The grand dame of Northland golf, Liberty Hills resides in a comfortable countryside setting five miles north of Liberty. At 6530 yards and playing at par 70, it is one of the shorter courses in the Kansas City area, making it an especially easy course to walk. But don’t mistake the distance for a lack of challenge.
Opened in 1967 as the first country club north of the river, the course features unusually narrow fairways and, resting at the highest point in Clay County, is subjected to more than its fair share of crosswinds. The beautiful greens are protected by numerous pot bunkers with water hazard through the middle of the course.
The combination of challenge and accessibility gives Liberty Hills its charm, while the friendly, community feel of the club brings loyalty from its members.
“The experience my children had in junior golf and swimming was the best,” said Lyle Kraft, a member for over 30 years. “I’m now seeing the same experience with my grandchildren. There’s no question (it’s a family and community experience). It’s a small, niche family setting and it’s still a great course. My kids always loved to come here and roam the whole complex. The staff is willing and excited to have the kids and now I’m watching my grandkids come out and do it.”
“I have played on over 100 golf courses in my life and Liberty is a course that grows on you,” said Carol Travaglione, a member since 2007. “It’s a challenging course and one that many of the members can enjoy being able to walk the course. ”
Members often cite the easy walk-ability of the course as contributing to the tight-knit community experience.
“It’s a very walkable course,” said David Eide, a 15-year member. “Most of the groups walk. I think the pace of play is still pretty quick.”
“It’s a great walking course,” agreed Kraft. “You don’t have to have a cart. You can still get exercise.”
“Number three is an interesting hole,” said Manager Sam Klos. “Our members will play it differently sometimes. People will take chances on it.”While strolling at Liberty Hills, players will find plenty of challenges to suit every type of game, particularly at par 4 number three, a short (342 yards) dogleg right which entices newer players to go for broke. But danger awaits with a slightly misplayed shot in more than a dozen pot bunkers and a sparse fairway.
“I’m not a long hitter, but I come with some people and they’ll take the risk and go for it,” Kraft said. “You can get in trouble pretty quick there.”
The rest of the course presents it’s own challenges.
“There are a lot of people who come out and see that it’s not that long, and they are big hitters, but they find out it’s got pretty tight fairways and small greens,” Kraft said. “Most of the holes, you run out of bounds pretty quick.”
“Hole number six (a par 5 and, at 537 yards, the longest on the course), I think every year it gets narrower and narrower,” laughed Eide. “And more challenging, and that makes it more fun. The whole course is fairly narrow and the rough is tough.”
Number nine (par 4, 392 yards) hooks around to the left over water to the green, requiring an exacting approach shot for a chance at birdie.
The challenges of Liberty Hills has helped produce a number of fine golfers, including Kearney’s Ryan Zech, who won All-State honors in Missouri for three years and was named the 2011 Kansas City Metro Player of the Year before becoming one of the Missouri Tigers best performers.
“Don’t miss this unique opportunity to play one of the most prestigious semi-private courses in Kansas City,” invites General Manager Megan Marshall. “The course offers multiple tee-box options as well as a golf course that presents tree-lined fairways and expansive greens that provide a true roll. Come experience an enjoyable round of golf that does not take five hours to play.”
“It’s a beautiful layout with sand traps, lakes and greens that compare to some of the five-star country clubs in the metropolitan area,” Travaglione said. “It’s a great place to unwind and relax.”
While some golfers come for the beautiful course and unique challenges of play, many simply enjoy the unhurried countryside atmosphere.
“I’m primarily at the club for golf and to socialize,” Eide said. “It’s a very sociable atmosphere and a friendly staff. I’ve actually met more people from other clubs at Liberty Hills, intermingling and socializing.”
“It’s a neighborhood course and I have made a lot of really great friends playing golf at Liberty,” Travaglione said.
Liberty Hills has just put the finishing touches on re-sodding the back nine with Zoysia grass, to match the front nine and replacing the old blue grass. While it will take time for it to come completely into full growth, it is already becoming lush and beautiful.
Re-sodding is the primary improvement made since Great Life purchased the course in April, 2013, and Marshall believes their efforts have been well received.
“I think (members’ response has been) good,” she said. “I think they’re pleased with the price and care of the course. The initial reaction (when we bought it) was ‘oh, great, here’s somebody else coming in’, but I think we’re showing we care about the members, about moving forward and taking steps to bettering the course. I think we’ve had good reactions.”
“The new owners have made a genuine effort,” agreed Travaglione, “to involve the members in creating a fun golfing experience for everyone.”
The course became available to Great Life after it sat mostly dormant for part of two years following a January, 2012, fire which destroyed the clubhouse. The club has since struggled to restore its membership ranks to a level needed to rebuild the clubhouse. It had reached a nadir when Great Life’s Rick Farrant and Doug Albers became co-owners, but they have already begun to turn it around.
“We thought that it was close to Staley (Farms) and a nice perk to have and be able to play, that’s where the intention was (behind the purchase),” Marshall said. “The price and location were good and it would help build the Great Life brand in Kansas City.”
However, Marshall cautions that they are still trying to recover some of the original Liberty Hills glory.
“We’ve only owned the course for a year and we’re still trying to get it out of bankruptcy,” she said. “The fire was a big deal to overcome. These things don’t happen over night.”
With approximately 350 current members, Liberty Hills hopes to continue adding to their rolls before taking on the next challenge. New members joining now would have an opportunity to help restore the club and get in on the ground floor of a newly rebuilt clubhouse experience.
“We’d like to get to the 400 number,” Marshall said. “That’s the sweet spot before we can move forward (with a new clubhouse). We already have renderings and ideas about what we want to do. Pretty much everything is set in place.”
Once they reach the magic number, the clubhouse can be constructed in “eight to 12 months,” according to Marshall, but even then ownership will remain committed to the Great Life ideal of affordable family-style memberships.
“That’s the Great Life model,” she said. “Affordable costs for every family type. We don’t plan on doing outrageous memberships. We’re not going to go really high. We hope to keep the same exact price. And a nice thing about Great Life membership is the opportunity to play other courses.”
In the meantime, the golf course, the driving range and the swimming pool (which opens Memorial Day weekend) are all available to members, and as part of the Great Life association, members can also take advantage of amenities at other area courses, such as the workout facility at Staley Farms. Liberty Hills’ pavilion is also available for outdoor events, such as graduations and wedding. The club will continue to host popular men’s and women’s leagues, and a variety of entertaining events for members.
The total package at Liberty Hills makes for a great value.
You don’t have to convince the members, who Marshall says “are our best advocates.”
“Liberty Hills was recommended by many of our close friends,” said Kathy Steward of their relocation three years ago, when they were looking for a residential and golfing community with a championship course to match their previous lifestyle in Wichita. “We found that Liberty Hills met all our golfing needs, such as ease of accessibility for tee times, friendly staff and practice facilities. We have played many courses in and around the Kansas City area. Liberty Hills rates up there as one of our top picks of courses in and around Kansas City.
“We would recommend golf on ‘The Hill’ to anyone wishing to enjoy a nice round of golf in the country air.”