Play On, Wayward Son

Tales from the road on a Sunflower State golf mission
Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

I didn’t think we’d make it. His cart was one of those old three-wheeled rigs with the steering bar between the seats. The owner of this rickety thing had me in age by close to a half century and it felt like the cart did too.

But this was how they rolled in Glasco, Kansas, population 473 (at last count). It was my first experience playing on sand greens and I happily accepted all rides and playing tips. No way I would have raked the greens right if I were solo. I don’t remember what those two old codgers shot, but it was way too close for comfort for me, a single-digit handicapper. A short course with sand greens on a windswept afternoon in Cloud County has a way of leveling the playing field.

But the score wasn’t the point. I’ll never forget how the passenger side of that ancient cart shuddered under my added weight, or the sound of the ball crunching along the sand after a solid putt. That’s just one set of memories I’ve gathered on my journey to play golf in all 105 counties in the Sunflower State.

The adventure began a couple of years ago. Out of random curiosity, I began charting the places I’d played on the state map in my office and found I’d already bagged nearly a quarter of the counties. I imagine my next thought was the same one that has launched countless other semi-ridiculous golf missions: “I should play them all.”

As I near the halfway point now, I understand this will take years to complete. And I don’t mind at all. I’ll savor the low numbers in places like Manhattan, Syracuse, Minneapolis and Madison (Kansas, that is). I even cherish the bad rounds: barely squeaking out a win against my old man in Kingman; losing to my best friend, Kevin, in Abilene after falling apart when my ball got stuck in a tree; the seventh hole in Mound City that came out of nowhere and still haunts my dreams.

Golf is a job for a lucky few and a passion for the rest of us. And this ride through Kansas is bordering on obsession. It’s affecting how I plan my day-to-day life. Road trips, for work or pleasure, now go the long way so I can color in another red square on my map.

The driving force is to finish, but I’ve found the real juice is in the journey. So many stories: playing in Larned on a sunny day in January while on my way to a (non-court-mandated) presentation at the state prison; a solemn nine after visiting my grandfather’s grave in Iola; watching my brother leap from the cart at Rolling Meadows after getting stung on his tongue by a bee that flew into his beer the day my sister got married. There aren’t any water coolers on the course in Medicine Lodge, but there is a beer vending machine in the clubhouse with the coldest, cheapest beer in town. Pray the wind isn’t blowing at the Fort Hays muni and that you find your way to Prairie Dunes outside Hutchinson. I hope to remember each one for the rest of my life—but I’ve got my journal just in case.

I don’t have a plan for when the last square is colored in. Thankfully I’ve got many miles and a few more sand greens to figure it out. For now, I’m just enjoying the bumpy cart rides and plotting trips to Augusta and Washington (Kansas, that is). 

Jordan Poland is the director of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in Wichita.