Golf At Winterstone – It Can Be A Blast

Winterstone’s unusual style of golf begins with its unique origin.

The facility located off 291 Highway in Independence opened in 2003 as the only American golf course which sits atop an active mine, and they invite customers to “Feel the Thunder.”

“Maybe the most unique thing about Winterstone is its creation,” said Head Golf Professional Kane Chapman. “When they opened they believed it was the only golf course with an active mine beneath it as part of the same project and property. That’s kind of an interesting start to the course.”

Mining is no longer active directly beneath the course, but there’s still active mining across the street.

“Our owner, Harlan Limpus, his background is in rock,” Chapman explained. “His big push behind the golf course was that he wanted to make double use of his property by putting the golf course on top of the mine. You’re not going to build a housing development on top of an active mine, so this is what he chose: a really good golf course.”

While players won’t actually feel the mining activity, they might hear it occasionally.

“It sounds a little bit like thunder,” Chapman said. “Once upon a time we called our twilight period our ‘thunder time’ because we started about the same time generally when they were mining.”
Winterstone especially appeals to golfers who enjoy an Ozarks-like experience.

“A tagline we use is ‘A Touch of the Ozarks’,” Chapman said. “It reminds everyone of an Ozark style, with lots of elevation changes and wooded areas. People say that the kind of course it is, it should be in the Ozarks; it reminds them of that. It’s really a unique piece of property around Kansas City.”

Elevation changes feature prominently in the course’s signature par 5s, a pair of each on the front and back nine, which Chapman describes as his “personal favorites.”

Golf At Winterstone

“I love all four of our par 5s,” he said. “They do embody that Ozarks thing. There’s two similar (holes) on each side. #4 and #11, they’re both going from north to south, up the incline. #11 has a creek that winds in front and it runs along the side, whereas #4, it goes along the left side, and then it goes underneath the fairway to the right and then goes along side.”

While they are shorter in actual yardage, they play longer because of the elevation change. The south end of the course is higher elevation; #4 and #11 climb as they go from north to south, and both feature tiered greens.

“You’re climbing up the entire way, whereas when you’re going the other direction we have holes #9 and #16 and they’re the opposite,” said Chapman. “They both measure longer, but play shorter. If you go long on #9, you’re in big trouble. It does play downhill, especially off the tee. #16 will play downhill the entire way.”

#9 is guarded by a number of hazards which leave little room for errant shots.

“Nine has a lot of bunkers and water on the left that comes into play both off the tee and along the length of the hole and on the side of the landing areas,” Chapman explained. “You’re hoping you don’t have to bail out right to stay out of the water.”

Staying true with club length is especially important on #9, while on #16 it’s critical to stay centered with your approach.

Golf At Winterstone

“There’s a low area down below (the green) on the left and mounding on the right,” he said. “If you hit it way right you’ll have a blind shot to the green. Way left and you’ll be hitting it up a hill and maybe trying to dodge between trees to get it up on the green. It becomes a little bit of a challenge if you miss wildly there. Honestly, if you’re not confident in your shot, instead of going for it in two, you’re better off on both just laying up and using a shorter club to put it on the green.”

The multi-tiered greens on #4, #9, and #11 adds another dimension.

“The back area (on #9) is higher elevation,” Chapman said. “There’s a little risk/reward there.”

It’s a prevalent theme throughout the course.

“That’s the thing with this entire course,” Chapman said. “There’s a lot of risk/reward spots. If you play the smart shot all the way around, it’s going to play pretty easily. If you play to the wide side, to the fat part of the fairway and the green, you’re going to be fine. If you start trying to play the more aggressive shot, you don’t have very much room for error.”

Although it’s a relatively short course at just under 6800 yards from the back tees, elevation adds to its length.

“It plays longer than it measures, because of the elevation,” he said. “But it’s not a super long golf course, so you don’t necessarily need to be as aggressive. A lot of people think ‘let’s hit a driver on this hole and put it up around the green’. You’re welcome to do that, but generally if you do, there’s some areas that if you’re not extremely precise, it can get you in a lot of trouble.”

Some of the par fours are invitingly close.

Golf At Winterstone

“There’s a couple of par fours that for the longer hitter are reachable off the tee,” Chapman said. “#17 is an example. It has a creek that runs along that essentially acts as a moat for that green. If you’re a little short, you’re in deep trouble and there are trees that kind of protect it on the right as well. There’s a lot of risk/reward. If you want to play the more conservative shot and hit a shorter club into the green you’re fine. If you miss your tee shot with an aggressive shot, (it can) ruin a good round, too.”

Winterstone offers memberships in different ways. First, annual passes range from twilight-only play to those which are good seven days a week. Senior and junior passes are available, too, and all annual passes are good for a year from the date of purchase; a membership bought in August won’t expire in December.

They also offer club memberships as part of a partnership with five other area courses: Tiffany Greens, Dub’s Dread, Eagles’ Landing, Alvamar, and Heritage Park.

“We kind of have everything covered,” Chapman said. “There’s one in each area. It’s a monthly fee of $34.99/month and then each time you play it’s $20. It’s has been really popular, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s a great deal. With those golf courses, playing one time on a weekend in a month, you break even.”

Club memberships permit a player quality golf at any of the six member clubs while enjoying a variety of experiences.

“You get choices,” he said. “If we’re busy here or have an event scheduled, you can go to Dub’s or Eagles’ or Heritage, or wherever you want. You have lots of options and they’re all quality options. That program is beneficial to both the player and the golf course.”

Members can use their membership however they want.

Golf At Winterstone

“We have members who are very active in that program who don’t ever play here,” Chapman said. “They play out at Dub’s or Alvamar all the time. Then we have players who live near here or maybe in Liberty and they’re going to play here all the time. But you don’t have to play only here. That’s the beauty of the program.”

Chapman emphasizes that the quality of play is on a level with some of the best clubs around town.

“I would put the conditions of this course up against any facility in Kansas City, public or private,” he said. “Our superintendent, Daryl Pearson, is phenomenal, and this golf course shows that. He’s very skilled at his craft. He’s really good. There are a lot of really good superintendents everywhere, but he does just a phenomenal job.”

Although Winterstone has several corporate-based leagues, they run only one: a Tuesday evening two-man best-ball group. The course is also popular for charity and corporate tournaments, and they run their own set of tourneys, the Majors Series, which takes place the Sunday of each PGA Major tournament. Players pick a pro and pair their score with the score of the pro in the major. The final event took place Sunday, August 16, paired with the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. By popular demand, the Majors Series will return next year.

“Everybody seems to like it,” Chapman said. “You can shoot your round and then hang out with everybody here and watch the golf.”

When you hang out to watch golf, you can do it at one of the most unique off-course venues in the area: the Winterstone Pavilion.

A terrific event space for tournaments, parties and receptions, the Pavilion is fitted with accordion glass panes which allow it to be an open-air facility or fully-enclosed with a wonderful view of the course.

Golf At Winterstone

“About 70 percent of the building can be open if you want it that way, or we can close it down and heat it or cool it,” Chapman said. “It’s as good a tournament spot as there is in town, just because of the way it sits. It’s got a great view of the golf course, because it’s either open air or glass enclosed. You can see a great view of #18 or #3 on the west side of the building. Sitting there watching everybody come down #18, you’ve got a great spot to do it.”

The location has played host to a number of events.

“Parties, receptions…we’ve done a few weddings in there,” he said. “It’s a good facility, because of its uniqueness, because of the ability for it to be open air or fully enclosed.”

Mostly, though, Winterstone is simply about good golf.

“It’s core golf,” Chapman explained. “There’s no housing development attached to it. There’s no other reason for us to be here. It’s just core golf. We do a little bit on the parties, but we don’t do very much, because it’s core golf. We have times where we’ve got a golf event, and that’s going to take precedent over a non-golf event. We don’t have a big fancy kitchen. It really is just the basics, with a really, really good golf course.

“It really is just about the golf here. Really good golf. The golf course is good and the conditions are really good.”

For more information about Winterstone, visit their website: winterstonegolf.com.

River Oaks – An Affordable Challenge

Tucked away in a cozy Grandview neighborhood, River Oaks offers a surprisingly pleasant and challenging course. Designed in 1973 by Dr. Marvin Ferguson, it was often favored by Royals and Chiefs players in the ‘70s.

As wide-open country club courses blossomed in the Kansas City area some golfers moved away from River Oaks, but it retained a group of staunch advocates, all of whom laud its challenging aspects.

“It’s the challenging holes, I think,” said newly-appointed General Manager Will Osburn about the appeal of River Oaks. “There are a lot of narrow fairways. We get a lot of praise about how the course plays. There are trees to your left, trees to your right. The narrow fairways make it a little more tricky, a little more fun. There are a lot of shots you need to shape.”

“It’s the old-fashioned thing where you play the ball in the fairway like you’re supposed to,” said long-time regular Dave Schwetz about how to best approach the course. “You’ve got to shape on the front nine and you’ve got to be thinking about what will roll and what won’t. It’s not a ‘grip-and-rip’ course. Back in the day, it was setup hard. If you don’t think your way around the course you’ll be in trouble.”

River Oaks golf course

The relatively short, par-71 course plays 6380 yards from the blue tees with most of the distance on the back nine. The extraordinarily slender fairways begin right out of the gate on holes #1 and #2, pars five and four, respectively, which play a lot longer than their yardage because of the need to be especially fine off the tee. The tight play becomes even more intimidating because of how the tree lines hug the fairways, requiring even more precise shots.

“I like #2,” said Marcellus Hughes, who has played River Oaks regularly for almost a decade and also serves as a marshal. “(The course) is difficult enough. I feel like if you can play that (course) you can play anywhere.”

Par three #3 features a picturesque tee shot over a creek onto a slim green and the water also plays a factor on the long, thin par five #4.

“The green (on #5) is on the left side but there’s all trees on the left (of the fairway),” Osburn said. “It’s a short (318 yards) par four and it’s open to the right, but you’ve got to be sharp or you’re in the trees.”

These are followed by par four #6, at 408 yards, rated as the hardest on the course, and par four #7, a dogleg left.

“If you’re playing from the blues the tee shots are more difficult on #18 and #7,” Osburn said. “They are awkward angles. You have to shape your shots.”

Par three #8 and dogleg right par four #9 round out a 3109-yard, par 36 front nine.

The longer (3271 yards) par 35 back nine begins with par four #10, a sharp dogleg left, followed by one of the most enigmatic holes on the course, the par three #11.

“I think most guys are happy taking a four,” Schwetz admitted. “It’s uphill and always into the wind.”

River Oaks golf course

“Number 11, we get a lot of comments letting you know how difficult it is,” Osburn said. “You have to hit a long ball, 216 (yards) from the blues, uphill and often times into the wind. And then there’s a big tree in front of the green. It was even more difficult until lightning took out part of the tree.”

The course’s longest hole, par five #12 at 534 yards, is both straight and thin.

“I like the challenge of #12,” Hughes said. “You have to keep it straight.”

Rated the hardest on the course, par three #13 seems easy enough at 147 yards off the blues – the shortest hole on the course – but features water hazards and bunkers, along with a smallish green to give even the best shot-makers trouble.

Par four, dogleg right #14 is another hole requiring golf smarts.

“You have to shape a shot, then go uphill,” Schwetz explained. “You have to think a bit. If you’re smarter than the hole, you’ll do OK. After the dogleg you’ll have 150 yards uphill and if you aren’t smart about it you’ll put yourself in harm’s way.”

A long (429 yards) par four #15 is followed by an even longer par four (445 yards) par four #16.

“One of the most challenging is #16, a long hole, really long,” Hughes said of the second-most difficult hole on the course. “Because of the length, and the difficulty, and just the way it slopes up. Getting beyond that slope is a challenge.”

The par-three #17 with its beautifully laid-out green and a long, par-five #18 round out the back nine.

“It’s a real neat, interesting course,” Schwetz said. “I average four 18-hole rounds a week and I’m never bored. It can be played different each time. There’s something on each hole that can become an issue, even if you’ve played it more than once. And the front nine is very different from the back nine; it’s almost like two different courses. What appeals to me is absolutely how hard that course can play sometimes.”
“I like the difficulty,” Hughes agreed. “As opposed to playing a wide-open course, for example. You have to hit the ball straight to avoid the woods and creeks (at River Oaks). That helps you (improve for) when you get to another course.”

The course was purchased by GreatLife Golf & Fitness after it fell into disrepair and has been improving gradually since. It is a “premier” course with family memberships available for $29.99/month. This summer, GreatLife has installed a new General Manager and superintendent, Chris Roberts, who will work to rehabilitate the less favorable parts of the facility.

River Oaks golf club

While there are some parts of the Bermuda/Zoysia fairways which have had maintenance challenges in recent years, the facility itself remains a fine destination. Reviews of the Zoysia greens and the friendliness of the staff are unanimously positive, as are the improving atmosphere of the deck, fitness center, and renovated clubhouse.

“What I’ve heard from the members was that before it was a GreatLife course it went downhill a bit,” Osburn explained. “The greens are in great shape. The tee boxes, fairways and rough are coming around. Our new superintendent brings some experience and will help continue the improvements.”

“They are probably the best greens around here,” said Larry Denton, who has played the course for seven years and also marshalls. “They’ve spent money on bridges, redid the outside and remodeled the clubhouse in the last two years. They’ve spent a lot of money here. Any course can be improved, of course, but they’re on the right track. Compared to the way they got it, it’s a piece of heaven now.”

Osburn, who has experience in sales and marketing, is spreading the word about River Oaks.

“We’re working to create more interest,” he said. “We’ll have an open house on (July) 23rd, open to non-members. With every purchase of cart fees you get free green fees and free use of the fitness center, and we’ll be grilling hamburgers and hot dogs.”

Additionally, enrollment fees, which are typically $100, will be just $25, plus a pro-rated cost for July, reducing fees to only $32 to get started immediately as a member.

River Oaks golf course

Osburn also plans to bring in additional businesses and sponsors for more tournaments by next summer. He wants to make greater use of the deck, get the tennis courts up and going again, and to add a putting green near the clubhouse.

With a family membership of just $29.99 per month, all these amenities coupled with challenging golf make River Oaks a great deal.

“The price is right,” Hughes said. “I like the people and I like the course.”

“I think it’s a very friendly place,” Denton said. “The first thing, they are good, down-to-earth people. I don’t know how you can beat the golf deal at that price and the people who own this want to try to make it better for everybody. If you live in this area, this is the place you want to be.”