, having been modeled after the famous Road Hole at St. Andrew’s.
“As you get closer to the green, you recognize the railroad running adjacent to the green as well as the famous pot bunker tucked in the front corner of a two-tiered green,” Frey said. It would seem a no-brainer that a hole with such a lofty doppelganger would be deemed the course’s “signature hole.” But no – that honor belongs to No. 10, the one known simply as “The Beast.”
The name is well-deserved. At 648 yards from the back tees, it is the longest par-5 in the state, which hardly begins to scratch the surface of the hole’s difficulty. Off the tee, water borders the left while a railroad lines the right. Find the fairway and you’ll be rewarded with a second shot in which the water has flipped to the right and out of bounds now glares from the left.
“There’s no easy way to play the hole,” Frey said. “Plus, you normally have a stiff summer breeze blowing directly in your face the whole way home.”
The course sounds daunting, yes, something that superintendent James Houchen and the rest of the Sand Creek Station staff took into account when they made the decision to construct three additional tee boxes on the most difficult holes “to ensure golfers of all ages and skill levels can enjoy,” Frey said.
And when he mentions “all skill levels,” he does mean all. Despite its youth – Sand Creek is only 10 years old – the course has already hosted a Web.com Tour Pro-Am, a high school state championship, the NJCAA Men’s Division I National Championship (twice), as well as the last ever U.S. amateur Public Links Championship.
Prior to hosting those events, Sand Creek was named the No. 2 public golf course in the state by GolfWeek in 2007, and in 2006 was recognized by GOLF Magazine as a Top 10 Course you can play in December. These days, it’s not uncommon to run into pro golfers Bruce Vaughnn and Woody Austin, who occasionally stop by.
“Our tag line ‘Public Course, Private Experience’ is something we strive to live up to day in and day out,” Frey said. “Houchen and his very small crew work non-stop year round to supply our customers with one of the best kept facilities around.”
Sand Creek Station offers a rare blend of well-kept and affordable golf, with rates that never eclipse the $50 threshold, even to non-local weekend players. It seems to be keeping in tune with the small town atmosphere of Newton, with just 12 miles and a population of roughly 19,000 to its name. It’s something that Brauer even embraced in his design, when he wound several of the holes alongside the town’s historic railroads.
“The railways provided an added perk that many golfers are not anticipating while playing golf,” Frey said. “The constant distraction of the loud rail cars and horns blowing would discourage most but our customers seem to enjoy the unique atmosphere.”
The course is a short 2.5 hour drive from Kansas City, sitting just 27 miles north of Wichita, making it a golfing day trip well worth the drive. To learn more or to book a round, check them out at Sandcreekgolfclub.com or call (316) 284-6161.