Accessibility and tradition come to the fore at Overland Park Golf

Golf-OPparks

MAY 2015 – It is fitting one of the area’s most venerable courses is named for two of Johnson County’s most fervent recreation supporters.

Wendell Lady and Ben Sykes were Overland Park’s first two chairmen of the Parks and Recreation Committee and relentlessly worked to develop a strong parks system for the city.

Their combined efforts nearly a half century ago led to the acquisition of land for the Overland Park golf course which bears their name.  A few years later, their hard work again rewarded the community with the purchase of land which contains the St. Andrews golf course, plus the popular Overland Park Soccer Complex and other facilities.

The Sykes Lady Overland Park course, which is in the middle of neighborhoods at 127th Street and Quivira Road, remains a top destination for area golfers.

“It’s probably a little more golfer friendly,” said Blake Koger, director of marketing for Overland Park Golf, which operates both courses for the city. “It has a wide range of skill levels. From the back tees there’s some challenge in it. Sometimes the greens have deceptive undulation. You step back and they don’t look so difficult, but they are.”

Sykes Lady has an unusual layout, with three nine-hole courses, called the Northlinks, Southlinks and Westlinks. Each course has its own character.

“Westlinks has a different feel,” he said. “It’s a little more open. It’s a newer course and more of a links style.”

Each course presents challenges.

“Number four on Southlinks is one of the harder holes on the course,” Koger said. “It’s a sharp dogleg left, then a fairway shot long over the water to get a par four.  Number nine is always a good finishing hole. It goes up the hill, over the water towards the clubhouse. There’s a nice view from the teebox.”

Sponsor-GolfPlayers will typically combine Southlinks with Northlinks for an 18-hole round, which plays 6,171 yards from the blue tees for a par 70. Playing Northlinks to Westlinks is slightly shorter, while playing Westlinks to Southlinks is shorter still.

Sykes Lady features five different teeboxes, well as a nine-hole par three course at 1,093 yards.

A couple of miles south, St. Andrews presents a bigger challenge.

The 6,014-yard, par 71 course has had several major overhauls the past five years.

“St. Andrews, with its re-design, is a fun course,” said general manager Curt Nelson, Master PGA.  “There are several updates and upgrades that happened after they built the 12 new soccer fields (at the Overland Park Soccer Complex). They took our first six holes and we built six new ones. The land is more Ozark-ish, with more trees. We got away from the back-and-forth play. Now it’s nothing like that. We were able to do some nice things.”

Said Koger said, “It’s a little bigger, more tree-lined, more challenging. The new layout puts parts of the back nine tucked into the trees, really back there in the hills. Before it was a typical municipal layout. The new design is aesthetically pleasing.”

There are added challenges, starting with a par five.

“You have to hit it long,” Koger said. “It’s a risk/reward shot over the creek. The (new) greens are even more undulating and there are some difficult pin placements.”

Said Nelson, “It’s one of the harder holes in the city. You generally have to lay up because of prevailing winds and laying up puts you in the 150, 160, 170 (yard) ranges.”

The challenges continue on 15.

“Number 15 is the true risk/reward par 5,” Nelson said.  “You can hit it up over the trees; the more you cut off the higher and harder you have to hit. If you’re able to carry the trees you’ve got a mid-iron into the green. That hole we have more bogeys than pars. The green has a good slope. It’s an all-around good hole.

“We start you off with a hard one and then a couple of easy ones.  Number two is a short par four.”

Both courses, with Zoysia fairways, and bentgrass greens and teeboxes, are exceptionally well maintained.

“The courses are always in great shape for as much golf as we get,” Koger said, noting that Sykes Lady saw 85,000 rounds of golf last year and 84,000 in 2012. “They are maintained just as good as any other course in the area.  Our conditions are every good as theirs and we keep our greens healthier even with so much more play.”

The facilities also present more than interesting rounds of golf.  Both courses have numerous leagues for golfers of all stripes as well as quality practice facilities.

St. Andrews features an indoor practice facility available during the off-season, plus a lighted driving range and three practice and putting greens.  Sykes Lady has a driving range and four practice greens, and a practice area at Westlinks with a bunker for working on sand shots.

The extensive practice facilities and high quality instruction are integral to both courses, and the junior golf program is a hallmark.

“We teach and have playing somewhere around 1,200 juniors per year,” Nelson said.  “We are aggressively trying to grow the game.”

Kroger said “we’re known for is our junior program,” noting five different junior leagues, a nine-hole league at St. Andrews, and a junior scramble.

“We have tons of junior offerings,” he said. “It’s really important for us to grow the game, from a financial standpoint and as a long-term investment. We’re pretty passionate about the game of golf. It’s not only for revenue purposes. We want to promote the intrinsic values of the game and also because we think it’s a great game and want to share it with people.”

The large instructional program is supervised by director of instruction Maureen Farrell, PGA.

“It’s really special because we have so many different options for the kiddos and juniors and we make sure we have things for everyone,” Farrell said. “That was my goal, to grow those offerings. They are very budget friendly programs. The variety of options we have is awesome and the par 3 course is awesome for juniors at Sykes Lady.”

A list of the extensive offerings can be seen at GolfOP.com, under the instruction tab, showing choices for junior instruction as well as adult classes.  The facilities offer the popular “Get Golf Ready” program for adults and is part of the “First Tee” initiative aimed at youngsters.

“Get Golf Ready” is for beginner adults to teach putting, chipping and the rules of golf. It’s offered on four consecutive nights for $99.

“The PGA is really pushing it,” Farrell said. “It’s for a lapsed golfer who wants to refresh or a beginner to come and get educated.”

Among the junior offerings is Junior TPI (Titleist Performance Institute), led by J. B. Kim, PGA, which incorporates fitness into golf.

“We’re making sure we’re developing athletes, not just golfers,” Farrell explained. “Golf is an athletic sport. Our goal is to fully expand and grow that as much as possible and I would like to expand that for adults. We want to work at fitness; that’s where the game of golf is going.”

She also hopes to reach out to even younger golfers.

“My goal is to get a program up for four, five, and six-year-olds,” she said, explaining that the facility currently has programs for age seven through high school.

OP Golf also has a four-day golf camp to help prepare young golfers for high school golf, plus a year-long program aimed at girls from grades three to eight.

“Girls in clinics are outnumbered,” Farrell said. “This is designed to be fun and encouraging for girls where they get to be around other girls. We’re getting girls really involved. I’m really excited about it.”

The large number of high-quality programs designed to be accessible for players of all ages and backgrounds is part of Overland Park Golf’s overall approach, which Nelson calls “The OP Way.”

“We like to think we start with customer service,” he said. “We work pretty hard at that with training for our employees and front-line personnel.”

Their employee training program is modeled after those at Nordstroms and Disney.

“We know there are a lot of places to play, a lot of choices,” Nelson said.  “We know we have to be at our best.  Our courses are fun to play and always in good shape.”

For more information about St. Andrews and Sykes Lady and the numerous programs and quality facilities, visit OPGolf.com.

Article by Marc Bowman

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