Sand Creek Station: On the Right Track

By Tom Mackin

| Jul 04, 2024

Sand Creek Station: On the Right Track

The engaging public-access course in central Kansas welcomes its second USGA
championship, the U.S. Adaptive Open

When 21-year-old Byron Meth advanced to the Round of 32 of the 2014 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship (APL) at Sand Creek Station in Newton, Kan., he decided he needed a caddie – carrying his own bag during multiple rounds in summer heat was enough. Enter Max Brenneman. Meth had struck up a conversation with the 14-year-old during a practice round, when he noticed Max throwing a football around with a cousin in the backyard of his home overlooking the 18th hole.

An avid golfer, the teenager jumped at the chance when Meth tracked him down a few days later, and the pair rode their random partnership all the way to victory in the 89th and final edition of the APL. A decade later, the two still keep in touch.

Competitors in the 3rd U.S. Adaptive Open can expect a similarly warm welcome this July at Sand Creek Station, a municipal course owned by the city of Newton and managed by Kemper Sports.

“We’re going back to a proven site and location,” said Greg Sanfilippo, senior director, Championships, USGA. “There is also space for us to build the necessary facilities to properly present a USGA championship to the adaptive golf community.”

Located 27 miles north of Wichita, Sand Creek Station was designed by Jeff Brauer and debuted in 2006. Exuding a prairie-style feel with native grasses bordering many fairways, the layout was carved out of corn and alfalfa fields, some of which remain visible. Sand Creek itself comes into play on four holes, while the active Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) train line separates the two nines.

“From a playability standpoint, we’re in Kansas, so there are no hills,” said Chris Tuohey, regional manager for Kemper Sports. “The terrain is very player-friendly, especially for the adaptive population. The course was actually designed to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. On every hole, there are very accessible entry points to get to the green.”

The course, which has hosted three national junior college championships and various state amateur championships, is a focal point of the community, Tuohey added. 

“We’re in a town of 19,000, almost smack dab in the middle of the nation’s heartland (Lebanon, a Kansas town 130 miles north, is recognized as the geographic center of the mainland United States), and the course has helped bring a spotlight to Newton,” he said. “This is a hard-working community that really wants to welcome guests to this championship. That was evident in 2014, when I think the USGA was very pleased with just how warm Kansans were during the Public Links Championship. It’s not just about a great golf course. It’s about a great experience, and that comes with people who show they care.”

Now in its third year, the U.S. Adaptive Open continues to evolve while meeting the distinct needs of competitors. “As an example, from Year 1 to Year 2, we learned that some of the Visually Impaired (VI) players preferred yellow flagsticks,” said Sanfilippo. “So last year at Pinehurst, we went away from the traditional red, white, and blue flag, and flagsticks with tapered striping usually used in USGA championships. We used all yellow flags and yellow flagsticks, including yellow caddie bibs to help the VI players.”

The 3rd U.S. Adaptive Open will be the second USGA championship for Sand Creek Station. (USGA/Russell Kirk)

The 3rd U.S. Adaptive Open will be the second USGA championship for Sand Creek Station. (USGA/Russell Kirk)

One of last year’s competitors at Pinehurst was especially thrilled with the choice of Sand Creek Station as this year’s host. Parker VanCampen, who lives 35 miles northwest of the course in McPherson, Kan., hopes to tee it up again this July in the Leg Impairment category. He, unfortunately, did not qualify for the championship but should be an interested spectator.

“It puts a spotlight on adaptive golf and the fact there are a lot of us out there pushing through our disabilities and circumstances to play the game,” said VanCampen, 20. “We’re able to be recognized and feel included while competing against other people we might not get to meet otherwise. Out here in the middle of Kansas, I don’t know anybody missing any type of limbs or with impairments who is playing golf. It was fun
to play alongside those people [at Pinehurst] and understand their stories.”

Despite what he considered a disappointing 59th-place finish, VanCampen still left Pinehurst with good memories. “One thing I hold on to are the people I met and how encouraging they were,” he said. “I played a year of college golf and a lot of competitive golf, but the Adaptive Open was different. It’s not like the other golfers were enemies, it felt like they were family in a way, because they understood what I was facing and
supported me. I supported them, too. We were able to laugh together and kind of let loose, versus grinding it out against a stranger."

“What I’ve learned is that these players just want to compete, and how excited they are to be part of such a unique championship,” added Sanfilippo.

Newton’s central location has long made it an important railroad hub – Amtrak trains, including the Southwest Chief that runs between Chicago and Los Angeles, stop at a historic station on the town’s Main Street. This heritage is vividly displayed on and off the course at Sand Creek Station. The 2,200-square-foot clubhouse was designed to resemble a train depot, while tee markers are made from remnants of the railroad track (although USGA tee markers will be used during the championship).

“Around 2017, an employee from BNSF Railway came in with a piece of track about 2 feet long,” Tuohey recalled. “He suggested cutting it into smaller pieces and using it in some way on the course. He cut 150 pieces for us to use, and it gives you another piece of that railroad history. The course logo (a train on tracks with local native grasses) reflects that connection as well.”

Tuohey remembers one golfer being especially amazed by the active rail line during the 2012 national junior college championships.

“We had a player from New Zealand on the 10th tee, and here comes this massive train going by,” said Tuohey. “He stopped, got his phone out, and took a video because he had never seen anything like it in his life.”

A decade after winning the final U.S. Amateur Public Links, Meth also has vivid memories of the local train lines. “My dad and I still joke about a train crossing in the middle of the town,” he said. “We stayed in a hotel on the other side of the tracks, so you had to time it appropriately to get to the course and not get stuck watching a train pass by. I may be exaggerating, but it seemed like 30-40 minutes for one train to go by. But
the town was very charming.”

Tuohey, who started working at the course a few months before it opened in 2006, concurs. “I call Newton the Mayberry of the nation’s heartland,” he said. “People are so friendly.”

Four years ago, Meth returned to Sand Creek Station to play a Monday qualifier for a Korn Ferry Tour event in nearby Wichita. “The practice round was a trip down memory lane,” he said. “I walked into the clubhouse and kept getting looks from people, then they recognized me. The hospitality there was unmatched to anywhere in the world I’ve traveled. The people are amazing. That’s what makes the place special.”

Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based freelance writer who regularly contributes to Golf Journal and the USGA website.


This content was first published in Golf Journal, a quarterly print publication exclusively for USGA Members. To be among the first to receive Golf Journal and to learn how you can help make golf more open for all, become a USGA Member today.