Whenever I've needed a boost of confidence in my golf game, I've scheduled a round at Echo Hills.
Not that it's an easy course — the level of my game doesn't allow for any course to be "easy."
But at Echo Hills, I can relax. There are no sand traps to frustrate me. There's not a lot of water. It's pretty straight forward.
"My slogan, which I coined years ago, is that we sell fun, not frustration,'' said long-time Echo Hills owner Bert Henderson, 79, who has run the place since Jan. 1, 1972.
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The fun is about to end. Echo Hills will probably not be around for too much longer; Henderson expects new development on the land sometime in the early spring.
Echo Hills Development Group has purchased the land and has plans. Except it's difficult to determine exactly what those plans are. Henderson, who said he will be a part of the new endeavor, isn't telling.
Golf courses are a high-risk business these days; not like they were 10-15 years ago when the Tiger Woods phenomenon helped built the sport to levels never seen before. Courses sprung up all over, including in the Wichita area. One of them, Cottonwood Hills near Hutchinson, closed after just a couple of years and its future is in jeopardy.
Henderson could have kept Echo Hills going for who knows how long. But it's time for a new challenge.
He got started in business in Park City 55 years ago, running a hardware store in town with his brother. He's on the board of directors of the Chisholm Trail State Bank.
Henderson isn't slowing down, he's changing his priorities.
"There comes a time when you look at the course and you look at the future and you wonder why you would want to spend another half-million dollars,'' Henderson said.
Echo Hills has been a family endeavor, involving Henderson's wife, Eloise, and their four children. Daughter Cheryl Greiving has been the business manager; son David the superintendent.
It won't be easy letting go. Echo Hills is an extension of the family home.
"This has been just a plain old every-day tennis shoe crowd,'' Henderson said. "That's what it is and it's never been anything different. And, in reality, that probably best suits 70 to 75 percent of the golfers in the nation.''
Echo Hills isn't a long course. But quite a few of the fairways are hilly and the greens are not the friendliest around.
In an effort to make the course a challenge, Henderson rebuilt the greens in 1979, shutting down the course to replace what were sand greens.
If the greens are approached from the front, they're manageable. But if you try to chip on from the side of a green or from the back, trouble ensues.
"I put in a couple of sand traps over the years but I ended up taking them all out,'' said Henderson, who loves to talk politics on the golf course and says he is a distant cousin of Rush Limbaugh. "They're a mess. Nobody rakes them.''
Henderson said Echo Hills was built somewhere around 1930 on barren land, and that he first played the course in 1958. He has played it countless times since with buddies who like to put down small wagers.
"I've got people who have come out here every day for years,'' he said. "That's the thing about this course, you can play a round of golf in less than four hours, have fun, go home and come back the next day and do it all over again.''
Most of those loyal Echo Hills golfers left for Braeburn this summer, Henderson said, after it got out that Echo Hills was closing. It didn't close and isn't closed yet. But it's on the verge.
"I've played Echo Hills five or six times a week unless I've been out of town,'' said Gary Hettinger, who was the secretary of the Men's Club for years. "Bert was a member of our club and he played with us most of the time. We had cookouts and turkey shoots up there. We had a lot of fun.
"To me,'' Hettinger continued, "it was an old man's club. It's short enough that you don't shoot astronomical scores if you have a relatively decent game. We all moved over to WSU (Braeburn) and everybody's handicap went up.''
Henderson's roots in Park City are deep and he's not going anywhere. He'll be part of the management team that oversees the new development. And he'll for sure continue to play golf as often as he can.
"Golf is 100 percent in my blood,'' he said. "Some of the guys I play with think I'm good, some think I'm not.''
On golf trips with his buddies, Henderson has been known to play 36 holes per day for five days.
"And sometimes we'll go ahead and play another nine,'' he said.
The day the earth-moving machinery arrives at Echo Hills will be an uncomfortable day for Henderson.
He's letting go of a jewel.
But it's time. He knows it's time. Us tennis-shoe wearing hackers are going to miss the place, too.