Blue Hills Country Club: It takes a city

When a Kansas City-area superintendent had to weather the storm — make that storms — those who do what he does arrived from throughout the region to lend helping hands.


Blue Hills Country Club
GCSAA Class A superintendent Woody Moriarty (third from left in the front row) is hosting this week’s Tour KC Golf Classic at Blue Hills Country Club in Kansas City, Mo. His staff and volunteers, who came from multiple courses throughout the KC area, have been challenged by recent heavy rains. Still, the first round began on time Thursday morning. Photos by Howard Richman 

Is there a more hallowed ground for golf in Kansas City than Blue Hills Country Club?

Wedged in a location right off State Line Road, which separates Kansas and Missouri, Blue Hills (on the Missouri side) has welcomed numerous golf greats. When native son Tom Watson hosted the Children’s Mercy Hospital Golf Classic from 1980-2004, a parade of superstars played at Blue Hills to support the event, which ultimately raised $12 million for the hospital.

That list of names is long and illustrious. Byron Nelson. Sam Snead. Jack Nicklaus. Annika Sorenstam. Arnold Palmer. Lee Trevino. Phil Mickelson. Seve Ballesteros. There were others, but you get the idea. Their presence was magical. Historical. Memorable. Undoubtedly, they left their mark on Blue Hills.

Woody Moriarty, GCSAA Class A superintendent at Blue Hills, has left his own impression — and he used his boots to do it.

Moriarty was ankle-deep in it early this Wednesday, doing his part to pump out a water-logged bunker at a venue drenched in history that had gotten soaked with 7 inches of rain in seven days. “Our drainage is good — we just need more of it,” Moriarty said.

The timing of the constant storms was not ideal: Moriarty had been preparing for weeks — even months — to welcome the Tour’s KC Golf Classic, which began Thursday.

Moriarty, a 27-year association member, had a slew of his own stalwarts who, buoyed by the Heart of America GCSA, came from various places throughout Kansas City and its vicinity to help. That’s nothing new, though — this sort of thing happens in Anywhere USA, whenever a superintendent hosts a professional event and volunteers bring their talents to aid in making the tournament course sparkle.

“See those four guys raking bunkers? They work at other courses. But that’s what superintendents are all about — helping each other,” Moriarty said.

Woody Moriarty
Woody Moriarty was in the thick of it Wednesday morning — tournament eve — working on a bunker that was in need of some care after substantial overnight rains. Onlookers ready to lend a hand were Jack Fry, Ph.D., professor of turfgrass science at Kansas State University (left), and Steve Wilson, CGCS, from Milburn Country Club in Overland Park, Kan.

Missouri-side courses that showed up to pitch in included Shamrock Hills, Loch Lloyd and Minor Park. Kansas-side courses on hand included Leawood South, Shadow Glen and Milburn Country Club. There are too many courses to mention, but Moriarty is grateful to each of the approximately 40 volunteers who have supported his staff of 10 employees, which includes Blue Hills assistants Robby Henderson, Miles Jumps and Freddie Smith, and equipment manager Bruce Payne.

The volunteers’ presence has been a difference maker in a region that was under a flash flood watch from Monday through Wednesday. “Everybody has stepped it up. Without the volunteers, we couldn’t have done this,” Henderson said.

The heavy rains also did a number on Wolf Creek in Olathe, Kan., but that didn’t prevent Bill Irving, GCSAA Class A superintendent and a 20-year association member, from dispatching some of his staff to join Moriarty. “Bill’s creek is over its banks, but he still sent them here. I owe him one,” Moriarty said.

The volunteer experience has been meaningful to Logan Slattery, first assistant at Kansas City (Kan.) Country Club. “It’s an invaluable opportunity. You have people here from all across the city who want to be here,” Slattery said.

And they’ve done it in less than stellar conditions. Temperatures under bleak, drizzly skies struggled to reach the 40s on Thursday morning. A brisk northwest wind was blowing for the first tee time at 6:55 a.m. Lift, clean and place rules were in effect for the first round because of the soggy conditions.

Golfer Steve Wheatcroft — who managed to be crafty in shooting a 5-under-par 67 in the second group out of the gate — is quite a fan of what Moriarty and his helping hands from the heartland have created under challenging circumstances. “I hit a few tee balls with my feet in the rough. It was drier, and knew I wasn’t going to slip,” Wheatcroft said. “This is a great golf course. Whatever they did to the (bentgrass) greens ... they’re immaculate.”

For as wet as the fairways and tees were, when it came to the greens, Wheatcroft said you’d never know it had rained. “They don’t spike up; they’re not bumpy. They’re gorgeous greens,” he said. “This place playing firm and fast would be an incredible test of golf. It’s still good. It’s just long and different now.”

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.