When Chris Harris set out to build a golf course for kids in his neighborhood, he didn’t know the first thing about greens and fairways.
He had 20 tons of sand, a vision and not much else — he didn’t even really play golf. He knew it would be a big undertaking.
But it just got a whole lot bigger.
What began as an idea for nine holes of putting greens next to his childhood home at 40th and Wayne, in a part of town pockmarked with boarded-up windows and vacant lots, has grown into a much larger chip-and-putt course that will swallow up Harris’ house and half the block.
Work on the course has not begun yet, but the project has attracted support from the Midwest Section PGA and other major players in Kansas City who want to help Harris bring golf to local youths, mostly black and underprivileged, who otherwise don’t have much access to the sport.
“I was always looking for a sponsor,” Harris said. “It never crossed my mind that the PGA would call. Where would you ever find that the PGA is building a golf course in the hood?”
Harris has other supporters: Trozzolo advertising agency is helping Harris market the project. The Kansas City office of HOK, a global architecture, engineering and design firm, has helped Harris draw up plans. And the Polsinelli law firm has helped Harris prepare the paperwork for the nonprofit golf course.
Leaders in the golf community have committed to helping with the fundraising to make the project happen. The work could cost more than half a million dollars.
Brad Demo, executive director and CEO of the Midwest PGA, said his organization’s support will likely start with programming and equipment and may extend to raising money.
“We’re super thrilled with the project and certainly doing what we can as an association to help,” Demo said. “Chris’s heart is just unbelievable. What makes it unique is, number one, the location — to take a property that some people might say is not the best. It’s going to be a beautiful park.”
With those backers in place, Harris plans to knock down his house and two others he owns down the street to make space for a much larger course. And instead of building it himself — he worked a second job at Mission Hills Golf Course last summer to learn how to do it — he’ll have the work done professionally.
“It was going to be home-grown,” Harris said. “Now it’s going to be state-of-the-art.”
Before working on the Mission Hills grounds crew, Harris — otherwise employed as a housing specialist at Truman Medical Center — didn’t even know golf courses were built on sand. He had just bought 20 tons of it when his phone started ringing with people offering to help.
Among them was Kansas Golf Hall of Famer Frank Kirk, who has offered to help with the fundraising.
Revitalizing his corner of the Ivanhoe neighborhood has been the overriding mission of Harris’ adult life. His parents settled the family here years before it fell into decline.
The course will be a place were youths of all ages can play a round for fun or take some golf lessons, Harris said.
“Any kid in that neighborhood can get up in the morning, put on their shoes and go play golf,” he said. “Everybody’s going to have a chance.”
The makeover will include Harris Park, across the street, which Harris built 20 years ago. Harris plans to add new basketball and pickleball courts and a workout center. Based on his track record of hosting youth and community events at the park, Harris has letters of support from Mayor Sly James and the Kansas City Police Department.
Before helping Harris draw up the new plans, HOK managing principal Tom Waggoner drove out to see the location and meet Harris. Waggoner said he was impressed.
“It’s been really wonderful to hear his story and see and feel, in a sense, his vision,” Waggoner said. “It’s truly a grassroots effort.”
Harris plans to build a new house on the hill overlooking the course. Demolishing his childhood home, where he now lives, is a small sacrifice, he said. His parents are fine with it.
The extent to which the project has grown beyond his wildest dreams can be a little unnerving at times, Harris said. But it helps to know he’s not alone.
And if the course finds success, Harris wonders if it can be replicated in other blighted neighborhoods in the urban core.
“When you think about golf, it’s really just grass. Where do you have the most vacant land? In the inner city. ”
For more information, visit harrissportskc.org or contact Chris Harris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.