© 2023 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Will Kansas City Ever Host A Golf Major?

Greg Echlin

The PGA Tour’s web-dot-com circuit stops this week in the Kansas City area. First-round play begins Thursday at the Lions Gate course in Overland Park, Kan.

For a long time, area courses have served as the host site for golf tour events, but never a major. 

More than 34,000 fans attended Sunday’s final round of the US Senior Open at Omaha Country Club, the single largest attended sporting event in Omaha history.

It took place on a course that was built in the late 1920s. Tom Pernice, who grew up in Raytown, was impressed with the turnout.

"It’s obvious. Biggest crowds ever for a Senior Open or a Champions Tour event. No question. It’s fantastic," says Pernice.

Then Pernice rattled off a couple of traditional courses in the Kansas City area that would serve as a great venue for a golf major.

"Kansas City Country Club easily could," he says. "Milburn Country Club. Absolutely."

As private clubs, commitment from the membership at each to host a major is where it starts, according to Matt Sawicki, the director of championships for the US Golf Association.

"It starts with an invitation from the club and that’s first and foremost," says Sawicki.

But it takes more than that. A lot more.

World Golf Hall of Famer Tom Watson not only continues to compete, he leaves his fingerprints on the area as a course designer. Regarding a prospective site, Watson says, "That facility can be not just a great golf course, but it needs all the parking and the extra space that is needed for a professional golf tournament. We really don’t have that here in Kansas City."

Lions Gate, a Jack Nicklaus course, opened in 2001. It served as the site for the 50-and-over Champions Tour and the web- dot-come series, made up aspiring PGA Tour players.

Lions Gate general manager Jeff Schauer says he watched with interest what unfolded over the last week in Omaha.

"To have a senior major like that, that would be incredible. It’s something that we would definitely think about down the road as well," Shauer says. "As this event continues to grow here and they get a title sponsor. Right now, they have a presenting sponsorship with Cadillac. We certainly would like to have a title sponsor."

Therein lies the rub, the lack of a community or corporate leader in the area.

American Century Investments is based in Kansas City, but devotes its energy to a celebrity tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

On the contrary, Omaha businessman Patrick Duffy rallied the corporate leaders there. As a result, a Senior Open record of more than $5.5 million was set in corporate tent sales.

Matt Sawicki says the USGA saw Omaha’s solid organized effort from the start.

"Like I said, it starts with the golf course first and foremost, but you really need the community leaders, the Patrick Duffy-types who bring us in and show us what a community can do," he says. "When we see that buy-in, that makes the decision for our executive committee a lot easier."

Tom Watson isn’t optimistic a leader or a company will step forward for a golf major in Kansas City.

"That comes with a very large financial commitment. That has to come somehow. To have a tournament organizer to organize that, that’s part of the deal. We’re nowhere on the horizon for that right now," says Watson.

In the big picture, Kansas City is still looking for a tee time.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.