How to play the most unique golf course in KC (and maybe the world)

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Photo by Jeremey Theron Kirby

Golf pros will tell you mastering the short game is the secret to success. Monster drives grab attention, but shaving strokes elsewhere is the way to win.

For Chris Harris, that’s a lesson about life. Harris Park, the pitch-and-putt course he built at 40th and Wayne in the Ivanhoe neighborhood, is designed to push players’ short game. “I wanted to recreate the short game as best as I possibly could and get as many shots as I possibly could and still have it be a nice place to spend time playing,” he says. Harris has been working on this project for twenty years. After acquiring the rest of the lots on the block for between free and five hundred bucks, he tore down his own childhood home to make room for the first green.

The course makes great use of its tiny footprint, which accounts for one side of a city block. There are four greens, each with four possible holes you can play by moving the flag around. And there are three tee boxes leading to each green. That means there are a total of forty-eight possible holes on just three acres.

For Harris, it’s not about finding the next Tiger Woods; it’s about the next Brad Owen—that’s the name of the head groundskeeper at Augusta.

“Our main objective is to have people be around the game, and you never know what door may open,” he says. It’s also a course that will challenge pretty much anyone.“

Everything in this neighborhood is tough,” Harris says. “We want this to be tough so that when you learn to play it and you go somewhere else, it’s easy—you have been maxed out in the game of golf and the game of life.”

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Photo by Jeremey Theron Kirby

It’s public. It bears repeating, since Harris says people in the neighborhood tend to think of all golf courses as private. As we play a round on a Monday morning, he waves to a man who he’s seen creep by many times. Harris waves him up. “This is for you,” he says. “Come on up and play.” Among the people to take the cue is Eugene Coody, who says he doesn’t know much about golf but finds it relaxing to come play on his days off, “especially when the wife is mad at me.”

Don’t bring a driver. The longest shot at Harris Park—from the back tee box on the third hole—is just sixty-five yards. That means a sand wedge or nine iron will work.

Plan to play a full round. The course is set up so that people can play each green in a rotation. That means you don’t just waltz around playing each hole at whim. You rotate around and back. “A lot of pros have this in their backyard,” he says. “I wanted to build this course so pros can practice any shot here, whether it’s the rough, whether it’s tripping over sand boxes—everything you’d encounter.”

It’s a deceptively difficult course. The rough is rough. The greens are fast and tricky—if you miss by four inches on the second green, you can go over the lip and roll ten yards. “My thought was, if I make these greens harder, when they go other places and the greens aren’t so hard, the game becomes easier,” Harris says. “If you’re used to being maxed out and you get something that’s easier, oh my goodness, that’s nice. So I want these greens to be as hard as I possibly can.”

If you want to donate, yard care equipment is more useful than clubs and balls. While he’s appreciative of any help offered, Harris says he’s already got enough loaner balls and clubs to last a long time. “The way we’re playing, we’re not losing a lot of balls,” he says. On the other hand, mowers, clippers and the like are helpful. “We want kids to learn to take care of this course,” he says. “There’s a lot of money in taking care of golf courses.”

It’s not about making professional golfers—it’s about making professionals. Harris Park isn’t about golf, really. “It’s not about sports,” Harris says. Rather, it’s about shaping the community. “The kids that come here, this is what’s normal to them,” he says. “If they came to play and it was like the area where I grew up, they’re going to be uncomfortable. I like to say Harris Park is a spark plug. It’s that spark to say, ‘We can take back our communities.’ I would like to see one of these in every community across the United States.”

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