Best 18 in Kansas - Part II

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

This post is part two of three attempting to name the best 18 holes in Kansas, with some important caveats. Click here to reintroduce yourself with the rules we set out and to read our choice for the first six holes.

7. Sugar Valley & Hidden Valley Lakes Golf Course (Mound City) – Par 4

First of all, no one likes target golf. "Hit it here or else" isn’t golf to me. You’ve read about how options for all golfers is one thing that makes a hole great to me. Granted, I’ve only played this course and hole one time, but I don’t know you have much of a choice to play this hole other than the way it is laid out. Still, this hole makes the list just because it is so unique and different that when I sat down to make this list, there was only one choice for the seventh hole: Sugar Valley & Hidden Valley Lakes. From the elevated tee facing west, you can’t see the green. You can see the landing area on a plateau over the deep tree filled canyon. Laying about 150 to 180 yards from the tee, it isn’t a hard club choice to make: pull the iron and hit it to that spot over the canyon. Once you hit the tee shot and make it to that landing area, you are treated with another elevated shot 150 to 180 yards to the green, this time not only elevated over the canyon below, but there is pond that guards the green on the short side. Compared to the rest of the course, this hole comes out of nowhere. A relatively flat, parkland course suddenly turns into a wooded wonderland. Taking the cart path leads you down two steep canyons and through the densely wooded terrain of Eastern Kansas. This might not be the greatest seventh hole in the state, but everyone who has played there will tell you that it is definitely the most memorable and different. Something to be said for being unique I guess.

Runners Up: Rolling Hills Country Club, Wamego Country Club, Brough Creek National (sentimental pick: have seen it but haven't played it yet).

8. Prairie Dunes Country Club (Hutchinson) – Par 4

Cover of Sports Illustrated with list of the best 18 holes in American by Dan Jenkins, 1965. Prairie Dunes was already well known by the time of this article (Jack Nicklaus won the Trans-Mississippi Amateur here in 1958; Arnold Palmer played Nicklaus in an exhibition here in 1962; hosted the U.S. Women's Amateur in 1964) but the inclusion of the eighth hole on this list certainly increased its fame. Since this article, Prairie Dunes has hosted the Trans-Miss Amateur five times, U.S. Women's Amateur twice, the Curtis Cup, the U.S. Mid-Am, U.S. Senior Am, U.S. Women's Open, U.S. Senior Open, and the NCAA Championship.

Nothing I can say will do this hole justice so here are a few excerpts from Dan Jenkins:

" Straight away in the distance, crawling across the horizon, are the sweeping sandhills. To the right and left, twitching in the normal 25 mph wind, are broad, swollen patches of knee-high native grass, festering clumps of yucca plants, plum thickets and sunflowers. This is the outlook from every tee at one of America's most unusual golf courses, Prairie Dunes Country Club, a course whose scenery and shot-making requirements are those of a Scottish links, but whose location—Hutchinson, Kans.—could hardly be farther from the Irish Sea."

The Prairie Dunes golfer constantly finds himself brooding on a windy hilltop—called a tee box by club members—from which he peers down into a swale of thorny growth. He can see little fairway on which his shot can safely land. Thus every hole becomes a challenge, but none is more challenging than the 8th. It is a long, forced dogleg to the right with no reward whatever for trying to cut across. The fairway rises gradually, bumping its way over four ancient dunes—formations that were apparently caused by the wind that whips into Hutchinson from the Arkansas River Valley. The first dune is 165 yards out from the tee and about six feet high. They get successively higher, the last one rising about 50 feet. A perfect tee shot will carry the first dune and have enough length and fade to clear the second, too. After that, the green, protected by four bunkers on the right and one more on the left, each of which is dotted with yucca plants, can be reached with a solid three-iron. The green itself, well uphill from the fairway, is large and severely contoured, inviting three excellent pin positions and making a long, curling putt a decided possibility.

My drive cleared the first grass-covered dune—called Hockaday's Hill in honor of a club member named Ray Hockaday whose drives always landed there—and the second dune as well. As promised, I had a three-iron to the green, but did not quite make it, glancing off into a right-hand bunker. Fortunately, I was in sand instead of a yucca plant. My trap shot was uneventful and my 20-foot putt woefully offline. I made the next putt from five feet for a hard bogey and leaned, more than satisfied, into the wind blowing over the Kansas sunflowers from an invisible sea."

Click here to read the full article from Dan Jenkins. There are no runners up. This is the only answer for this particular hole.

9. Hillcrest Golf Course (Coffeyville) – Par 4

Look, coming up with this list wasn't easy, especially considering the metrics I put in place to make these decisions. And while Hillcrest in Coffeyville is a Perry Maxwell course, sadly, this hole wasn't one of his. Still, I had to find a way to get this course on the list for a completely different reason. The history of this course and its original designer were nearly lost to history but thankfully rediscovered by some local historians several decades ago. The course was expanded to a full 18 holes around the turn of the millennium and the original Maxwell holes now make up the back nine at this course. This is the closing hole of the new nine.

From the tee facing east, it is a little tough to know where you are going. The fairway bends right about 180-200 yards from the tee and cuts through a row of trees that lines the entire right side of the fairway. It is probably best to play an iron to that distance to put yourself in the best position for the second shot, which is one of my favorites in the entire state. From the middle of the fairway, you're left with a shot of about 140-160 yards but what makes it so riveting is that it is straight up a monster hill toward the ninth green and the clubhouse awaiting at the top. Maxwell used this same hill several times on his original nine to frame some epic shots, but most of the time you're playing down the hill. Not this time though as the elevation change makes this second shot a demanding one. It's been several years since I've been there and my memory might be exaggerating, but feels like it was 30 feet or so straight up hill.

Is this the best ninth hole in the state? I don't know. Probably isn't even my favorite hole on the course, but does give me an excuse to share this cool piece of Kansas golf history. Before the second nine was developed, Maxwell's original ninth (now the 18th) sported arguably the most unique golf course transportation in the state: a railway elevator to take weary golfers back up the hill to the clubhouse. Sadly, the railway elevator no longer exists, but had to figure out a way to sneak that nugget in.

Railway elevator on the original 9th hole (now 18) at Hillcrest in Coffeyville that carried tired golfers up the steep hill that dominates the property. Note the clubhouse on the left side of the photo. Photo courtesy of Colton Craig, Jordan Kelly, and the Perry Maxwell Society (click here for more info on Perry Maxwell and to join).

Runners Up: Abilene, Minneapolis, Rolling Hills Country Club.

10. MacDonald Park Golf Course (Wichita) – Par 5

First clubhouse of the Wichita Country Club, circa 1904. By 1912, the club needed more room so they built what we know now as MacDonald Park Golf Course a few miles north of where this picture was taken. Photo courtesy of the Wichita Photo Archives (available by clicking here).

Outside of one hole in Part III (coming later, stay tuned), I had more issues coming up with this hole than any other. I thought I had it; then, a renumbering of holes sent me back to the drawing board and this is what I settled on. While MacDonald is a public course accessible to all today, that wasn't always the case. The course was originally built by the Wichita Country Club, the state's longest running private club, when the lease on their nine hole course expired in 1912. From the elevated tee facing east-northeast, the tee shot is a challenge as there is not only a forced carry over a pond to an elevated fairway lined down both sides with old growth trees, but big hitters might also be able to hit their tee shot through the dogleg left fairway. The prime tee shot will rest on top of the hill of the

fairway, leaving a manageable, downhill approach into this par five. A holding pond on the left of the green provides some risk for approach shots, especially those taken from the slope of the fairway, but there is also ample room for a right miss. It will take two great shots to make it home in two on this par five but I like this hole because even a conservative play can result in a good score. This course has a lot of character, and with its history, it needs to be on this list somewhere.

Runners Up: Salina Country Club, Prairie Dunes, Sim Park.

11. Cottonwood Hills Golf Course (Hutchinson) – Par 4

This makes me sad, but this course is once again not open. Cottonwood holds a special place in my heart as the place I point to that really infected me with the golf bug. I worked as a cart guy at Cottonwood while living in Hutch one summer playing baseball and lost more balls on this course than probably anywhere in the state. I came up with this list before the course closed (again) and here is what I had for the best 11th hole:

The short par 4 – the bane of my existence. Like so many others on this list, you have choices stepping on the tee. Are you pulling the big dog to challenge the green or will you play it safe with an iron off the tee and take the heavy bunkering around the green out of play? The hole tees off to the west and has a slight dogleg about 220 yards off the tee toward the green on the right. If you hit it right, you can make the green off the tee. But, it’s Cottonwood Hills too so anything offline will be severely punished with sand, rough, or worse, native grass. There are tougher greens at Cottonwood Hills than the 11th, but that isn’t what makes it so memorable. That is reserved for the mental anguish this hole puts you through from the time you step to the tee. What are you going to do?!?

If you've got an extra $2.5 million dollars burning a hole in your pocket, I'd be happy to tell you more about Cottonwood to get this place back online.

Runners Up: Tallgrass Country Club, Crestview Country Club North, Sand Creek Station.

12. Rolling Hills Country Club (Wichita) – Par 5

Rolling Hills Country Club, looking east, 1960. Originally opened as Westlink Golf Course in 1928, Rolling Hills holds a unique place in Kansas golf history: site of the meeting that founded the LPGA, U.S. Women's Open Host in 1950 (won by the famous Babe Zaharias), a Floyd Farley redesign in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Wichita Photo Archives (available by clicking here).

Facing southwest, you can’t see much from the tee other than the creek fifty yards in front of the tee box where the fairway then slopes directly uphill. The fairway is lined down both sides by old growth trees. Anything in the middle, even if it doesn’t reach the crest of the hill, is just fine. Anything in the trees isn’t dead, but won’t make this hole easy. The perfect shot gets you to the top of the hill in the fairway where the rest of the hole is laid out in front of you in all its glory. Hitting downhill to the west from about 250 yards, it takes solid contact to make it to the green but it is doable with the elevation help. The green is guarded on both right and left with bunkers which makes going for the green a little more perilous. To make it more challenging the green has two distinct tiers, a front and back, that brings a three putt into play any time the lag putt is lacking. Elevation from beginning to end, there aren’t too many holes in the state that can compare to the beautiful eleventh at Rolling Hills.

Runners Up: Prairie Dunes, Tallgrass Country Club, Colbert Hills.

Part III coming soon. In the meantime, let us know what you think of Parts I and II.

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