Editor’s note: Like snowflakes, no two golf courses are alike. But through nature, quirks of design, previous land use and necessity, some golf courses are more unalike than others. Superintendent magazine has been reporting on a few of the game’s playing fields that have more than their share of quirks and distinct characteristics. We look at Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course in Hays, Kansas.
Playing golf at Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course in Hays, Kansas, is truly a lesson in history. The 18-hole layout located on the high plains in west-central Kansas is on the grounds of a former military fort that is listed on the National Historic Register.
What remains today are two limestone buildings, one that served as a prisoner stockade/guardhouse and the other a six-sided blockhouse with rifle openings; and two wooden structures to house fort personnel. The fort opened in 1867 and closed in 1889, serving as a fortress to protect travelers along the Smoky Hill Trail and those building the railroad. Lore has it that individuals such as Buffalo Bill Cody, William “Wild Bill” Hickok and Gen. George Custer all spent time at the fort.
The front nine of the course opened in 1920, with a back nine added in 1996. The front nine is on the original fort grounds. While technically none of the back nine holes are on the grounds, there was a cemetery located there for 324 individuals who died from Listeria poisoning. Those gravesites were relocated to Fort Leavenworth in north-eastern Kansas. However, the mounds from some of the graves are clearly discernable to the human eye.
Kevin Kamphaus is the golf course superintendent, a position he has held since April 2014. But some 35 years prior he played the course as a college student at nearby Fort Hays State University.
Even though the fort has been gone for more than 125 years, Kamphaus says remnants beyond the building remain. Pieces of ceramic dishware, scrap iron, square nails and pieces of old horseshoes are found from time to time. He says any materials unearthed by maintenance activities must be left where they are or buried if found in digging, trenching, etc.
A major road connecting the fort to Fort Dodge (Dodge City, Kansas) is noted by a marker and passed through the first fairway and by a practice green. This trail was referenced frequently in movies depicting the frontier days of the Wild West.
Kamphaus admits he did not give much thought to the historic nature of the golf course he played during his college days, but now he knows he is tending to some special grounds.
“I have a map that outlines all of the trails and roads on the fort, and you can see where most of them are today on the golf course,” Kamphaus said. “There are also numerous dugouts that serve as storage for ice and supplies. It’s pretty cool to think about what was happening here more than a 100 years ago.”