Golf

People remain drawn to sand-greens golf courses around Kansas and Missouri. Here’s why

Fayette Golf Club

Fayette Golf Club president Leah Flaspohler uses a string tucked inside the flag to keep intact the distance of her ball.
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Fayette Golf Club president Leah Flaspohler uses a string tucked inside the flag to keep intact the distance of her ball.

The buzzing of cicadas replaces the noise of passing cars on a summer night in Fayette — a small town whose population hasn’t pushed 3,000 in two decades — as Leah Flaspohler comes set, takes her backswing and drives the golf ball toward the green.

Right away, the drive appears far too strong, far too long. At worst, it’ll sail down the course and over the green. At best, it’ll hit the green and bounce away. No way will this drive come remotely close to the target on hole 13.

At a regular course, that would be the case, but this is anything but. This is the Fayette Golf Club, a sand greens course.

The sand-filled green stops the ball in its tracks. It’s nearly a perfect shot.

The golf club’s president, Flaspohler admires her handiwork and waits for the next golfer — there are nine in this just-for-fun group that plays on Friday nights — to take his shot.

“I’m just not good enough to play on a grass green golf course,” Fayette resident Fred Eaton, one of the group’s members, said. “This is fun. A lot of fun. I go and play some grass green golf course somewhere, and usually I lose 15 balls and I just don’t have as much fun.”

As much as anything, that sentiment captures the draw of sand green courses. For one, the sand-filled greens lower the degree of difficulty in a way that invites beginners to try their hand — what’s the worst that could happen? And because the course charges little for memberships, even more community members turn into amateur golfers.

Besides, there are no tee times at the Fayette course. Anyone can come down and start a round at any time. The laid-back, informal vibes help explain why these folks — or anyone, really — might turn down a grass-greens course for one whose greens are comprised of sand.

Let’s start by detailing the differences between the two.

Grass-greens courses are exactly that: courses whose greens consist of closely cropped grass. They are generally more difficult to play than sand-greens courses because a drive that lands on the green can bounce around on the grass before coming to rest.

That’s not the case with sand-greens courses, where greens of compacted sand allow the ball to roll only a foot or two.

That’s when the process really begins.

When the group reaches the hole, a player takes the string attached to the cup and stretches it out to meet their ball. They put the string and ball in their hand and walk both over to the edge of the putting path. This preserves the length of the putt while setting the ball in position to be putted on the path.

Then, the player whose ball is furthest away from the hole assumes the responsibility of using the T-shaped rake — or “drag” — to smooth out the path for the putt.

Once everyone’s balls are in position and the path is smoothed, the players putt.

The rest is regular golf.

“Putting on sand, that kind of levels the playing field a little bit,” club member and Fayette resident Sheri Eaton said. “The good grass-green golfers aren’t great golfers on sand. It’s a leveler.”

Few of these sand-greens courses remain in operation today. A sheer lack of business has pushed most out of existence.

In Kansas, only a handful exist, including courses in Baldwin City, Tipton, LaCrosse, Leonardville, Bonner Springs and Cottonwood Falls.

In Missouri, along with the Fayette course, there are sand green courses in Harrisonville, Grant City and Holden.

The Fayette Golf Club is as tight-knit as the town. The Eatons estimate the course hosts about 60 households, which, they said, translates to somewhere between 90 and 120 golfers. Membership costs $250 annually.

Plus, the course employs just one person full-time: Daniel Dodson, the groundskeeper. Every night, Dodson mows the course and applies mineral oil on the sand greens.

The rest of the course, which was founded in 1929, is maintained via volunteer work.

The people who help out are the ones who have spent the most time around the course. The clubhouse, the same one that was built in 1929, has hosted wedding receptions for Fred and Sheri, as well as for Dodson and his wife, Jessica.

As kids, several members threw their birthday parties at the course. In the past, they’ve grilled steaks, drank beer and enjoyed each other’s company there.

There’s a problem, though.

“It’s outdated,” Fred Eaton said. “You can’t do that anymore. It’s too small. Doesn’t have the facilities.”

In the fall, the labor takes on even more importance. Students at Central Methodist University, located in Fayette, receive free membership, which allows them to hold their cross country meets at the course.

“Family is huge out here, too,” Fayette resident Cortney Pettit said. “This is fun, cheap, family, spend time together.”

That much is obvious to anyone who visits the course. The Friday night group may be the friendly, just-for-fun group, but even those whoa attend the other gatherings — an older-men’s group that plays in the mornings, an older-women’s group that plays on Monday nights — aren’t angling for a professional career.

In fact, the only pro golfer to call the Fayette course home is Tory Hayes, a Central Missouri graduate who turned pro in 1992.

“The rest of us pull together and help,” Fred Eaton said. “We’re going to be out here in the morning working. A lot of it’s volunteer labor. Just trying to keep it going, because we don’t want to lose it, you know?”

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Greg Woods

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Greg Woods

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Greg Woods

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