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Tee Off With Tait

‘Right at it’ for par on a fun, challenging par 3 at Falcon Ridge

Hole #16 at Falcon Ridge.

Hole #16 at Falcon Ridge. by Nick Krug

Fair, fun and a little nerve-racking.

That’s how I would describe the 16th hole at Falcon Ridge Golf Course, a par 3 that sits right on the water and tests your ability to hit a precise iron shot from a variety of distances.

Three of the four tees on this hole actually make it quite a bit easier, giving you the comfort of having your line of sight include mostly green grass and a straight look at the green ahead.

But, naturally, since this Tee Off with Tait promotion is supposed to be a challenge, the fourth set of tees, all the way in the back, change the view just enough to make things interesting.

From the championship tees, which play roughly 161 yards on a calm day, you’re asked to take your tee shot over the water that protects the left side of the green. It’s not a lot. And it really shouldn’t be much of a factor at all. But it’s there just enough to make you think about it.

On the day I played it, I had the added pressure of having an assistant general manager at Falcon Ridge watching over my shoulder as I teed off. Evidently that was good news. With the wind in my face just a little, I clubbed a 5 iron toward the flag in the front of the green and immediately heard the following words as the ball flew through the air: “Right at it.”

It was. And it landed 10 feet past the hole, giving me an easy look at birdie and a feeling of pride that I didn’t totally embarrass myself in front of one of the course’s executives.

Hole #16 at Falcon Ridge

Hole #16 at Falcon Ridge by Nick Krug

My ball mark on the green actually hit about two feet short of the cup, making me feel even better about the tee shot that I already liked to begin with.

I gave my putt a good run but never really thought it was going in. I missed it just on the right side and had an easy tap-in for par.

This hole is a blast because of the layout. It gives you that feeling of playing one of those island greens but without all of the stress that often comes with those.

Don’t get me wrong. If you go even a little bit left, your ball is going to get wet and you could find yourself in one of those Tin Cup moments that Kevin Costner had where you’re just teeing it up again and again and again and again until you finally get it right.

So if you’re going to miss the green on this one, missing right — anywhere right! — is definitely the way to go. There is trouble over there, with a bunker just off of the green and the terrain sloping up the farther you get away from the green. So playing it from the right side and trying to keep it on the green with the water looming behind it would not exactly be your favorite day at the office. But it’s better than the penalty stroke for going in the drink and it at least gives you a chance to get up and down for par.

Fortunately for me, I hit the green and made the hole as easy as I could make it for another par in my Tee Off with Tait challenge.

On my way home from the course, I was talking to our editor, Chad Lawhorn, on the phone and told him how incredibly lucky I had been to hit such good shots on all of these holes I’ve been playing.

His response: “Maybe you should just tell yourself your score’s going in print every time you play golf and see what that does to your game.”

Not a bad idea.

All in all, this was a great, fair hole on a gorgeous course and one that, once again, really tests your ability to hit precise shots and hit it where you’re aiming. If you can land it on the large, flat green, you’re going to be fine and the worst you’ll do here is bogey.

If not, you could be in for a memorable adventure that you might not necessarily want to relive anytime soon.

That’s golf, though. And you’ve gotta love it.

For more on the holes that surround at No. 16 at Falcon Ridge, check out their website or just take a trip out there to see this beauty for yourself. And tell ’em Tait sent ya.

Hole #16 at Falcon Ridge

Hole #16 at Falcon Ridge by Nick Krug

Prize Update

Be sure to enter this week to win a free round of golf at Falcon Ridge Golf Course.

Last week's winner of a round of golf, with cart, at Prairie Highlands was Jason Ingersoll. Congratulations!

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It takes more than 2 good shots to tame No. 9 at Prairie Highlands in Olathe

Hole #9 at Prairie Highlands

Hole #9 at Prairie Highlands by Nick Krug

As you approach the back tees on the ninth hole at Prairie Highlands Golf Club, you might think you took a wrong turn and are suddenly standing in the middle of an open field on the plains of Kansas.

With thick prairie grass surrounding all four tee boxes, you almost can’t even tell you’re still on a golf course until you actually reach the tee and get ready to hit your shot.

It’s a fitting scene for a course named Prairie Highlands and it’s a terrific setting for the final hole on the front nine at this fun course in west Olathe.

The beauty of this position is that it offers you fabulous scenery and very little stress. You can pretty much hit your tee shot as far as you can without running into trouble and the wide open fairway allows for all kinds of safe landing spots.

There is a small lake to the right and trees and houses up a bit of a hill to the left, but neither come into play unless you spray your drive dramatically left or right.

That’s exactly the kind of setting one needs to tackle this 570-yard par 5 that’s every bit as long as that distance suggests.

My drive was solid here. It landed in the center of the fairway and looked nice and safe the entire way. The only regret I had was how high it went. There was a lot more wind present up top than I realized on the tee box, and hitting it so high cost me a little distance. Not enough to whine about, though, as I easily carried all four tee boxes and landed well into the fairway, no small feat for a 15 handicap playing from the championship tees.

Hole #9 at Prairie Highlands

Hole #9 at Prairie Highlands by Nick Krug

As I approached my second shot, it was clear that I was going to be able to swing away once again. The best club in my bag is and always has been my 3 iron — I’ve tried hybrids and fairway woods but can’t hit them any better than my oldest friend — so I pulled out my favorite club and let ’er rip.

I knew I couldn’t reach the green in two — I knew that even before I hit my drive — but the shot was solid. It hugged the left side and curved back right settling about 5 feet into the fairway off the left rough about 110-120 yards out.

It should have been an easy wedge into the green from there and a good look at birdie once I was finished. The green is not that big and the pin was up and I had a great angle into it. But the water on the right, which no doubt played a role in my second shot hugging the left side, comes into play much more as you get near the green that is protected by water on the entire right side and a bunker and tall grass to the left and back.

None of that should matter from 110 yards out, but I pulled my third shot left to avoid the water and landed just shy of the tall grass protecting the green on the left about 12 feet off the green.

I was OK with the shot and the result, though, because going right is an automatic penalty stroke and going long puts you on the road between the No. 9 green and clubhouse parking lot. No need to dabble with either of those areas. The wind up top may have been a factor here, too, but it also may have kept me out of that tall prairie grass, so no complaints.

Hole #9 at Prairie Highlands

Hole #9 at Prairie Highlands by Nick Krug

At that point, even though I was standing in the center of all kinds of trouble, I felt pretty safe and it was clear to me that a bogey was the worst I would get.

From there a quick pitch to the front pin — often my nemesis — set me up for a par putt and the ball would have wound even closer to the cup had it not been for some wet and heavy sod just in front of the green that caught my first bounce and forced my ball to check up way more than I expected.

I still had about a 12- to 15-foot par putt that was very makable. I had the line, hit a good putt but didn’t hit it enough and left it 10 inches short for a tap-in bogey.

This was a fun hole on a golf course full of them. It’s a terrific finishing hole and it’s probably best that it finishes the front nine rather than the entire round because if you had to play this beast as your 18th and final hole of the day, you might not have the energy and stamina to conquer it.

So swing away, stay left as often as possible and go grab a snack and a drink as you make the turn after finishing.

It’s easy to see how your performance on this hole could springboard you to a good round after gaining a little momentum for the back nine.

Book your tee time today to take your shot at taming No. 9 at Prairie Highlands. And tell ’em Tait sent ya.

Prize Update

Be sure to enter this week to win a free round of golf at Prairie Highlands.

Last week's winner of a round of golf, with cart, for four OR one hour in the Hidden Springs Golf Course virtual golf simulator was Alan Garcia. Congratulations!

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A hidden gem at Hidden Springs Golf Course in Overbook

The number 9 hole at Hidden Springs Golf Course in Overbrook, Kan. The green on the ninth hole sits just beyond a pond off to the right of the fairway.

The number 9 hole at Hidden Springs Golf Course in Overbrook, Kan. The green on the ninth hole sits just beyond a pond off to the right of the fairway. by Nick Krug

Editor's Note: Part 2 in our 9-part series highlighting some of the signature golf holes from courses around the area.

Standing on the tee box at the ninth hole at Hidden Springs Golf Course in Overbrook does nothing to prepare you for the fun and challenge that lies ahead.

From the tee, this 516-yard par 5 looks pretty easy — long and straight and wide open the whole way.

But that’s hardly the way it plays when you get down the fairway.

Quick tip on the drive: The fairway is pretty wide open and it definitely feels like you can hit it anywhere and be OK. There are trees lining the left side and a few trees dotting the right side, but none of those should come into play. There’s a pine tree just in the right rough where the fairway starts to bend. That’s a pretty good aiming point. If you stay tight to that and just hug it to the left, you’ll end up in a perfect spot in the center of the fairway.

After hitting a pretty typical drive to the left rough and advancing the ball to the 130-yard mark on my second shot, I approached my ball for my third shot and that’s when I saw it — one of the most intimidating and cool-looking trees I’ve seen on a golf course, towering over the front of a small pond protecting the ninth green and begging you to test it.

Knowing that I wanted to keep my score respectable for this blog, I had a decision to make. But, really, there was not much to decide. The distance was perfect for my 8 iron and laying up a second time was not an option. I had to go for the green. And, what’s more, I had to hit it.

The number 9 hole at Hidden Springs Golf Course in Overbrook, Kan.

The number 9 hole at Hidden Springs Golf Course in Overbrook, Kan.

With nothing but trouble to the left, a pond protecting all three sides of the front and a small bailout area to the back right, it was either hit the green or card a big number. Even if you land it in that bailout area, there’s no guaranteeing that your next shot will land on the turtle shell green.

Although the putting surface is fair and easy to read when you’re up there, most of it slopes down toward the pond in all directions, which would have made it hard to keep a chip on the green from the bailout area.

Luckily, I stayed down, followed through and hit what I could only describe as one of the 20 best shots of my life. Flying just over the right side of the tree and drawing back toward the flag, I stuck my third shot to within eight feet and gave myself a good look at birdie.

Still overjoyed by the shot — not to mention feeling great about the calibration of my clubs — I drove up to the green on the right side of the pond, feeling like Gary Woodland after his chip on 17 at the U.S. Open. This shot might not have won me millions, and nobody else even saw it, but it was a championship shot and all but guaranteed me at least a par.

The putt was makable and I should have drained it. But I just burned the lip on the left side and had a tap-in for par.

I never would have guessed when I teed my ball up back on the box for my first shot that such a memorable hole would have followed.

I didn’t get to see the rest of Hidden Springs that day, but if any of the rest of the holes out there set up like No. 9, I can see where the course got its name.

It truly is a hidden gem in the middle of the most rural setting. A mile stretch of gravel road off of Highway 56 (18 miles east of Highway 59, south of Lawrence) leads you in and the course winds its way over several acres of farmland.

The number 9 hole at Hidden Springs Golf Course in Overbrook, Kan. The green on the ninth hole sits just beyond a pond off to the right of the fairway.

The number 9 hole at Hidden Springs Golf Course in Overbrook, Kan. The green on the ninth hole sits just beyond a pond off to the right of the fairway. by Nick Krug

While that might only be available to play when the weather’s good, Hidden Springs offers you another option even when it’s not.

Their brand new, virtual golf system in an out building next to the clubhouse is locked and loaded just about 365 days a year, allowing you to pick from 100 different courses in a real-life, video game set-up.

Forget Golden Tee. This is the real thing. You use real clubs, take full swings and watch your shots as if you were actually playing. The only thing missing is hopping on and off the cart or the exercise you get from walking 18.

There was a young kid in the virtual room while I was out there and watching him swing away and then following his ball flight on the screen with the red line tracing his ball almost made it feel like I was watching on TV. If not for the loud sound of contact and the thump when the ball hit the screen, I might have thought I was.

I hope to get back out for a full round on the actual course sometime soon. But I can guarantee you this much: Hidden Springs will be the first place I think of during the winter months when I get that itch to tee it up and play a round in the dead of winter.

Book your tee time today to try your luck on No. 9, the virtual golf or anything else Hidden Springs has to offer. And tell ’em Tait sent ya.

Prize Update

Be sure to enter this week to win a round of golf for four, with carts, or one hour of virtual golf at Hidden Springs.

Last week's winner of one round of golf for two including cart at Lake Shawnee Golf Course in Topeka was Rick Glover. Congratulations!

Hidden Springs Golf Course in Overbrook, Kan.

Hidden Springs Golf Course in Overbrook, Kan. by Nick Krug

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Happy with bogey at Lake Shawnee Golf Course’s signature hole

Lake Shawnee hole number 2

Lake Shawnee hole number 2 by Nick Krug

The drive into the Lake Shawnee Golf Course parking lot provides an indication of what you’re in for right away

For those golfers intimidated by trees, rolling hills and even more trees, you might keep your head turned to the right until you park your car.

Known for it’s hilly terrain and the challenge of playing several holes that bring Lake Shawnee into play, this course is a fun track that provides enough of a challenge for even the most talented players and manageable distances for the more amateur players.

No hole brings all of that together quite like the par 4 second hole, which features the shores of Lake Shawnee running along the entire left side and has you thinking safe and right the entire way.

In fact, even before you reach the tee box you’re thinking safety first, with the severe downhill slope of the cart path away from the first green putting you on edge before you even reach the course’s signature hole.

There’s a fairway bunker on the left side that is a good landmark to aim for, but only in terms of picking a spot that you want to be well right of. The fairway is there for the taking, with its narrow, rolling hills. But you have to hit it.

From the first three tee boxes, you can easily see the bunker and your alignment takes you right naturally. From the championship blue tees, you have to stand on the very lefthand side of the box to catch a glimpse of the bunker, but even just seeing it for a moment before you swing can help put your mind at ease.

Lake Shawnee hole number 2

Lake Shawnee hole number 2 by Nick Krug

That’s where I played from to kickstart this challenge and it reminded me of an old joke that former Journal-World Sports Editor Tom Keegan and I used to laugh at whenever we played.

With both of us maintaining handicaps in the mid-teens, we weren’t exactly the first people you’d think of to play from the tips. But every once in a while, depending on the company in our foursome, of course, we’d play a round from the back tees and each time we did we had a blast.

“Golf is a much easier game from the tips,” we’d joke, knowing damn well that the added distance usually would reek havoc on our scores and our stress levels.

But it was always fun to try. And, more often than not, it took the pressure of trying to play the perfect shot completely out of the equation. From the tips, you’re just trying to survive with a respectable score.

That was my approach for No. 2 at Lake Shawnee and I have to say it went quite well.

Measured on the scorecard at 369 yards from the blue tees, my drive went high and stayed right from the minute I made contact. It was the perfect shot for someone who had just stepped out of the car without any kind of warm up whatsoever in that I made good contact and new it was safe the entire time it was in the air.

As I drove up the cart path to get a peek at where my ball had landed, I found it sitting in the center of the fairway, just short of that bunker I talked about earlier.

It was hardly the biggest bomb you’ve ever seen, but on this hole, I would gladly sacrifice distance for safety. Besides, the drive left me about 180 yards from the green, a distance easily reachable with a good shot. I’ll take that drive every single time on this hole.

I grabbed a 5 iron for my second shot, hoping to make good contact and give myself a chance at birdie, but I hit it a little heavy and immediately knew it had no chance of reaching. Again, though, it stayed right and was safe the entire time.

Standing over my third shot from the right side of the fairway, I had about 50 yards to the flag. Although I felt good about where I stood at this point, I wasn’t home yet. With the lake now surrounding three sides of the green — at least from my vantage point and in my mind — I knew I needed to hit a good shot to be in the hunt for a respectable score.

Luckily, that was exactly what came next. I hit a half wedge toward the green and landed it just past the flag. The roll from there carried my ball about 30 feet past the hole, but at no point was I worried about the result.

If anything, I fully expected to come up short on my third shot, simply because the pin was positioned in the front of the green and the water that my mind no doubt had brought into play was looming. For the blog’s sake, though, I went for the flag and was rewarded.

Sitting 30 feet away from par, from the tips mind you, was a great spot to be in and gave me a feeling of victory in and of itself even before I grabbed my putter.

At this point, I’m feeling like a bogey is the worst I’m going to do. Welcome to my world. Bogey golf, on most courses, turns into 90 and if you make a few pars and a couple of birdies along the way, you end up in the low- to mid-80s.

For what it’s worth, I have broken 80 one time — with a 79 — and it remains one of the best days of my life. Sadly, it’s now been nearly five full years since that day. But I have mixed in quite a few rounds of 83 or better in the time between then and now and my experience on No. 2 at Lake Shawnee had me believing this round, had I played it out, would have been another one.

Back to the green, I had a slightly uphill putt that broke left to the right toward the water a bit. Standing over it, I felt like it was more than manageable, something I could give a real run.

I did exactly that, didn’t leave it short and missed it a couple of inches left — on the pro side, I should add. I had a two-footer for bogey from there and easily cleaned that up and walked away feeling good about my bogey 5 from the tips on Lake Shawnee Golf Course’s signature hole.

You won’t find me complaining about that. I would take that every time on this hole, yet I still felt like I could have done better. I loved my drive, loved my wedge onto the green and felt good about my two-putt. The second shot cost me.

All in all, it was a really fun hole, with a fair green, a somewhat forgiving fairway (as long as you stay right) and a manageable distance that allows even average-length hitters to recover from just about any type of shot.

There are harder holes out here. No. 2 is just the No. 9 handicap on the 18-hole course. But, particularly from the tips, with a semi-blind tee shot, this challenge allows you to get a great look at Lake Shawnee and provides the challenge of staying focused and precise with every shot from tee to green.

Book your tee time today to try to tackle No. 2 and the rest of the fun that Lake Shawnee Golf Course has to offer. And tell ’em Tait sent ya.

Lake Shawnee hole number 2

Lake Shawnee hole number 2 by Nick Krug

Lake Shawnee hole number 2

Lake Shawnee hole number 2 by Nick Krug

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New KUsports.com golf challenge begins Saturday

Lake Shawnee hole number 2

Lake Shawnee hole number 2 by Nick Krug

Nine courses, nine of the toughest holes they have to offer and an entertaining mix of what I hope will be a few good shots and a handful of tips to help play them.

That’s the goal for our latest “Tee Off With Tait” promotion, which will feature yours truly trying to tackle some of the area’s best-known signature golf holes and prizes for your contribution to the fun.

Beginning Saturday, Aug. 3, and running each Saturday from then until the end, I’ll be heading out to a golf course in the area and will be tasked with playing what course officials believe is their best or most challenging hole.

You’ll see photos and videos of the hole and read about my adventure from tee to green. If I birdie the hole, that blog entry might be a little longer. But worry not. If I take an 8 on a hole, every last one of those shots, along with what I did to get there, will be included in the blog, as well.

First up: No. 2 at Topeka’s Lake Shawnee Golf Course, a 369-yard par 4 from the championship blue tees that features every kind of trouble and challenge you could imagine.

As you follow along with this "Tee Off With Tait" blog, be sure to enter each week for your chance to win free golf at that week's featured course.

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NINE TOTAL WINNERS

One winner drawn each week

Week 1: One round of golf for 2 including cart at Lake Shawnee

Week 2: One round of golf with cart for 4 OR one hour virtual golf for 4 at Hidden Springs

Week 3: One round for one player at Prairie Highlands

Week 4: One round for one player at Falcon Ridge

Week 5: One round for one player at Canyon Farms

Week 6: One round for one player at Deer Creek

Week 7: One round for one player at Shawnee Country Club

Week 8: One round for one player at Lake Perry Country Club

Week 9: One round for one player at Western Hills Country Club

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