Updated: Nov 11, 2019
There was a fairly famous writer who passed away earlier this year. He was 90 years old. Some of you reading this probably never heard of him. That’s alright. It isn’t really about him, but his death resurrected an idea which is the topic of this post. The writer was Dan Jenkins and the idea was finding the best eighteen holes in the United States.
Finding the best holes in the country probably wasn’t a new idea when he decided to do it. However, what made Jenkins’ venture different was that he judged all the holes against all the others of the same number: all the opening holes against each other, all the second holes against each other, all the third holes against each other, etc. The list that he came up with was epic and is still referenced today. You can find his entire list here: https://www.si.com/vault/1965/02/15/607458/the-best-18-in-america
While all of the places on Jenkins’ list are incredible (think Pine Valley, Augusta National, Cypress Point; you get the point) the odds that someone like me will ever get to see more than a few of these holes with my own eyes are slim at best. I’d love to, but that likely isn’t in the cards for me (if you're reading this, probably isn't likely for you either). Many of the holes he chose belong to the most exclusive courses and clubs in the world.
Those aren’t the places I play. I play the golf around me. Some of it is world class. Many are not, at least by woke golf standards. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t great holes out there waiting for you to discover them. That’s what this list is all about: finding the best eighteen holes in Kansas as judged against their peers.
For this list, I picked my favorite holes based on their number with a couple twists: I have to have played there and each course can only have one hole on the list. That means a couple things. First, while I’ve played golf in a lot of places in this state (63 different courses, 889 different holes), I haven’t played them all. An omission from this list isn't a slight to your home course. More than likely, I haven’t been there yet or don't remember well enough. I consulted my journal extensively while compiling this list, however, I wasn't always a great note taker and my memory isn't always as sharp as I'd like it to be. Whatever the reason, if I'm missing a great hole from some place you have played, let us know in the comments or the Forum and let's get out there and play!
Second, we have a whole bunch of nine-hole golf courses in this state. That means, you won’t find any holes on my list at nine-hole courses after the ninth hole. If I liked a hole on a nine-hole course, for example the sixth at Tamarisk in Syracuse, it is listed as the sixth hole, not the fifteenth.
Almost forgot: if you were able to put all 18 of my best holes in Kansas together in one Frankenstein’s Monster course, you’d come up with a par 74 (38 out, 36 in). If you listen to some in the golf world, they’ll tell you par is irrelevant anyway. If I thought it was a good hole, it made my list. I also gave out some runners up awards for those I also considered. I tried to limit the number of times you’ll see Prairie Dunes, but that place really is just that special.
But, this is a starting point; a jumping off place to come up with the best holes in the Sunflower State. This isn’t a finished product and will change with the more places I play, and remember. So, without further ado, here is Part I of the Best 18 in Kansas:
1. Colbert Hills Golf Course (Manhattan) – Par 5
Colbert Hills in Manhattan has a number of holes that could contend for spots later on in this list, but I chose it for the best opening hole in the entire state. From the elevated tee, you see the task laid out if front of you: a monster par five, right into the teeth of the prevailing south wind, with a forced carry over other tee boxes and native grass off the tee and another forced carry over water at some point before reaching the green. Only one word describes the tee shots at Colbert: epic. And the opening hole is the grandest of them all because you can see the entire hole from the tee. After hopefully finding the fairway off the box, this hole provides three clear choices for your second shot: 1) go for it all from 200+ yards out, taking on the prevailing wind and a forced carry over water to reach the green in two, 2) cut across to the east fairway, carrying over some water with a longer iron and leaving a short iron approach, or 3) layup short of the water on the west fairway using a short iron and leaving another short iron to the green. For me, there really has never been a right answer to that second shot. They all can work if properly executed, but all have their potential drawbacks as well. The stunning visuals of this hole from the tee, combined with the excellent choices and risks on the second shot and a tough, firm, Colbert green, make this hole the best opener in the state.
Hole Number 1 Runners Up: Prairie Dunes, Salina Country Club, Terradyne, Rolling Hills, Hillsboro.
2. Crestview Country Club, North Course (Wichita) – Par 5
The North Course at Crestview Country Club offers an elevated tee, facing the northeast with a creek that cuts diagonally through the fairway right as the hole doglegs directly to the north at about 220 yards from the middle tees. The left side of the hole is protected by large old growth trees that make cutting the corner a challenge for anyone who attempts it. The corner can be taken, but it requires an excellent shot to pull it off. Which is why watching the pros tackle this hole completely changed my opinion of it. Pros on the Web.com Tour (err, Korn Ferry Tour; been working on this post so long the entire tour changed names!) will take a long iron or hybrid and land their tee shot short of the creek on the right side of the fairway. That shot gives them some room for error on a miss but also gives them the best angle to go at the green on their second shot, typically from 250+ yards. The green is protected by a series of mounds and bunkers and is slightly elevated from the rest of the fairway. I’ve walked plenty of rounds following pros around this hole and very few actually hit the green with their second shot from that distance but they very rarely bogey this hole, if they hit that prime location off the tee. Play it like the pros and par should be doable. Play it more aggressive and it might pay off; or a big number could come into play too.
Hole Number 2 Runners Up: Prairie Dunes, Willowbend, Tex Consolver, Turkey Creek.
3. Cedarbrook Golf Course (Iola) – Par 4
Honestly, I’m surprised I picked this hole considering how badly I played the one time I was there. No doubt about it, if you aren’t locked in by hole three in Iola, you may be in trouble because this hole requires two very good shots to make it home at par. The hole tees off to the south, directly into the prevailing wind and the defining feature of this hole is the triangle shaped pond on the right side of the fairway and running directly in front of the green. The pond is closer to the tee on the right. As if that wasn’t enough to steer a tee shot further left, the fairway also slopes toward the pond on the right-hand side. On the left, the hole is guarded by old growth trees and the fairway narrows as the hole approaches the green. The green sits on the other side of the pond and slopes back to front to catch incoming approach shots. But, there really isn’t a way around the water hazard and at some point, all players will have to cross it to reach the green. As you can probably guess, I put my tee shot in the water not knowing what was really up there or how to play this hole my first time through. Hopefully, after you read this, you’ll have a better idea and can conquer this hole with your new knowledge.
Hole Number 3 Runners Up: Prairie Dunes, Sim Park, Eagles Pub and Golf Course (Kingman), Turkey Creek, Belleville.
4. Indian Hill Golf Course (Chapman) – Par 4
My fourth hole choice is from the nine-hole course in Chapman, called Indian Hill Golf Course. This hole runs mostly north with a slight dogleg to the left around a pond at about 300 yards. The hole also runs downhill and everything feeds to the pond that sits left and short of the green. The pond gives this hole its character because with a stiff south wind, the water is definitely in play. A tee shot down the left-hand side will give a little bit of a shorter approach to the green; however, it will require at least some forced carry over the pond to reach the green. On the right side, it will be a little longer of an approach but there is no forced carry over the pond and is a great angle to see the entire green. The right also has an added hazard of a grove of trees that may be right in line with the second shot if your drive is sprayed a little too far to the right. I like this hole because once again, it gives you choices. If there is a stiff breeze, driver might not be the call. Regardless of the side of the fairway the drive lands, the approach is picturesque, especially when the sun is peaking through the trees that line the west side of the course. This is a good two shot hole with some interesting choices because of the topography, which combined with the wind speed and direction, can make for a tough little challenge.
Hole Number 4 Runners Up: Prairie Dunes, Auburn Hills, Garnett, Abilene, Sand Creek.
5. Salina Country Club (Salina) – Par 4
The hole of choice for the best fifth hole in the state goes to Salina Country Club. From the elevated tee, the hole faces the east but doglegs to the north between 200-220 yards. The fairways on both sides are lined with old growth trees which are fairly imposing standing on the tee box. This hole isn’t overly long and players who elevate the ball quickly can attempt taking a short cut by driving the ball over the trees on the left and taking a straight line toward the green. Of course, anything short in the trees could lead to trouble but it is a daring play for the skilled golfer. Most will attempt a tee shot that lands in the middle of the fairway at the dog leg corner, leaving a shot of less that 140 yards to the green. The green is long and narrow green that runs north-south and a tee shot to the middle of the fairway provides the best angle. I like this hole because it just seems different than many others on the course. It has options, but the dog leg and shape of the green combine to make this hole unique among its peers at Salina Country Club.
Hole Number 5 Runners Up: Auburn Hills, Minneapolis, Wamego County Club, Medicine Lodge, Cherry Oaks.
6. Tamarisk Golf Course (Syracuse) – Par 4
My favorite sixth hole in the state is way out west at Tamarisk Golf Course in Syracuse. I didn’t have high hopes when I decided I was going to play golf in Syracuse for the first time. But this course blew away my expectations and any number of holes four through seven could have made my list. From the tee box, the hole looks fairly straight forward teeing off to the southeast. There is plenty of room for tee shots but in order to attack the pin on the approach, the best position is on the right-hand side of the fairway because there is a slight bend to this hole right at the green. Any tee shot down the left side will have to go over some trees in order to reach the green in regulation. On the right, approaches should have a clear view and shot of all pin locations on this green. This hole is the closest hole to the Arkansas River on the entire golf course and the landscape off the fairway is incredible and like no other course in Kansas I’ve played. Lined with mesquite brush down the entirety of the hole, it feels like you're completely walled off from the world. When you're on this hole, you're the only person you can see and it is an incredible feeling. It really is a remarkable landscape and the entire course was in amazing condition when I visited. Definitely worth the trip to Syracuse to see this place. Just remember to bring your bug spray.
Hole Number 6 Runners Up: Prairie Dunes, Colbert Hills, Wamego Country Club, Buffalo Dunes, Meadow Lakes (Colby).
Parts II and III to come later. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts in the comments below or in the Forum. We're glad you're here.