Clapp Park a course with unique charms

09/03/2011 12:08 AM

09/03/2011 12:08 AM

The consensus of the golf people I've talked to around town is that Clapp Park, a golf course built on 95 acres of land at Harry and Oliver in 1923, is about to close.

It's been the odds-on favorite ever since Wichita city manager Robert Layton announced that in order to cut around $5 million from the budget, one of the five public courses in town would probably be closed.

There have been two public meetings, both of which drew big crowds. Golfers are understandably not happy that a course such as Clapp — friendly to the men and women who don't hit 300-yard drives and lack the ability to spin the ball on a green — could go.

I visited Clapp a couple of times last week. The parking lot was pretty empty, easy to understand with the hot weather that has dominated the summer.

The golfers I talked to have special places in their hearts for Clapp.

"Personally, I don't see how they can close one of these courses,'' said Jim Knowles, who had just finished a round in the heat of the day at Clapp and confessed to being "close to 80."

That's age, not strokes.

Knowles said he has been playing at Clapp for nearly 50 years, two or three times a week. He's one of the Clapp regulars resistant of going elsewhere for golf.

"If they close it, then what are they going to do with it?' he asked. "You close something like this and you create more obstacles than you actually cure.''

Clapp winds through a quaint residential area. A creek winds through the land, affecting eight of the holes. It's a short course, 6,087 yards from the back tees. Most of all, it's a place where golfers of limited ability feel comfortable. And every city needs places like that.

Sim Park is much the same. The three other city courses — MacDonald Park, Auburn Hills and Consolver — can be too challenging for golfers who — how do I put this? —play like me.

Wichitan Brooke Lyman, a middle-aged man who managed to get out for an early-morning round this week at Clapp, didn't take up the game until five years ago. He's still trying to work out the kinks, so Clapp is his haven.

Same with his playing partner, Mark Roberson.

"I play the whole course, so I get my money's worth,'' Roberson said. "A lot of times, I'm in multiple fairways on the same hole. This course has pretty wide fairways, which is good for me. The grass here isn't too tall in the rough. And I appreciate the old courses with the big trees. That's what I'm out here for.''

Lyman scoffs at the notion that Clapp doesn't pull its weight in business.

"This is the first time all summer that we've been here and the parking lot wasn't at least half full,'' he said. "I think what's happened is that they've tied everything to Auburn Hills and the community around it. There's a lot of debt with that course. I wish they would sell it and keep these other courses going.''

Inside the Clapp clubhouse, a few guys who work at the course were doing what guys who hang around golf clubhouses do. Solving the world's problems.

If only solving the city-owned golf course problem was as easy.

"This place is a little bit near and dear to me,'' said John Aubert, a part-timer who works the counter 18 hours a week. "We're a little bit worried about the place. We have so many elderly people who play here and it's really the only place they play. They know they can walk it and get around in 3 1/2 hours. Nobody hassles them. If they close Clapp they won't go to MacDonald, that's too far for them. They won't go to Sim because it's already too busy. They're certainly not going to the west side of town to play Tex (Consolver) or Auburn Hills.''

The fate of Clapp, Aubert said, hangs over everyone who works there or regularly plays there.

"I went to one of the public meetings and basically what I got out of it was that they're going to start having to pay the principal on the bonds at Auburn Hills,'' he said. "I think that's what this is all about.''

Whatever it's about, the regulars at Clapp Park just want their golf course. It's been a part of the southeast Wichita community for nearly 90 years. As the area has changed so much over the years, Clapp has endured.

I hope it doesn't close. I hope none of the courses close. They're all valuable and different enough to be special.

Clapp doesn't scare off hackers the way Auburn Hills does. It has its challenges, but they're not overwhelming. It's a well-kept course that has kept its green through a brutally-hot summer.

Those in charge of taking care of Clapp have done so well. Those who enjoy playing the course have remained faithful, some for decades.

Those who might want to close it should think twice. Once it's gone, it's gone. And if you close Clapp Park, you're going to have regrets.

About Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz has been The Eagle's sports columnist since 1996. A native of Derby, he has worked for the newspaper since 1974 and covered a variety of beats, from high schools to Wichita State to pro sports. If you want to get in good with him, mention the St. Louis Cardinals. Provided they're winning, of course.

Contact Bob at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com

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