Shoal Creek – One of the Best

My approach to the No. 7 green at Shoal Creek was a bit long, which left me with a short chip to try to save par. But it wasn’t an easy chip. My ball had found the thick rough on the back side of the green, with little room to work with before the pin on a downhill slope. If I didn’t hit it hard enough, I’d leave myself a difficult putt from the fringe. If I hit it too hard, it would roll way past the pin.

So I channeled my inner Tom Watson, lobbed it a short distance to the fringe, and watched it bounce onto the green. It curved to the right and dropped in the hole. I raised my hands in the air and ran around like I had just clinched the 1982 US Open at Pebble Beach. My playing partner laughingly said, “Way to go, Watson!”

That was one of my highlights of playing one of the highest-ranked courses in the state of Missouri. The biggest highlight—other than the course itself—was playing the round with legendary Kansas City sportscaster Jack Harry.

Shoal Creek Golf Course

Jack has been extolling the virtues of Shoal Creek for quite some time. A long-time resident of the Northland, Jack plays at Shoal Creek a lot, and for good reason. I’ve known Jack for about 30 years, as we’ve covered a lot of the same teams and sporting events. We spent most of our time talking about many of the great people we’ve met—like Watson—but we also had a great day on a great course.

Shoal Creek is a beautiful 7,011-yard course (from the gold tees) off Highway 152, just west of Liberty. The conditions feel more like “country club” than “city-owned municipal course.” And there is plenty of variation to the terrain, leaving some spectacular views and challenging shots.

“Credit goes to our superintendent, Duane Sanders, and his staff,” head club pro Rhett Fregoe said. “I would say the conditions of our course rival any private club in the city.”

Shoal Creek Golf Course

Among the accolades for Shoal Creek are the No. 2-ranked public course in Missouri by Golf Week’s “America’s Best You Can Play”; a 4-star rating in Golf Digest’s “Best Places to Play”; the No. 1 ranking among courses in Missouri by for 2017 and 2018, and the No. 1 ranking among public course in Missouri by the Golf Card Traveler.

But you don’t need someone else’s opinion to recognize quickly that you are playing a great course.

Shoal Creek was built in 2001 by architect Steve Wolford. It is owned by Kansas City Park and Recreation, and, like its neighbor Hodge Park Golf Course, it is operated by KemperSports Management. Club Car Carts are equipped with the Visage GPS yardage and navigation system. Zoysia grass tees and fairways, and Penn G-2 bent-grass greens are kept in immaculate condition. The reads on those greens are true.

Shoal Creek Golf Course

Every hole will give you shots to remember, whether you’re a duffer or the club pro.

“My favorite is 15,” Fregoe said. “It’s a good-looking hole. It has the fountain and the pond short of the green on the left. We could set it up to be very difficult by putting the pin on the left side of the green, making you carry the pond and the bunker.”

While there are challenging holes, the multiple sets of tees make it playable for any level of golfer. I had my best round of the season—I think, because you don’t waste time writing down numbers on a scorecard when you can be swapping stories with Jack Harry. The conditions made it easy to recover from bad shots.

Another highlight for me was No. 4. A dogleg right, I went too far right on my drive and was in the woods, though I did have sight of the green. Unfortunately, I didn’t hit it well and I still left myself a longer approach than I first realized. Jack had earlier driven the cart to the green when I told him that I had the clubs I needed.

Shoal Creek Golf Course

So there I was, about 20 yards beyond the range of my pitching wedge, but that—and my putter—were my only options. So I swung my wedge as hard as I could and almost holed it. It rolled a couple of feet past the hole for an easy tap-in. As I stood there in amazement, a guy in an SUV driving on the road behind the hole shouted, “Great shot!” This place even provides galleries! I had to admit it was a lucky shot, but it’s the type of shot that keeps bringing you back.

Especially to a course as nice as Shoal Creek.

By David Smale

Hodge Park May Not Be Long, But Still Can Pose A Challenge

So you don’t hit the ball as far as you used to? We have a solution.

Hodge Park Golf Course, which measures just 5,707 yards from the white tees, and just 6,181 from the blue tees, offers a good place to test your short game while still being challenged to stay away from the prairie grass that borders most of the fairways.

And with water in play on almost every hole, safety is best found in the wide fairways. The nuances of the course make it a challenge for every level of golfer, including the 300-yard driver.

Hodge Park Golf Course

“This course plays longer than the yardage indicates,” says Tim Underwood who has been the course manager and club pro for the past 20 years. “There are so many doglegs that you can’t really measure it from tee to green. There are a lot of meandering fairways and slopes that make the course play much longer than the yardage on the scorecard.”

One of those holes is No. 10, which is almost a double dogleg. To play this hole well, you need to place your drive in the middle to right side of the fairway to have a good angle at the green. You still may be looking at anywhere from 130 to 170 yards to the green. That leaves a tough approach, as the fairway narrows the closer you get to the green.

The course was built in 1973, so the trees are mature. There’s a large lake in the middle of the course, so keeping the zoysia fairways green is not a problem for greens superintendent Duane Sander and his staff.

“The course is always in good condition, which makes for a fast-paced day,” Underwood says. “It’s easy to walk the course, because it’s not too hilly. And there is plenty to challenge even the best golfer.”

Hodge Park Golf Course

One of Underwood’s favorite holes is the 376-yard 13th hole. Your drive climbs about 50 feet in elevation to the ideal landing spot, where you can finally see the pin. It also doglegs to the right, meaning the opportunity is there to cut the trees and have a short chip for your second shot. But that’s not something that very many golfers challenge successfully. The trees are thick and tend to swallow golf balls.

“If you can hit it over the trees you can cut about 30 yards off the distance, but most people don’t have that in their bag,” Underwood said.

Other hole that presents a challenge, even to regulars at Hodge Park, is No. 15. Two big trees in the middle of the fairway make almost every second shot difficult. The trees sit at the bottom of a valley between two pretty steep hills, so it’s hard to drive it past them. They’re both full of leaves and they sit within 100 yards of the green—that sits back up a hill—so hitting over them is difficult. To make it even more treacherous, the lake on the right eliminates the opportunity to avoid the trees altogether.

For the most part, if you can keep your drive in the wide-open fairways, the course is pretty forgiving. There are only three sand bunkers on the whole course, so “straight” is the most important club in your bag.

Hodge Park Golf Course

Hodge Park and nearby Shoal Creek are both owned by the city of Kansas City and managed by Kemper Sports Management. Hodge Park is just west of Liberty, just north of Highway 152.

Monday-Friday walking rates are $28, with seniors just $21. Between 1-4 p.m., regular rates are $22. After 4 p.m. the regular rates drop to $17. You can opt to play just nine holes for $16.

Weekend regular walking rates are $31, from 1- 4 p.m. they are $22 and after 4 p.m. to $17. You can play nine holes for $20 prior to 1 p.m. After 1 p.m. that drops to $17. After 3 p.m., seniors pay $17.

To ride a cart for 18 holes it’s $16 per person, and for nine holes it’s $10 per person. It’s okay to ride two in a cart now.

Hodge Park also has a “Play Until Sunset Rate.” The price varies based on the time of the year (check the website for current rates), but golfers can play until about 15 to 20 minutes before dark. Great for after work.

Bring your short game and enjoy a round at Hodge Park.

By David Smale