June 17, 2015 – If it ever stops raining – and that seems like a big if, with the way things have been lately – there could be a significant addition to the local sports landscape soon.
Work began in earnest last week on a unique handicap-accessible golf course on land adjacent to the existing Turkey Creek Golf Center at north Jefferson City, only to have progress interrupted by a procession of rain-filled days.
But the rain hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of the proponents of the program, which was evident Tuesday morning during a press conference to discuss the project.
In fact, the two most common sentiments on the day involved being proud to be a part of the project and wishing the rain would go away so work could continue.
The layout for the project, which is being developed by the non-profit Missouri Junior Golf Foundation, was unveiled at the press conference. It didn’t take long for a joke to be made when the assembled crowd was shown the map.
“You can see the lakes that have somewhat been dug – they’re filling up already,” said Jon Sundvold, president/executive director of the Foundation.
The seeds for the project were sown several years ago by Scott Hovis, executive director of the Missouri Golf Association, who said he’s very excited about it.
“I’ve played golf my whole life and I wanted to give other people the opportunity to enjoy what has given me so much joy in my life,” Hovis said. “That’s where the initial idea came from.”
Making it even more notable was the target audience. The nine-hole, par-3 course will feature a limited number of hazards while using artificial turf on the tee boxes and greens to even accommodate players in wheelchairs. The groups who will benefit include Special Olympics Missouri, the Wounded Warrior Project and the Special Learning Center, to name just a few.
“When I got the honor of being named the executive director (of the MGA), I was doing a lot of thinking about, ’We’ve got to figure out a way to get more kids, more people involved in the game of golf,’ because the game was dying at that time,” he said. “So I thought, why not give back to the veterans, why not give back to those with special needs, they’re the ones where it’s hard to get out on a normal golf course.”
It was an idea that quickly won others over.
“It wasn’t hard to get involved,” Sundvold said. “It’s not hard when you look at it and go, ’Gosh, that could really be good when it’s built.’ The hard part is building.
“… The first year was just Scott and I meeting and talking about ideas. Scott had the vision. I probably couldn’t see it.”
Hovis never wavered in his commitment to the idea.
“I was determined to make it happen, and I got a lot of support from my family,” he said. “My wife kept telling me, ’This is a great thing.’ Any time I told anybody what I wanted to do, I never got any negative feedback. … I knew I wanted to do it and I had the determination to do it.”
WITH PLANS PROGRESSING, the site for the project basically took care of itself when the MGA relocated its offices to Turkey Creek.
Hovis said he was hitting balls on the driving range when he realized how much land was available on site, and he soon talked to Turkey Creek owner Danny Baumgartner about the Foundation leasing the land.
“At the time we had a bean field out there and I was like, ’I’m making some money on it, but I’m not getting rich off it,’” Baumgartner said. “When Scott brought it up, I said, ’I’m game.’”
Since that day, Baumgartner said he’s grown more fond of the project.
“I think it’s a great thing for the community,” he said. “I’ve kind of drawn a line down the middle of a piece of paper and tried to write positives and negatives, and I haven’t been able to find a negative yet. … I’ve talked to other people and said, ’Help me out here – if you can find a negative, I’d like to know what it is.’ And they haven’t found anything.
“I think it’s going to help a lot of kids and a lot of people who want to play a sport that didn’t have the opportunity. I think it’s going to help Missouri in general, because it’s something that other states don’t have, and I think it’s going to bring money into the community.”
The course will be called the Ken Lanning Golf Center. It was a decision Hovis and Sundvold reached after Lanning, who served as a member of the MGA Board of Directors for more than 30 years, passed away last March at the age of 90.
“What Ken Lanning is really known for is he’s the father of junior golf in Missouri,” Sundvold said. “… He got junior golf started and going in this state. Anywhere you travel in this state, when you mention Ken Lanning in the golf world, it’s an automatic click to who he was and what he meant.”
ONE OF THE next stages of the project was to find a course designer, a job that eventually fell to CE Golf Design.
Todd Clark, president of Kansas City-based company, said CE wanted to make something special and unique.
“It’s down here in the flood plain, so we had to take a flat piece of property and treat it like a Florida golf course, where it’s dead flat,” he said. “… In golf, what makes a fun course is variety and elevation change. The material we’re digging out for the lakes is going to be used to raise up the greens and tee boxes and create the variety for the holes.”
There will be a variety of tee locations and holes that range in length from as short as 44 yards to as long as 140 yards. Each of the greens will feature four possible pin locations, with the artificial turf getting plugged in the three spots not being used.
“We’ve designed the greens like a regular golf course, they’ll have movement and contouring on them,” Clark said. “When we’re all said and done, it will look like a regular golf course, the holes will just be shorter.”
He said the turf will be a huge benefit for the course.
“The big thing with the synthetic turf is that you can get people out there in wheelchairs and still keep the cost down when it comes to maintenance, because you don’t have to go out and mow the greens all the time,” Clark said. “That was a big thing when looking at this, how to keep the cost down. It’s a big investment on the front end, but it pays off every year.”
Clark added distinct projects are becoming more common for his company every year.
“Everybody is kind of moving away from a traditional 18 holes – that just takes so long to play,” he said. “And what everybody is doing now in the golf industry is trying to figure out a way to get the kids back in the game of golf. … People are trying to do something to grow the game and how can you get the kids out there. It doesn’t matter if it’s three holes, six holes, 12 holes, whatever. Just get them out swinging the clubs.”
When you hear “course designer,” you might think the job is done once it’s designed. Not hardly.
“We’re right in the middle of our work,” Clark said. “We came up with the design concept a couple years ago and this spring we put together a detailed set of drawings. … We come down here once a week, oversee it and make sure it’s getting the look and the shape and the design, all of that. We’re in the middle of doing all the fun stuff. This is what we enjoy now, being out in the field.”
WITH THE DESIGN prepared, it became the Wadsworth Golf Construction Company’s job to serve as the contractor on the project.
While the Golf Center is adjacent to the current par-3 course at Turkey Creek, it’s effectively its own entity.
“This is really its own parcel, separate from the other facilities,” Wadsworth president Patrick Karnick said. “So working around them while the other things are going on impacts what we’re doing, but it’s kind of its own separate and unique thing.
“We’re building something brand-new, where a lot of the work we’ve been doing the last five or six years is renovating existing projects. This is something new from scratch, which we really enjoy.”
Once the weather finally cooperates, the project will take a surprisingly short time to complete.
“It’s a three-month project, approximately,” Karnick said. “The finish of it is really tied in with the seeding dates. There’s some Zoysia grass that goes down and some different cool-season grasses, so we want the weather to not quite as hot as it is now.”
The project also got a boost when the Missouri National Guard received approval to be a part of the project. Brig. Gen. David Newman said during the press conference the 220th Engineering Company, will be able to spend its annual four-week training detail helping the Golf Center.
Newman said the arrangement will be beneficial for both sides, but especially the 220th, which is used to simply flattening land for forward operating bases.
“What they are doing is precision excavation, which they don’t get an opportunity to do a lot of,” he said. “… They usually go out there and if they’re within a foot of something while leveling something, that’s good. These young soldiers operating this heavy equipment rarely get an opportunity to go out there where someone says, ’You’ve got this marker and you need to be within an inch of this marker, and then I want you to go down 13 degrees for this amount.’
“It’s just like flying or anything else, just like math, where if you want to be precise, you have to start paying attention to it. These guys get better on the equipment that they’re using, by doing that.”
The only problem is there hasn’t been much opportunity for work with it being so wet.
“It was pretty exciting when they rolled in all this heavy equipment and they started breaking ground,” Baumgartner said. “Now we’ve kind of gotten deflated with all this rain, but we’re still excited about all of it.”
Still, Newman said having the Missouri National Guard involved in the project is an exciting thing.
“The National Guard is dual-hatted – we have a national mission and a state mission,” he said. “You see us a lot with the federal mission … going on an international mission. We also have a state mission. … This is a good thing for Missourians.
“… And since this is a project for disabled Missourians, it hits closer to home for us.”
While the Guard will have to depart before the finish, Wadsworth will be around until the finish.
“We’re managing (the Guard’s) operations out there with our supervisory personnel and once their contribution is done, then we’ll take it from there and we’ll take it to the end,” Karnick said.
WHILE THE WORK progresses, the fundraising will continue.
Hovis and Sundvold said they are hoping to garner $1.5 million in donations, and interested parties can donate at www.crowdrise.com/missourijuniorgolffoundation/fundraiser/missourijuniorgolfsc.
“We’re at the early stages and there’s still a long way to go,” Hovis said.
The Guard’s involvement is expected to save money on the project, but each day the soldiers sit idle puts costs back into it.
“What they’re doing will save us $200,000 to $300,000, but every day they’re not working is costing us money where we’re going to have to go back to the contractors and get another bid,” Hovis said. “We’ve got to have it stop raining.”
Getting the course built could be just the first of many projects on the land, if Hovis has his way.
“It’s not just going to be a golf course,” he said. “We’re going to have fish in the ponds, so we can shut it down and then have groups come out and fish. (Baumgartner) had the Special Olympics Summer Games come out and did archery here. … The Boy Scouts could come out here for a day and if they want, we could shut down the golf course and let them camp and do fishing. Yes, it’s a golf course first, but it can be a bigger project than just that.”
A bigger project that could get bigger and bigger and bigger.
“The ultimate ’pie in the sky’ plan for us would be to turn this into a Camp Wonderland, like they have at the Lake,” Hovis said. “You build living quarters where people can do activities and spend the night, have a pool, the lakes are going to be big enough so we could do some canoeing in them.
“… There are so many camps that we hear are shutting down, so if we build one in central Missouri, it would be easier for everybody to come here. So that’s the ultimate goal.”