In the northeast corner of Independence is a touch of the Ozarks sitting above an active limestone mine. Opened in 2003 by mining owner Harlan Limpus and designed by the Craig Schreiner, WinterStone Golf Course offers an up-and-down layout balanced with challenges for advanced regulars and fairness for average duffers.
“I think the layout is unique to the area,” said course superintendent Daryl Pearson, who joined the WinterStone staff in November. “There are not a lot of flat lies. It’s kind of a rollercoaster ride, to be honest, and it’s playable for all levels.”
Head professional Kane Chapman said some players tell him WinterStone reminds them of courses found in the popular Missouri vacation area. “The phrase we use is ‘a touch of the Ozarks,’” said Chapman, who joined WinterStone as an assistant pro a couple months after the course opened. “They say it was more like playing a golf course at Lake of the Ozarks, seeing the dramatic elevation changes. With the exception of some par 3s, there’s some sort of elevation change in all the holes.”
According to the course’s historical record, Limpus bought the 150-acre plot and started operating a mine in 2000, then added the golf course because the topography was ideal and to enhance surrounding property values. The par-72 layout plays 6,752 yards from the gold tees and 4,976 from the blues.
For Chapman, the appeal of working at a new facility and at a public course – after starting in the business at the private Loch Lloyd – drew him to WinterStone. “I had played it before I came to work here, and I just like the course,” he said. “It was a good golf course, it was kind of unique, the layout.”
Pearson, who had worked at the nearby Greg Norman-designed Stone Canyon since its construction in 2007, said he liked the opportunity to handle the enhancement projects WinterStone is trying to undertake. “These are zoysia grass fairways, and I had been growing bent grass,” he said. “With the summers we have here, zoysia is more consistent. It works well.”
Pearson’s first big project, however, was to re-grow the greens on Nos. 1-4 and 9, as well as the practice green, after a mishap late last summer killed the grass. They’re in commendable shape now given the super-wet spring. “Within a few weeks of some warmer weather they will be fine,” Pearson said.
“We can’t say enough about how things are looking now,” Chapman added, “and Daryl is a big reason for that.”
Players can get a good sense of WinterStone and its elevation changes right away, with the first hole gradually sloping toward an elevated green and the par-3 second dropping straight down from the tee box.
Players might need the turn for a mental break, as the par-5 ninth features water hugging the fairway and green on the left and bunkers dotting the right side and the fairway. The par-4 No. 10 tee overlooks another pond that requires 216 from the gold tees to carry, with a tree line separating the fairway from East Kentucky Road. Chapman said the 10th tends to be most intimidating hole for players.
“If it’s a true prevailing wind, it’s a crosswind (left to right),” he said. “It is a hole that visually really messes with you. No. 11, there’s a creek and the fairway is slightly elevated. That could be an even tougher tee shot.
“Everybody talks about the No. 10 tee shot. We hear more about that tee shot and No. 12, the par 3, because it is so short (110 from the golds).”
Back-to-back par 4s provide a solid finish. The 17th is short enough to entice big hitters to reach the green off the tee, if they want to risk the rock-wall creek crossing in front of the slightly elevated green, while 18 hugs the pond along the left side and has a healthy-sized bunker ready to swallow approach shots off to the right.
Chapman said while WinterStone doesn’t measure especially long, the elevation changes can add distance for certain shots and force players to use a variety of clubs.
“There’s nothing super tricky about the course,” he said. “There’s not any truly blind shots, but there are a number of holes where golfers can’t see the next hitting surface. Some of the views you get from higher holes, it’s kind of a neat place.”
And of course, there’s the active mine underneath, though Chapman said golfers usually doesn’t feel the daily blast unless they are standing on the grass, as opposed to on a cart path or in a building. “They’re actually [working] across the street now, but in the right spot you can still hear it and feel it,” he said. “It’s definitely a unique attribute.”