The awe inspiring views from the fourth green at Wabaunsee Pines.
I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket but had no desire to answer it. The twisting, dipping, roller-coaster of a road as I headed north had all my attention. I was running late to get to my niece’s championship basketball game (which she won by the way; shout-out B and her coaches!) and my heavy foot on that road had me feeling like a Formula 1 racer in my in-laws borrowed SUV. Plus, I didn’t recognize the number anyway. If it was important, they’d leave a message.
I felt my phone buzz again as I put the car in park and walked briskly to the ballgame that was already halfway over. I had a voicemail.
It was unseasonably warm for the first day of February in Kansas and the basketball games we were there to watch put me in a part of the state I don’t get to very often. My wife gave me clearance to jet out for a while that afternoon and her parents let me borrow their car. The stars were aligning for me to cross another county off my list.
I only had a couple hours before I needed to be back reunited with the family watching basketball but figured I had just enough time to play nine. I was going to drive south to Wabaunsee Pines Golf Course, in the heart of Wabaunsee County.
Everything was right on schedule until I got south of Alma. That’s when the road turned into the type of thing people wait in line for at an amusement park. Not knowing where this road was taking me or what was around next corner, while trying to take in the beautiful scenery of the surrounding Flint Hills, definitely impacted my drive time. So did stopping at the historical marker that informed passers-by about the limestone fences of the area. Always have a few extra minutes to learn something new and admire this state’s natural beauty.
I knew I was close to the course when I saw the waters of Lake Wabaunsee after a short jaunt east on state highway 4. The course sits on the hills overlooking the south end of the lake and the road leading in takes you by houses and cabins that line the water. I imagine Lake Wabaunsee is a pretty happening little lake spot during the warmer months. On this February day though, the coves and shallows of the lake were still frozen.
The coves and shallows of Lake Wabaunsee were frozen and there was still come remnants of snow hanging around, like this looking down the par five eighth hole fairway.
I pulled into the driveway and made my way to the back of the property and the small parking lot by the clubhouse. There were seven or eight cars already there so I wasn’t the only one thinking it was just too nice to be inside all day. I pulled my borrowed car next to a maroon diesel pickup on the end of the lot. That... Was a mistake.
With it being so unseasonably warm, the land had started its thaw, ejecting the water it had accumulated over the past couple weeks. It turned the heavy Flint Hills soil into a slick, sticky, sludge. Of course, I pulled forward just a little too far and both front tires were immediately enveloped and caked. I put the car in drive, then reverse; then drive, then reverse; I was rocking the vehicle to try and break free. It moved a couple inches each time but the mud wasn’t letting go of its grip on the Goodyears.
The twin mounds guarding the front and back of the par three second green mirror those of the Flint Hills in the background.
In all the commotion of me revving the engine and slinging mud in the parking lot, I could see four golfers on the closest green just looking at me. “Great,” I thought to myself, “Haven’t even hit a shot yet and I've already made an ass out of myself.” I put the car in park, opened the door, waved at the golfers, and said, “Well, that happened!” I could see them all start laughing, mostly at me, but I also think there was a hint of pity in their chuckles too.
They finished that hole and made their way to the parking lot. Turns out one of them was driving the maroon pickup I attempted to park next to. They offered to help push me out of my predicament while I gunned it in reverse. The extra help had me free in a matter of seconds. I was thankful for their help and also thankful I didn’t have the course all to myself. A busy tee sheet is pretty helpful when you need a hand.
I thanked them all profusely and made my way up to the clubhouse. I paid my fee in the honor box but didn’t have change for a $20. It only cost $10 to play nine holes. I put my tMP business card in with a crumpled up Jackson and headed to the first tee. The group of guys that helped push out my car split, with two leaving in the maroon pickup and two peeling back to the first tee at the same time I walked up. They were both nice enough to let me join in on their fun. If I hadn't have gotten stuck, I'd have already been putting on the first green and never would have met these two. Things always happen for a reason.
Both guys were college aged and had names so similar it was hard to keep them straight. And to remember by the time I wrote this a couple days later. Kyler and Kellen? Kyle and Keaton? Kayle and Keagan? I’m getting to the age where I need to write this stuff down.
Kyler (maybe) envisioning his tee shot on the par three second hole.
Regardless of their names, they were great guys. Both graduated/were finishing up at the same university I graduated from nearly ten years ago.
Kyler (or Kyle, or Kayle) was from Wichita. I drive by the high school he went to on the west side of town almost every day. He was the smaller build of the two and played a beautiful draw off the tee, which he said he didn’t like. I’m not sure I believe him because he played it so well. He buried two or three putts from deep so nonchalantly that it made my missed six footers hurt all that much more.
Kellen (or Keaton, or Keagan) was the bigger of the two and the one I jumped in with after walking the first hole. He was originally from Dodge City and he filled me in on Mariah Hills, which is on my list but I haven’t gotten out there yet. He knew where Syracuse was when they asked me for my favorite small town nine-hole course. He swung hard and when he caught it right, the ball exploded off his club. He sliced a few, but recovered nicely on several holes thanks to the wedges he picked up off the internet for $40.
Kellen (maybe), sporting his Chiefs gear ahead of the Super Bowl, eyes the par three fourth tee shot.
Both were solid players that will only get better the more they play. We talked the Chiefs, the Super Bowl, golf courses, our pasts, and our futures, all over those nine holes nestled in the Flint Hills.
Wabaunsee Pines is a shorter course with four par three holes in its nine-hole layout but don’t let the length or par (33) fool you: this course will test all facets of your game. For one, the fairways are super tight. There is room to miss off the tee, but keeping it in the prime location on the short turf is pretty tough, especially with the slope of some of the fairways. The wind also comes into play on several holes that sit atop the spine at the west edge of the course.
Then there’s the elevation change. I fully intended to walk my nine holes. I changed my mind after the first hole and jumped in the cart. There are courses in Kansas with elevated tees like those at Wabaunsee Pines, but the one thing that stands out to me is the amount of uphill shots on the course. That isn’t something that happens just everywhere around these parts. The approach shots on holes one, six, and eight were all uphill from where I placed my tee shot. So is the tee shot on the third hole. The elevation was a refreshing challenge I wasn’t expecting going in. The greens were all in great shape, especially for the time of year, and all had unique qualities like dips, spines, mounds, and funnels, and all included a gentle tilt toward the low spots on the course.
As so often happens on this journey, I wasn’t too worried about how I was playing. When my approach on hole five hit a tree that deflected in somewhere in bounds, I didn't bother looking any harder than where I thought it was. I took a penalty, dropped a ball, and kept right on going. My ball was in play, but I wasn't there to break any records. It was just an enjoyable round with a couple guys I met an hour earlier when they helped get me unstuck in the parking lot. My only regret was not packing the big camera to capture the beauty of that area of the state I'd never really experienced.
When we finished on the ninth hole, I unloaded my bag and parted for the parking lot while the boys turned back to the first tee. I was a little jealous of them and wanted to keep going. But my mission was accomplished and I had a basketball game to get to. I loaded everything up and sped back to the winding road away from Wabaunsee Pines.
I opened the Voicemail as I scurried into the gym, hopeful I wasn't too late to catch some of the game. It was Denise (or Diane, or Debra? Man, I've got to write this stuff down) from Wabaunsee Pines. She was cleaning out the honor box for the day and noticed that I overpaid to play nine holes. She wondered if I wanted a refund or said I could just pay less the next time I’m there to play.
I called her back, appreciative of her pro-activeness over $10, and told her to count it as a donation to the course. No refund was necessary and while I hope to make it back to Wabaunsee Pines sometime in the future, I don’t know if, or when, that will happen. I laughed as I hung up thinking her phone call is the type of treatment, and my afternoon was the type of story, you only get in places like this: a golf course out here in the middle.
If I do ever make it back to Wabaunsee Pines, I promise, the vehicle will have four-wheel drive.
We’re glad you’re here. - tMP