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.
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.”
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 Golfadvisor.com 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.
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.
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