Archive for Wednesday, August 29, 2001

New golf course nestled along river

Burning Tree Golf Club built in Leavenworth County and De Soto

August 29, 2001

For years, Bob Hill has had a goal of owning a golf course.

This year he achieved his goal.

Leavenworth County's newest golf course, Burning Tree Golf Club, is on the banks of the Kansas River just north of De Soto. The nine-hole golf course opened this summer.

Hill, who lives in De Soto, bought the 54-acre site in 1998. At the time, about half of it was farm ground and the rest was forested.

"You couldn't walk through it," Hill said. "It hadn't been cut since 1951."

The area, which is filled with a generous supply of towering walnut trees now opens to reveal expanses of green fairway.

One tree in particular gave Hill inspiration for a name.

"Lightning hit a tree over me when we were building the golf course," Hill said.

The tree was a tall cottonwood, about 100 yards behind where the clubhouse is now.

"The lighting hit the top of the tree and then it rained about two inches right after that it was a downpour," Hill said. "The top of that tree burned for two days. At night you could see the flames. Finally the limb burned completely off and the fire went out."

Now, he knows about grass

In the beginning, Hill thought he knew what it would take to establish a golf course.

Today, he grins when he says there were some things he's learned the hard way.

"I thought I knew about grass," he said. "I didn't."

Aside from the challenge of clearing the land, grading the earth, and laying pipes for irrigation, there was the seemingly simple objective of getting the grass to grow.

To start with, he's planted Bermuda grass on fairways and tees. Normally, in this part of the country that wouldn't work, he said.

"This is a new variety of Bermuda and when I planted it, this was only the second one in the Kansas City area that had it."

The result, at least in August, is a cushiony pad of green grass that is fairly heat and drought resistant.

That's especially needed, considering that the soil there is sandy.

"I don't know how many times I seeded parts of it I'd seed it and lose it seed it and lose it," Hill said. "This is basically sand. It's great once you get grass established, but it's hard to get it established."

To provide water for irrigation, Hill pumps water out of the Kansas River.

Let's just move

Another challenge in setting up the golf course was that Hill decided it would be more convenient to be a part of De Soto, which is in Johnson County. But the golf course is in Leavenworth County.

De Soto annexed the property in April.

John Zoellner, Leavenworth County director of planning and zoning, said the land is still a part of Leavenworth County.

"They will still pay county property taxes," Zoellner said.

Zoellner said he had had concerns about having a septic system so close to the river.

But now that the land has been annexed by De Soto, that's no longer the county's concern, he added.

Mike Brungardt, De Soto's city engineer, said the golf course will have a septic system with an underground sealed tank. It will be similar to what a residential home would have.

Brundgardt said Hill has applied for a special use permit, which is currently under consideration by the De Soto planning commission and city council.

"I think it's happening in the right way," Brungardt said. "He's certainly created something out of nothing over there, for sure."

This is a real water hazard

Hill, who has golfed for about 20 years, said the course is challenging. For one thing, it's not all that difficult to sail a ball right into the Kansas River.

On a recent morning, Delbert Baker, Basehor, and his grandson, Jake Johnson, 11, tried out the course.

"This is the fourth time I've played here," Baker said. "It's kind of hard, but it's a nice course."

Joe Jenkins, who lives in rural Tonganoxie, said he's glad to have a golf course in his neighborhood.

"I just think it's a really neat deal because it's been a family project," Jenkins said. "Bob Hill had a vision and together with his family his vision came true."

An avid golfer, Jenkins said the course has as good a stand of grass as any other course in the area.

Plus, he said, it's set on a scenic location.

"As you see the course from the road you don't realize what's down there," he said. "But when you get back at number nine, the finishing hole, you almost think you're on vacation."

A full-time project

The project, Hill said, has been the result of the work of many. He has five grown children.

"They and their families all helped at some point," Hill said.

He envisions five years from now, he said, that the course will have to continue to be improved. And of course he plans to do much of the work himself.

"The whole thing, it's endless," Hill said. "You could work the rest of your life improving it."

Would Hill, knowing what he knows now, have taken on the task of building a golf course?

"Honestly, I doubt it," he said. "Golf courses are expensive to maintain, they're pretty much at the mercy of the elements."

Most privately owned golf courses, he said, are built by developers who construct houses around them. "There's not many that are just straight golf courses," Hill said.

Because of the labor-intensive project, Hill has little time to sit in the clubhouse and look out at the fairways.

"It takes three people who keep real busy," Hill said. "There's not much time for looking out of the windows. Maybe someday."

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