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The Sands course offers unusual golf challenges

Story by Cort Brennan, Guest Writer

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The Baldwin City Sands won’t attract the most avid golfers, and the tee-sheet usually won’t fill up, even on a sunny Saturday morning in the middle of summer. The course is, however, unusual, and many golfers in the community cherish it.

The greens at this small 9-hole course aren’t full of soft, Bermuda or bent grass cut into a nice oval or circular shape. Each green is a mixture of one ton of sand and a barrel of oil. After a lot of stirring and a few days to dry, a sand green is complete. Thus the term, “The Sands.”

To an average golfer, The Sands is a rough and rigid golf course at best. Created by Fred Fuller in 1950, the course consists of nine holes, 2,229 yards, with a par of 35. It is maintained once or twice a month. There is only one true cut of grass, which doesn’t resemble a fairway whatsoever, then merges into thick brush down both sides of the holes.

But the average golfer may not realize that the overall simplicity of the course doesn’t undermine its value. Sand green golf, which was once very popular, especially in the Midwest, is now dying to the point that there are only 15 known sand courses left in the state of Kansas.

The course itself is public, open all year to anyone who wants to take on the challenge of sand golf. It offers no bunkers on any of the nine holes, only a few fairway trees that you must avoid and a small creek as an obstacle on the sixth-hole tee box.

The sign by the clubhouse says to put $10 in an envelope and drop it in the mailbox, but rumors around town suggest only $5 is necessary. Truth be told, many golfers ignore the fee and just proceed to the first tee. With no governing golf pro making sure golfers pay their dues, all is fair game.<br/>

But if people don’t pay any money to play golf on the course, one would think that there would be no budget to maintain the course or redo greens. In fact, a handful of members from the greater Baldwin City area pay annual dues of $100 for as much golf as they please. Regulars can also pay $60 dollars per year to have their own storage unit, where they can put carts, clubs and anything else they desire.

It isn’t expensive for golfers, but it doesn’t give much of a budget for maintenance costs. Luckily, maintenance at this course doesn’t cost very much. President Steve Wilson and a few volunteers will redo the sand greens every year or two. The process takes around two days to finish.

Sand green golf often requires different strategies compared to a regular grass-green course. Though the initial tee shots on longer holes may be similar, once around the green, players are left with many difficult decisions. Because the sand doesn’t allow for much of a release, they must decide what their best option is to get the ball closest to the hole.

They can attempt a “punch shot,” which is a low, hard stroke with a club that offers less room for error in the backswing technique. The ball will hit the sand and take a couple of skips before stopping completely. A punch shot can be risky, though, because if the ball goes left or right of the green with no sand to stop it, it may still roll several yards past the hole.

The other option is more of a “flop shot,” which requires getting under the ball with a higher degree wedge. The point of a flop shot is to eliminate any release. The problem with this type of shot is that it is hard to hit the ball cleanly onto the sand greens, and golfers must rely on distance control because the ball will stop at first contact of the sand.

Once golfers have accomplished the feat of getting the ball on the green, they then have to deal with putting. On sand greens, the putting process involves marking a ball and then smoothing out a path in the sand to putt along. Every green is fitted with a steel smoothing tool and a steel rake for use after putting.

Once a putting path is determined, golfers can use the smooth tool twice to create a smooth path. They must pull the smoother and never push to avoid causing an excess sand build-up. They can then place their ball on the newly smoothed path and putt. Immediately following the putt, they must re-rake the green in a circular pattern starting from the hole and moving outward.

Sand golf takes a bit of practice, but it can be very entertaining.

“I think the best thing is that I can go out and work on my game for a low price,” junior Trevor Lininger said. “You don’t get the opportunity to do that at regular courses. Being a college student, you don’t have the time or the funds to go play a nice golf course all the time. With The Sands just down the road, we can go out for 30 minutes or three hours. It’s just really convenient. “

Lininger plays on the Baker baseball team but thoroughly enjoys the game of golf. One of the biggest positives of this course for those who live in the area is that they can play whenever they want, and it never seems crowded.

The Sands doesn’t garner much attention outside of Douglas County, but many local golfers certainly know about it and take advantage of the opportunity. It won’t ever bring in tons of money, but many people do care about it. As long as locals like Steve Wilson and other members of the golf association continue their work, The Sands will be in good shape and be used by all-comers in the Baldwin City area.

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The Sands course offers unusual golf challenges