The are unfortunately very few A.W. Tillinghast clubs open to the public, so it is less than coincidental that there is a connection between the few that are. Swope Park in Kansas City was pitched to the architect following the opening of his series of courses at Bethpage State Park in New York, and the city likewise used WPA funds to finance the project. The name “Swope Park No. 1” suggests that there may have been other courses in the city’s imagination at the time.
Although Swope Memorial is the only 18 to have come from Tilly’s pen at the park, it provides an admirable counterpoint to the several private clubs the designer also created in the area. Golfers can use the high altitude of the course to consider the Kansas City skyline in the distance, but they must also reckon with the up-and-down nature of its fairways.
Nearly 20 years after its opening, the course hosted the United Golf Association national championship — an event for black golfers, who were prevented from playing in PGA events. Charlie Sifford, who was the first to break the PGA’s color barrier, won the event at Swope Memorial.
Swope Memorial is a public A.W. Tillinghast design that dates back to 1934. The course has a lot of undulations both on the fairways and the green, which makes for an enjoyable experience. Conditions could be improved, but they are not bad enough to the point of not recommending. Not abnormal for the time of its design, Swope is less than 6300 yards from the tips. It is unsurprising that the course has been bypassed by the technology of today’s game; long hitters can attack this layout. That is, if you can keep the ball in the dangerously narrow fairways. The overall scale is small, which fits in with the municipal vibe of the place; I have to tip my cap to a course that understands its limits. Host of the PGA Tour’s 1949 Kansas City Invitational, Swope has beautiful skyline views of the city from several vantage points, perhaps none better than from the tee box of the drivable par four third. At the present moment, a green fee will never cost over 55 dollars under any circumstance (high season, cart, etc.). Between the Tillinghast history and the affordability, I would play Swope again. It’s a neat little track.