I once counted up the number of golf courses I have played in Kansas during my travels over the past 50 years and it’s somewhere close to 80.
While there’s still plenty that I haven’t played, I still believe — without reservation — that McPherson Country Club is the toughest nine-hole course in the state.
When you look at the scorecard and see it’s a par-69 and just 5,805 yards, most might think it’s a pitch-and-putt and can be overpowered.
It’s not. It’s 5,805 yards of pure terror.
The course was designed in 1937 by the renowned Perry Maxwell, who is best known for courses such as Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Southern Hills in Tulsa and Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, all having been stops on the professional tours.
I had the opportunity to play MCC four times in the past week as Jeff Warren graciously asked me to play in the annual Member-Guest. I used to play for many years with Myron Barrow, but when his son got old enough to play I gladly yielded my spot. Speaking from experience, there’s nothing like a father and son playing in a tournament together, it’s a time you can always cherish.
When I was an assistant coach for the McPherson High golf team back in the late 1980s, we practiced at MCC daily because Turkey Creek was still just an idea whose time had yet to come. Playing the course every day with the kids helped me learn all the nuances of the layout because there’s a way you have to play it in order to be successful.
I now play it a couple of times a year and believe me, you need to play it more than that to feel comfortable. You have to know where to leave the ball if you miss the green and there’s one cardinal rule you have to follow — never leave the ball above the hole.
The course was in remarkable shape this weekend considering the weather we’ve had. I commended Superintendent Greg Jermark for the job he and his crew have done as the fairways were perfect and the rough trimmed down to manageable levels.
And then there are the greens.
They’re the signature of the Country Club. When it’s hot and windy, and if they’ve been cut short and rolled, they are nothing short of dastardly. Maxwell’s greens were by design because if you have a course this short, you have to find another way to make it challenging.
And the greens are just that. Many of them have remained constant over the years and there are some dramatic swings. You can have putts where you start the ball 30 feet to the right or left of the hole because there are such wild slopes. Now anyone who knows me will tell you my putting isn’t what it used to be, but twice this weekend on the mind-blowing seventh green I took four putts. I knew not to hit the ball in the wrong place but in trying to be careful, I put it in the worst possible spot.
There once was a time I played well at MCC. In the old McPherson Classic, started by Vance Carlson, I shot a second-day 73 to win the “special event.” I also had a round in the Member-Guest when I scored 44 points under the Modified Stableford System, as I knocked in an eagle chip (8 points) and some birdies (4 points each). But those days are long past and I can only score in the mid 20s now.
I’ve been fortunate to play some of the best 18-hole courses in Kansas — Flint Hills National Golf Club in Andover, Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Alvamar in Lawrence and numerous courses in Wichita. While all are outstanding, none are as confounding as McPherson Country Club. The greens simply make it unique as they're one of a kind.
Even what appears to be the easiest hole is a thrill ride. The first hole to start your round is a 305-yard, par-4 and the green sits high atop a hill. Golfers either lay up to about 100 yards for a full swing (there's a good chance you might spin the ball back off the green) or try to drive it as close to the green as possible. I told Jeff this weekend that the second shot into the green is the hardest shot in golf as if you go over, you are either out of bounds or staring at a chip shot that has a 50-50 chance to staying on the green as Maxwell designed a surface that slants to the front and the green is like glass. Because I like to hit driver, I try to get as close to the green as possible, but it’s such a finesse chip and if the pin is at the front, it’s almost impossible to keep the ball below the hole.
You can’t just point to a hole and say it’s a cinch par. And it’s not a course where you’re going to make birdies in bunches. It’s a thinking man’s course that tests your patience, creativity and, most of all, nerves. I had a 3-foot putt above the hole on No. 8 on Saturday that ended up off the green.
I’m sure there are other nine-holes courses in Kansas that are tough, but if Jermark wanted to set up MCC to be as difficult as possible, he could make it a bear. That’s why I would put it up against any in Kansas in terms of degree of difficulty.