Stone Canyon Golf Club in Blue Springs, MO
Tee Time: October 22, 2013, 8:20, 61 F, partly cloudy and breezy
Designer: Greg Norman (2009)
Playing Partners: Seth
Tees: Black (front 9)/White (back 9), Par 72 (70.9 rating/137 slope/6,548 yards)
Course Handicap: 11 (8.8 index)
Stats: 84 (42-42); 30 putts; 5/14 fairways; 4/18 greens; 1 penalty stroke
Ahh Missouri, the home of Brett Parise. I’ll start out by saying I had been to Kansas City once before, and I didn’t like it at all. It was on the baseball trip in 2006 to see the Royals play the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. The stadium itself is great, but it might have been just a factor of us staying in a sketchy part of town and general travel fatigue because I came away thinking it was one of the worst cities we visited. Good thing I came back, because it is so much nicer than I remember. The skyline is beautiful, the locals are really great and of course the ribs… The World War I National Museum alone is worth the trip. And I was also wavering on even playing golf on my quick work trip here (I know, tough life). That stomach bug from Virginia still ate away at me, I had made an early-morning time and it was a chilly morning (50 degrees on the first tee; the high in Phoenix when I landed later that day was 91). I don’t know what made me get up and head out to Stone Canyon Golf Club in Blue Springs, MO just south of Kansas City, but thank God I did. Apparently Greg Norman designed this course and has never played it. I personally doubt he’s ever even been to Missouri unless there was a major taking place there. Then I thought about how much pressure there would be to play a golf course you personally designed. You would theoretically know everything about it: any false fronts, hidden hazards and blind tee shots. I bet it would be a lot of pressure, and we all know how the Shark performs under the gun.
I started off playing from the Black tees, which are the second longest after the Shark tees. I caught up with my playing partner Seth on the 10th hole and he plays the white tees, which is the another two sets down the totem pole. So I may have had a different view of each side of the course, but to avoid any confusion any distances I write out will be as if from the Black tees. Anyways, the course starts out on a simple enough par 4. At only 342 yards, it’s a great chance to poke one out in the fairway and have a chance at a large green. From there it’s a plain par 3, at 152 yards with two sand traps to either side, but the green is large enough to keep those well out of play. I like a course that eases you into the round before cranking up the difficulty, especially on the back nine. Consider it a tutorial on what to expect later, as well as how to approach the greens that play much smaller than they look because of the slopes that run balls off on all sides. The 395-yard 4th is a slight dogleg that rolls gently up over a small hill down to a green that runs sharply off the back, leaving a tight chip back onto the putting surface. The 5th is a narrow-looking par 3 that plays to a green that is very undulated, with dips and runoffs on all sides. After driving through a dark tunnel, the 408-yard 6th is the most uphill on the course. There is a circular fairway bunker in the center of landing area that shapes the hole, as approaching from either side of the fairway leaves a tough angle over a large sand trap in front of the green.
The first par 5 is a long bender to the right at 565 yards. The fairway stays pretty wide up until the final approach to an elevated green. The 8th is a fun hole. It is relatively short, at 342-yards but with many different elements that require accurate shots. From the tee, there is a carry of about 180 yards or so over a big canyon, a big, scary bunker to the right of the fairway and then keeping safely to the left leaves the toughest angle to the green which is over the front-left sand trap. Even without needing a driver, there is plenty to fear on this hole. The 9th snakes up and around fairway bunkers throughout its 533 yards to a green shaped to prevent many from reaching in two, with staggered greenside sand traps that wait along the front and right to swallow up any screaming fairway woods.
The 10th may be the toughest hole on the course. It’s definitely the most likely to cost you a golf ball and the hairiest from the tee. Fortunately any bad scores there can be made up with a short 128-yard par 3. Dial in that wedge because the green is shallow, and there’s not much fun waiting short or long. The most wide open drive is at the 425-yard 12th, just aim down the left side and let it fly. The shortest par 5, the 497-yard 13th, is not as simple as that yardage suggests. The wind, which really picks up on the more exposed back nine, can swat back anything you throw at it. My nine-iron approach, usually good for 150 yards or so, ballooned up in a strong gust and plopped helplessly back to earth only 100 yards from my divot. That same wind turned a downhill, 191-yard par 3 into a much tougher challenge. With sand guarding the front left and going long leaving a dicey chip running off the front, guessing the right distance is as important as it is puzzling at the 14th.
A big stone canyon splits the nasty par-5 15th in two. The tee shot is narrow enough, with that hazard running down the right and brush and cart path causing headaches on the left. From there it’s a decision. You can either fly one over the crossing hazard on your second shot with a long iron or lay up and go for the green over that same thicket of trouble with the 3rd shot from 110 yards. Neither choice is particularly enticing, like pulling into a highway exit that only has Taco Bell and Arby’s. You can opt for whatever you feel like, but both options can still make you feel awful. The last par 3 is a 188-yard shot to a green that can feed balls into all sorts of funky lies. The penultimate 17th hole is forgettable par 4 before getting to a fine finishing 18th. With the clubhouse and cart tent in view, a gentle climb past a few last sand traps ends a fun round and will leave you wanting more.
Stone Canyon Golf Club is well worth the easy drive out from Kansas City. It started out as a private country club, but the economy opened it up to the masses. I wonder how many courses let the public in during and after the recent recession. There probably aren’t as many homes on the course as was originally planned, and that’s fine by me. As autumn keeps chugging along, the entire golf course is surrounded in brilliant hues of red, orange and yellow. In the early morning light, the colors popped that much more in the clear, crisp air. The greens roll smooth and the sand is fluffy, letting you get creative if you should find yourself beached. There isn’t much in the way of amenities, maybe there will be in the coming years, but it’s a great, pure golf experience. I would also recommend October golf here, because I can guarantee this track is nasty in the fast conditions of summer. My roofer playing partner Seth confirmed my suspicions. There is some more wind and with the greens running quick, those false fronts, swales and severe breaks only get nastier. I almost want to come back in July and see how much different it plays. But then I remember how hot and humid it got in late July seven years ago. Maybe someone can just give me a status report.
#3, Par 4, 351 yards, 10-handicap, My Score: 4
Layout: A; good variety, especially around the greens that play much smaller than their square-footage. Even the easier looking holes have well-placed sand traps that shape the holes even further.
Amenities: C-; it’s pretty void of any bells and whistles here. Even the pro shop was down to their last 3 sleeves of golf balls for sale. That makes about as much business sense as a Los Angeles Dodgers team store stocking only 1 Yasiel Puig jersey.
Staff: A; maybe since it was a Tuesday morning, but there were maybe people at the course, a cart guy and the pro. This ‘A’ s to the greenskeepers that had the grounds in excellent condition.
Difficulty: B; I’m sure this grade would be higher in the drier months, but Stone Canyon still plays tough even softened up before the first frost of the year.
Scenery: B+; the gently rolling of the landscape and the local trees and brush are very calming to look at on every shot. The stones that inspired the course’s name are the extra decoration that makes this place pretty and unique.
Value: A; it’s one thing to get a round at a formerly private course designed by a household name. It’s another to get it a bargain price of just $40, with cart. See people, this is how you do it. Next time I’m in Kansas City I will definitely be a repeat customer at the best value in the area.
Overall GPA: 3.61 (A-); a must play, I bet this place gets more recognition and accolades as the years come. For now, I’ll take an early morning weekday tee time and fly around in just 3 hours, leaving plenty of time to take in that amazing World War I National Museum. And hey, look at that. I’m ahead of my pace for the first time…