Ironhorse Golf Club sits just a stone’s throw across the Kansas-Missouri border (if you have a strong arm) but, at just under 6,900 yards, you won’t necessarily need too strong of arms to compete here. That said, the land provided Michael Hurdzan with the ability to create a course that may still leave you laying up if you’re short off of the tee.
The primary defender throughout this public-access course is the Blue River, which is actually a sizable creek. It divides the long, thin property in half, and a majority of the holes will play either alongside it or across it (and its tributaries).
Although players will get their first contact with the Blue during No. 6, it will begin forcing players to think twice about going for the green at No. 7. That and the following hole will require a forced carry as the body flows in front of the green. No. 9 — the first par five on the layout — will prevent those who drive into the rough from crossing in two.
A similar blend of risk-and-reward considerations continue during the back half of the route, and in some cases a player may choose iron off of the tee lest they end up on the wrong side of the hole (the side with the river).
Municipal golf course design is fraught with a range of difficult issues. First, the design must be elastic enough to handle the widest array of players. Second, the budget is usually one that's limited so whoever is hired to design the course must be creative enough to get enough pizzazz from the final result without ensuring cost overruns. Third, most properties for municipal designs are usually land sites that have been rejected for commercial or residential development. In simple terms – land that no one else really wants. Fourth, there's also the bureaucracy and related hurdles tied to government and the likely public blowback that such land is being used for taxpayer supported golf development.
That's why many of the top tier architects eschew doing such projects. Easier to be working for a private sector party given the speed, budget and control of the overall process.
Ironhorse is a highly successful municipally-owned golf property. Hiring the then partnership of Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dan Fry was a first rate move and the layout this talented twosome created is engaging and inspired via a quality diversity of holes and especially so given the soundness of the routing for such a difficult piece of land to fit 18 holes into.
Ironhorse possesses playability and through the movement of tee and pin positions can be quite challenging for the low handicap players. The terrain has movement but nothing so excessive as to distort shotmaking.
Over a period of time Ironhorse has been engulfed with housing but the separation provided does work quite well. While overall back tee length of under 6,900 yards may not sound difficult the key when playing the course rests primarily on placement -- not brute strength.
The risk/reward par-5 9th is exceptional as well as the split fairway par-4 11th which plays under 400 yards.
It's too bad the quartet of par-3 holes did not feature a broader array of hole lengths. Keeping things in the 190-210 range is OK but hardly noteworthy.
The closing par-4 18th at 475 yards ends the round in a solid manner -- calling upon the intersection of power and placement and mandating a first-rate approach to a green that rebuffs any hapless effort.
Some of the Hurdzan / Fry efforts can feature a bit too much earthmoving and shaping. But the manner in which Ironhorse turned out is easily within the specter of appropriateness. Stand alone municipal golf courses are difficult matters but the end result here clearly showcases a resounding success story.
M. James Ward