The two best courses in Kansas, Prairie Dunes and Flint Hills National, could not be more different even though they are located approximately 75 minutes apart. Prairie Dunes feels very natural built on natural dunes. Flint Hills National, designed by Tom Fazio, is a course where a fair amount of land was moved, lakes and ponds were created and thousands of trees were planted.
Flint Hills National can play very difficult and get “into one’s head” whereas the flow of Prairie Dunes makes one look forward to the next hole.
Flint Hills is a destination club with several wonderful attributes such as very nice guest accommodations, an exceptional driving range and a very nice clubhouse. The course is beautiful with over 5500 transplanted trees of all types including maples, oaks, pines, redbuds, cedars, willows, etc. I was informed by the member that the club has a full-time arborist so there are likely many more varieties.
I do not think it has one outstanding hole but nearly all of the holes are good. The ninth hole is a hole that requires a lot of thought to try to earn a par. The tenth hole, a short par 3 over water is gorgeous. The thirteenth hole, a short dogleg left par 4 is a lot of fun. Eighteen is a lovely risk-reward par 5. The finishing three holes will likely decide any match.
The greens are all large affording numerous pin locations. They are well done. One green, the third, is silly reminding me of the silly green on the 16th hole at Old Memorial in Florida. This third green at Flint Hills should be re-thought and re-done.
The routing is average. It is unbalanced as the back nine is significantly more difficult than the front nine. There are a lot of sharp doglegs on the course with most of them to the left (8) while only a few go to the right (3). Think about that, eleven of the fourteen holes are doglegs. While there is water on the course I did not notice many wetland areas which the routing had to consider. The routing forces many to take a cart given the distance between some greens and tees. I however, walked the course once after heavy rain the previous day and then returning a year later on May 6-7, 2017 in perfect weather prior to the U.S. Junior Amateur. The course is about a six hour drive from Ballyneal although others will likely fly in to Kansas City or Oklahoma City.
The conditioning is excellent.
The Bluegrass rough is thick and generally kept fairly high. Going into the rough likely means one cannot get to the green or faces a somewhat unknown shot near the green.
The course is difficult but mainly fair. The key shot on the course is the tee shot which sets up everything to follow. If one has a bad day with the driver, one will have a bad day, period. The back tees are at 7080 and I played the 6684 tees. The par is 71 with a championship rating of 75.2/144 and the tees I played are rated at 72.9/141. The combo tees have recently been shortened just a bit. It is a serious golf course but one where I feel there are not many decisions to make as to how to play the golf course.
The staff is extremely friendly and welcoming. On my first visit, I was a single and I felt like I was a member. On my second visit I was with a group of guys including two members. You are always made to feel “at home” here.
The course begins by kicking you in the teeth with an opening par 5 of 585/545/526. This sharp dogleg right allows the bigger hitters to hit through the turn from the 545 tee as it plays downhill. Then they can have a go at reaching the green in two. For us mortals, being able to reach the turn is the goal then laying up successfully avoiding the lake on the left while staying as right as possible as the fairway is tilted slightly towards the water on the left. A heavy tree line goes down either side of the fairway to the turn so the first tee shot of the day is stressful. Missing one’s second into the rough on the right will likely make it hard to find the green with one’s third. The green is placed away from the water and is a relatively easy green other than just over the right bunker. There is a bunker on either side of the green.
The second hole goes in the opposite direction and is the first dogleg left, and a sharp one. The longer hitters can cut the corner on this 422/400 par 4. The hole has lower ground before the green which is above you. Two fairway bunkers guard the left corner of the turn with one on the right. The fairway slopes left to right. The green is long but narrower and is very tilted back to front. A long putt uphill is very slow. Missing the green is a problem due to the high rough around the green and its slope.
The third hole is a par 4 of 373 and is straightforward. For a shorter par 4 it is well defended by tall grass on the left and a single bunker, tall grass and a fairway bunker on the right. A single bunker is front right with two on the left at the green which has a shelf and I consider it to be overly unfair.
Four is the first par 3 at 227/184 with a pond fronting the green and a bunker to either side. The bunkers are a bit deeper on this hole. There is some room to be short front of the green after clearing the water. The green slopes back to front and collects towards the middle of the green but with a roll-off down the front towards the false front. It is a nice hole.
Five is a par 5 of 599/514. Only the best players should play the back tee as it is a 240 yard carry over the rough tall grass. This dogleg left hole with bunkers on either side of the turn as well as trees with the two bunkers on the right up on a small mound. The fairway is sloped like a saddle and then rises as you get to the green. Another bunker awaits farther up the right side. The green is shaped like a lima bean with a very deep bunker cutting into the right side. It is two tiered and the lower tier will definitely send a ball back towards the front unless the green is wet.
Six is the shortest par 4 at 336 yards and the second dogleg right. You hit out from between trees to a relatively wide fairway with two bunkers right at the turn and one left. The green has a false front and a left to right tilt. A front bunker on the right can lead to a semi-blind shot due to its depth. I found this green site to have chipping options if the green and bunker are missed.
You go past the clubhouse and first tee to get to seven, a par 4 of 439/430 rated the number one index. This is a straightforward hole with the most undulating green on the golf course. This has some of the higher, thicker rough on the course. The green is two-tiered with the lower tier near the single bunker front right and is a few feet lower than the left side. The green is wide but narrow. I did not think it should be rated number one as nearly everyone struggles here.
Eight is a par 3 of 184/172 playing to a green with another bunker cutting into it from the left. The green slopes right to left. The trees are really thick on either side here and I felt there were too many.
Nine is a par 4 of 488/430. I felt it to be the most memorable hole on the course. It is a sharp dogleg left playing over water which continues to the left side of the green. If one is not brave enough or careless with the tee shot, they can end up in the trees on the right or left before they take on the shot over the water. The green slopes towards the water with a single bunker front left. Trees come hard at the back of the green. The decision on this hole is whether one has confidence to reach the green or to play short and to the right.
The back nine kicks off with a par 3 of 169/150 and it is a lovely hole. The green has two bunkers, one supported by rock at the back of the green. The green slopes left to right with a ridge one-third into it. This hole is so pretty after walking through the trees on the trail and wooden bridge that one wants to linger here for awhile.
Eleven is a par 5 of 555/541 dogleg left with water down the entire left side from the tee shot to the green. If you can stay to the right this is a straightforward hole. The longer hitter will hit to the left side of the fairway but has to carry more of the water. The trees on the left between the water and the green add a significant complication to coming in from the left side. There is a hidden bunker on the back left and the green slopes towards the water with a few humps.
Twelve is a par 4 of 465/429 and is the final dogleg right. I felt this to be the hardest hole on the golf course for medium length hitters. Long hitters have a big advantage. A pond is on the right but should not be in play. The green sits off to the right and is angled left to right. It is a long green and it is two tiered.
Thirteen is a shorter par 4 of 377 playing sharply to the left. You must find the fairway as the grass and trees on either side are a problem. The bunker on the right side of the fairway needs to be avoided as it is deep. This is the most fun hole on the course as it can be the most maddening. Bunkers are both short and surrounding an odd shaped, undulating green. Miss the green and its 50-50 you will have a double bogey. I like the hole even though I thought the green site to not offer any real chance of recovery.
Fourteen is a par 3 of 216/190. This green has a deep bunker fronting the middle of the thin, undulating green. I feel the green is both too thin and too heavily contoured for the length of the tee shot.
Fifteen is a par 4 of 474/440 and is the hardest hole for all players. It plays straight but is a tighter driving corridor with trees on either side. It is not least attractive hole on the back nine.
Sixteen is another par 4 of 450/407 playing straight. This hole has a wide fairway where one should play away from the single bunker on the right. There are two bunkers at the green with is small with a false front. After playing so many difficult holes, I was thankful for this one.
The final par 3 is 201/180 with a pond eating into half of the green from the left side. Hit it short, left, or long and you are in the water. Miss it to the right and you have a delicate pitch to a green going away from you. There is a bunker on the front left between the water and green that I think detracts from the visual beauty of the hole although those who land in it are likely thankful to have a chance at recovery.
Eighteen is another beautiful golf hole, a short par 5 of 520/486 where it tempts you to go for the green in two. Water goes down the entire left side until you have to pass over it. Heavy trees guard the right side. This dogleg left requires a second shot to avoid a large tree on the left side of the fairway where shorter hitters need to play to the right of it and a longer hitter plays left or over it. The green sits elevated a bit on the other side of the pond sitting well off to the left. The clubhouse beautifully frames the undulating green with various spines and tiers in it. This is a nice risk-reward hole for the better players and one that average players need to hit three good shots to get on. The hole is not quite as pretty as ten, but it is a lovely finish.
Given there is not many exceptional courses in the state of Kansas, having Flint Hills National as an alternative to Prairie Dunes is certainly good for those who desire a top-quality golf course. Karsten Creek, Oak Tree National and Southern Hills are two and a half to three hours away from Witchita. Kansas City has a handful of nice country clubs but is also three hours and I have a good friend who lives there and says there is nothing as good there as Flint Hills National. So, in likely a six-hour circle, it is certainly one of the top four golf courses as I think it is better than The Patriot Club.
I do wish the course was a bit more forgiving off the tee and around the greens. I wish there was a bit more strategy involved in more of the holes. Too often there is only “ideal line” to take. Perhaps that is different for better players as this is a course built for better players. A member likely will have an index here that will travel well to other clubs given the precision required off the tee as well as having a good putting stroke. If one takes everything into consideration, as a member one will want to make the journey to spend as much time at this club as they can.
Date: April 20, 2020