Flint Hills National Golf Club is located in Andover, Kansas just outside of Wichita. Landing in the Wichita airport was about as far on the other end of the spectrum from my last trip where I landed in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Wichita’s airport is a typical small town airport where I was able to easily breeze right off the plane and down to the baggage claim to pick up my clubs which were already waiting for me. A 5 dollar cab ride and 10 minutes later and I was all hunkered down in at my 49 dollar per night hotel room. A far cry from Chicago to say the least.
As many great golf clubs are, Flint Hills National is the creation of one man – Tom Devlin. Mr. Devlin, an avid golfer, built a fortune with the company Rent-A-Center and like many men before him decided to build his own golf club. Golf course architect Tom Fazio was contacted about undertaking the layout and design of the new course, but was so busy with other courses that there was about a three year wait before he could take on any new projects. Luckily for Mr. Devlin one of Fazio’s projects fell through and he received a phone call one day to let him know that if the project could be started tomorrow that Fazio would take the job. Mr. Devlin signed him up and then shared the first problem with the project . . . he didn’t have a site to build on yet. Quickly, Mr. Devlin managed to procure a 640 acre tract of land that ideal for golf and Fazio got to work. The end result is, in Tom Fazio’s words, “as good a course as I’ve designed”. The USGA must agree because they chose to host the 2001 Women’s Amateur Championship and the 2007 Senior Men’s Amateur Championship at Flint Hills National. Thats a pretty good endorsement in my book.
Fortunately for me, Flint Hills is fairly friendly with reciprocal play and they graciously allowed my friend from Philadelphia, Fred, and me to play a game there. Upon arrival the bag drop attendant loaded us into a golf cart (which I might add had the most comfortable seats I’ve ever experienced) and we drove over to the clubhouse to change shoes and get our instructions for where to go.
The head pro was kind enough to give us a full tour of the clubhouse as he directed us to the locker room. The clubhouse is a rustic log cabin affair made from timbers reclaimed from a forest fire. There are a number of cabins on the property that sport the same log cabin vibe and are used by the club’s non-resident members during their visits. Once we changed our shoes we spent a couple minutes on the practice tee and green and headed to the first tee where we met our fore caddie.
I always prefer to walk so we had the caddie drive the electric golf car with both of our clubs loaded onto the back and Fred and I hoofed it. We elected to play the National tees which played 6,394 yards to a par of 71. The rating was 71.7, so I expected the course would be plenty tough considering that it was an over par rating.
The 1st hole eases the golfer into the course with a 526 yard par 5 that doglegs to the right. The photo below was taken from the tee and the ideal line is to hit a drive just to the left of the bunker.
For the second shot there is a lake that runs down the left side of the hole so avoiding that side of the fairway is an intelligent way to play the hole. The photo below was taken from the backside of the green looking towards the lake.
The 2nd hole is a par 4 that played 400 yards with a dogleg left. The photo below was taken from the tee box and the tall brown native grass is what the locals call “the gunsch” It is thick and any ball it into it is almost assuredly lost forever.
Below is a photo of the 2nd green.
The 3rd hole is a nice little short par 4 that we played from 353 yards. It’s fairly open so bombing driver to set up a short wedge shot is the bold option while the smart option is a 3 wood or hybrid and leaving a short iron into the green.
Below is a photo of the 3rd green which is flanked with bunkers on both sides.
The first par 3 that we came to was the 4th hole which was playing 185 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee box. There is plenty of room to miss the green and get it up and down for par as long as you don’t miss short.
The 5th hole is another par 5 that we played from 514 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee. Drives that favor the left side of the fairway and flirt with the left bunker are rewarded with a much shorter distance to the green for the second shot. Maybe even a chance to get home in two.
The photo below is of the approach shot to the 5th green. Note the very deep bunker on the left side of the green. This picture does not do it justice . . . it was really deep.
The 6th hole is a short par 4 of 330 yards that doglegs to the right. The smart play is to hit a 200 yard shot aimed at the right hand side of the house in the distance and then have a wedge into the green. The bolder and riskier shot is to take driver over the trees on the right and try to knock it on or as close as possible to the green.
The approach shot pictured below displays fairly well the undulation of this green. Although it is just a short shot into it, a little precision is required or else the ball can end up a long way from the hole. Also note the bunkers that will catch the balls of the players who try to drive the green but don’t quite make it far enough.
The 7th hole is a par 4 that plays 420 yards and is the number 1 handicap hole on the course. Below is the view from the tee box. The strategy here is to hit it as far as possible.
The green at the 7th hole is unique. It is two tiered, but instead of being a front and back tier it is a left and right tier. Its hard to see in the photo below but the green sits nearly perpendicular to the fairway.
The photo below best illustrates the two tiers of the 7th green. I almost feel like the best way to play this hole is to intentionally miss the green short so that the third stroke can be a little wedge shot that spins and grabs close to the hole. The chances of a long shot into this green staying on the top tier is pretty unlikely. I think I prefer my odds with a wedge.
The 8th hole is a midlength par 3 of 172 yards. There is plenty of room on this hole so missing the green is not as penal as some other places on the course.
The 9th hole is another long par 4. This one plays 414 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee box. Just to the right of the trees on the left is a pond which is in play off the tee for big hitters.
Below is a photo of the approach to the green. As illustrated in the photo there is rough length grass around the pond and then a second section of fairway that leads up to the green. Shorter hitters may require a layup shot for their second stroke and then a chip to the green. A long iron shot over water is not an easy shot which is probably why this hole was listed as the number 3 handicap hole on the course.
The 10th hole is an idyllic little par 3 that we played from 150 yards. Although I generally feel like the par 3 over water has been overdone, this one was just so pleasant that I couldn’t help but like it. The green is tucked into a nice little cove of trees and its very visually appealing. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
The 11th hole is a short par 5 that plays just 489 yards. As shown in the photo below the fairway is split into two sections. The fairway to the left of the trees in the middle is a much shorter route and drives landing there will have only 200-220 yards left to get home in two. The carry over the water is much greater the carry playing up the right side. Taking the route to the right of the trees in the middle makes the hole play as a true three shotter and is a much safer route for those not bold enough to take the shortcut.
The photo below is of the 11th green.
The 12th hole pictured below from the tee box is a another long par 4 that bends to the right and plays 429 yards.
Below is a photo of the 12th green with more deep bunkers on the sides.
Pictured below is the 14th hole which is a par 3 that we played from 170 yards. As shown in the photo the green is quite undulating. This hole does not forgive for long shots or short shots, so hitting the putting surface with the tee shot is a very good idea here.
The 15th hole is the longest of the par 4s on the course at 440 yards. I’m not sure how the total yardage adds up to just 6,394 with all these 400+ yard par 4s, but somehow it does. The strategy here is to hit it far and sure. The fairway is considerably wide so players can bomb it on out there.
The photo below is of the 15th green.
The 16th hole is a 407 yard par 4 and again fairly generous with the fairway. There are a number of bunkers to be avoided, but the hole is fairly straight forward. This hole yielded my only birdie of the day.
Below we have a photo of the 17th hole which is a par 3 that we played from 149 yards. There was wind coming off the lake so and extra club was in order for the tee shot. Clearly, missing to the right is preferable.
The 18th hole is also a short par 5 that we played from 486 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee box. Hugging the left side of the fairway gives the best chance for long hitters to reach the green in two. It’s a pretty risky shot so the safer way to play the hole is out to the right with a lay up for the second shot.
The photo below was taken from the middle of the 18th fairway. Long hitters would be making their second shot from the left edge of the fairway and having to carry a large amount of water to reach the green in two.
Below is where we hit our approach shots from after laying up.
After we wrapped up on the course we enjoyed a nice lunch in the men’s grill and relaxed for a while. Fred and I both decided that we really liked the course. There are a lot of really good, fun holes out there as well a number of downright difficult holes that will really test a players game. We left a lot of balls in “the gunsch” and neither of us scored worth a lick but we had fun and really enjoyed the course. If Mr. Devlin’s aim was to create a relaxing and laid back retreat with a fun and playable golf course that can still challenge the best golfers, I’d have to say that he was quite successful.