NEWTON – When the sprawling Sand Creek Station Golf Course opened on Newton’s southwest side eight years ago, general manager Chris Tuohey hinted at ambitious possibilities.
Not only were area golfers gaining exposure to a daily-fee facility that provided the spoils of global positioning system-equipped carts and unlimited range balls, but the Jeffrey Brauer-designed course instantly provided a setting capable of offering championship tests to golfers of all skill levels.
In its brief history, Sand Creek has hosted tournaments ranging from Web.com Tour qualifiers to the National Junior College Athletic Association championship to a Kansas Amateur and The Railer, an annual state stroke-play event.
Sand Creek’s spotlight has never been brighter, however, than it will be this week. On Monday, a field of 156 golfers will tee off in the 89th and final U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
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“There’s been a lot of excitement in the community and a lot of pride,” said Tuohey, who has been at Sand Creek since 2006 after KemperSports, a course management company, was chosen to run the city-owned facility. “There’s been a lot of careful planning.
“I’ve been surrounded by nothing but pros since Day 1, and you can accomplish a whole lot more that way.”
The Public Links is one of 10 amateur championships conducted annually by the U.S. Golf Association. The six-day competition will run concurrently with the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links competition in DuPont, Wash.
This week marks the final run for the APL and WAPL. The USGA announced in February 2013 that it was discontinuing them after 2014 and creating national men’s and women’s fourball championships.
That news came almost a year to the day after the USGA’s formal announcement that Sand Creek would host the APL, and nearly five years after the initial seeds were sown for bringing the 21st USGA event to a Kansas course.
Tuohey said a conversation with the late Terry Duncan, a Wichitan who served as Kansas Golf Association president and on the USGA sectional affairs committee, was a key moment.
“It’s just funny how opportunity knocks sometimes,” Tuohey said. “He was a big advocate for golf in Kansas, and he got me connected with the right people at the USGA. They came for an initial site visit, and loved the course as much as I did.”
The APL, which started in 1922, was designed for public-course golfers. Since 1989, the winner has received an invitation to compete in the Masters the following spring.
For this year’s championship, the USGA received 2,848 entries. The majority of the 156-player field was determined in 36-hole sectional qualifiers conducted at 71 courses across the country. Among those who will compete at Sand Creek are former Wichita State golfer and South African Calvin Pearson, Sterling’s Michael Gellerman and reigning state amateur champion Chase Hanna, a University of Kansas sophomore from Leawood.
Participants were welcomed Friday with a barbecue before practice rounds on Saturday and Sunday. The city planned a variety of activities in conjunction with the championship.
At Sand Creek, the course – noted for the railroad tracks that split the front and back nines – is in top form after recovering from winter kill issues on many of its bentgrass greens. Minimal precipitation and unseasonable temperatures during the winter months were factors.
Course maintenance staff roped off sections of the greens during the spring to allow them to heal, and advantageous weather in May and June restored them, Tuohey said.
“When you run a tournament, you’re always going to have those curveballs,” he said. “But the course has never been in better shape.”
The championship will be run with assistance from approximately 300 volunteers. The stroke-play portion of the APL will be Monday and Tuesday. After that, the field will be cut to 64 for match play.
Admission is free and spectators are allowed to walk the fairways behind the competitors.
“My goal is to have 500-600 people out here for that championship match,” said Tuohey, referring to Saturday’s 36-hole match-play final. “This is a relaxed setting for spectators. You don’t have miles of gallery rope and stakes.”