Closing Braeburn Golf Course ends an era for many Wichita golfers

08/19/2014 5:22 PM

08/20/2014 7:19 AM

Cecil Gardner golfed at Braeburn Golf Course, and its predecessor, since 1980. On a hot Monday morning, he faced the reality that the round he finished would be one of his last on the 18-hole public course.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “But things are changing. When I went to school here (Wichita State University), it was pretty small. They want to make it bigger. I wish they wouldn’t close it, but that’s selfish.”

Braeburn, on the campus of Wichita State, will close on Nov. 3, a fate long discussed and made real with the announcements of WSU’s plans for its Innovation Campus last week. On Friday, WSU president John Bardo revealed plans for as many as 20 new buildings on land now occupied by the golf course.

“It’s a very difficult day,” said John Wright, who owns WBG (Wichita’s Best Golf) LLC, the management company that operates the course. “We love Wichita State University. We love Braeburn Golf Course. We’re going to miss the golf course and the players.”

WSU will pay $200,000 to buy out the remainder of the contract with WBG, which runs until Dec. 31, 2015, according to Andrew Schlapp, executive director of the WSU Board of Trustees.

“We are fortunate that WSU leaders nearly a half century ago recognized the value of banking this land for the future,” Schlapp said in a statement. “It has been wonderful to have it as a golf course. It will be even more valuable to the city and state as a home for innovation and job creation."

Braeburn played host to between 25,000-30,000 rounds a year, Wright said, depending on the weather. It was the site of tournaments, clinics, leagues and credit and non-credit classes.

“That’s quite a few rounds of golf out of the system,” Wright said.

And quite a few memories. The stretch of holes Nos. 14, 15 and 16 are regarded as the most scenic because of the water hazards.

“I’ve played here for 40 years,” said Walter Curtis, a former caddy at the course. “I’m going to have find someplace else to go. We play here all the time, at least once or twice a week.”

The course opened with nine holes in 1921 as Crestview Country Club. The university purchased the 150-acre course in 1967, all along intending to use it for campus expansion. Additions such as Eck Stadium and the Beech Wind Tunnel changed the layout over the years. Now bigger things are planned.

“It was really never intended to be a golf course,” Wright said. “It made it almost 60 years as a jewel to the community. If the Innovation Campus works, that's a good thing, too.”

The effects on WSU’s athletic and academic golf interests are expected to be minimal.

WSU’s varsity golf teams will continue to use part of the course, perhaps three holes with adequate distance for par-3, par-4 and par-5 scores, that will survive. The Hartman Golf Practice Facility will continue to provide shelter for golfers working on their game at the driving range. The Shockers rarely practice there, preferring to play rounds on other local courses. Men’s coach Grier Jones’ concern is future maintenance of the area.

“It’s not going to affect us much,” Jones said. “Braeburn did a great job, the greens superintendent, the pros … they did an incredible job of keeping the balls picked up and washed and keeping the range mowed and seeded so the grass would grow back.”

WSU’s Human Performance Studies department offers one-credit hour golf classes, usually for beginners, each semester. Department chair Michael Rogers said around 15 students enroll, although the numbers have declined in recent years. WSU’s Office of Continuing Education offers non-credit golf classes. Moving classes off-campus is normal for Rogers’ department, which offers instruction in subjects such as horse riding and ice skating. If his department can’t use the surviving holes, it will look elsewhere.

“We’ll find a place to continue doing them if we continue doing them,” Rogers said. “We offer golf for a lifetime activity, something to give the students a break from more rigorous courses.”

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

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