Jeff Johnson has been around Sunflower Hills for a long time. When the PGA Master Club Professional arrived at the course in 1981 there was no Kansas Speedway and no Legends shopping area. And he’s never seen a Tuesday like one in mid-June.
“Tuesdays are normally our slowest days of the year,” Johnson said. “A recent Tuesday was our busiest day of the year. It was a combination of the mild forecast and people wanting to get out and play. I’ve been here for 40 years, and I can’t ever remember a Tuesday as busy as that one.”
Johnson credits the Covid bump that boosted business in 2020. When Covid restrictions forced people into isolation, a round of golf was the perfect solution. It was not only great exercise, it could be done with extensive social distancing. If you play like I do, you’re way more than six feet away from anyone else, except for the tee and the green.
“I think people rediscovered the game of golf a little bit last year when golf was one of the few activities you could do,” Johnson said. “It’s a great game to play. People felt a lot safer outdoors and on a golf course rather than at a ballpark. We also see a lot of return play. The course is in great condition, which brings people back. We’re developing a lot more loyal customers.
“We used to get a lot of traveling groups who would play different courses each week. It seems like we’re up higher on their lists these days.”
Part of the reason Sunflower Hills is rising on golfers’ lists is the condition of the course. The topography helps the course drain, so when the heavy runs come, as they did in mid- to late-May, the course was playable. “When it was really wet, it helped the grass grow quite a bit,” Johnson said. “But we were able to do a really good job of keeping up the mowing.
“One of the advantages we have is that the ground drains very well. When other courses are somewhat unplayable, we’re very playable. We only had two spots we had to worry about. Two spots on 180 acres is not bad.”
The 7,032-yard course (from the blue tees) is laid out well. With par-5s second on each side, the layout allows groups to spread out and reduces the back-up. The par-3s aren’t tremendously difficult, so they don’t slow play much either.
That’s particularly important when the course is packed, like it will be in August for the 41st annual Wyandotte County Open. It’s the longest-running tournament of its kind in the Kansas City area. There will be eight flights comprising 120 golfers. There will be six men’s flights and two women’s flights.
Golfers will be using a new fleet of E-Z-Go golf carts, complete with long-lasting lithium batteries and GPS units. It’s clearly a case of the good getting better. Johnson, who has been at the course for almost its entire history, is proud of what Sunflower Hills has become.
“I’ve seen a lot of highs and a few lows, but the course has matured very well over the years,” Johnson said. “The thing that makes Sunflower Hills challenging is that very rarely do you have a level lie. The comments we get from visitors are that it’s a very nice golf course, especially for our very reasonable rates. And we get a lot of visitors.”