By David Markham
A new Wee Links golf course developed with local Professional Golfer and Johnson County resident Tom Watson will officially open at JCPRD’s Heritage Park Golf Course in Olathe with a ribbon cutting event at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 6.
The Wee Links golf course is a six-hole, par 18 golf course built on about an acre of land. The longest hole is 30 yards, the cups are larger than a regulation cup (six inches instead of 4.25 inches), and the flagsticks are five feet tall, so they are easy for young players to handle. Tee boxes are 3x6 foot rectangles of artificial turf. All six holes can be played in about 20 minutes.
“It’s a great amenity to the facility for instruction and practice,” said HPGC Golf Operations Manager Rob Wilkin. “Plus, youth ages five and under cannot be on the main course, so this is an excellent avenue for them. Every beginner, no matter the age, can experience every emotion and the atmosphere of golf they would get on the main course.”
In addition to a ceremonial ribbon cutting, the May 6 event will involve ‘first shots’ on the new course, and will be emceed by retired WDAF-TV Sports Anchor Frank Boal. The event is free and open to the public.
“Right from the beginning in my professional career, I really wanted to do one thing and that was to promote the game and get more people to play it and become lifetime golfers,” Watson said in a recent interview. “That’s my goal. My foundation is set up and the mission statement says ‘we want to create lifetime golfers.’ I think we’ve found a formula right now with Wee Links to get kids started in the game in a way that makes it fun, inexpensive, and takes little time to go around the six-hole golf course.”
Watson added that he believes the future of golf depends largely on how players get started in the game, and that this short course, designed by his friend, PGA Teaching Pro and Kansas Golf Hall of Fame Member Jeff Burey, is one of the best ways for players of all ages to get started.
“He came up with the idea that this is how you bridge the gap from wee kids to full-time golfers and get young people interested in the game,” Watson said. “The most essential part of the game is what you’re learning here – the short game. From 30 yards in, they take one club and a putter, get the ball as close to the hole as they possibly can, and then putt it in. That’s the essence of the game. The unique part of Wee Links is that the holes are bigger than regulation holes, so it’s going to be easier to sink a put or a shot. Just think of the excitement you get if you make a hole in one. That’s what we’re trying to do is to promote the excitement of playing the game because that gives you the passion to play and it gives you the passion to be better.”
Watson and Burey brought the idea to JCPRD officials in the summer of 2022 and construction on the course began in October.
“Immediately, when we came to them with the idea, they basically jumped on board and said ‘we want to do this,’” Watson said. “And the reason they want to do this is they can understand why it’s important.”
“We’re hoping that it becomes a tool to help grow the game and teach kids how to play and get them excited about the game of golf and help them find some success and get their comfort level up,” added JCPRD Superintendent of Parks and Golf Courses Bill Maasen. “It’s meant to be a teaching tool for kids, but I’ve had adults tell me they’re looking forward to using it because it will be a great opportunity to practice their pitching and chipping. It’s also an opportunity for new players to learn the ethics and courtesies of playing golf on a public golf course.”
Much of the funding for the Wee Links course, Maasen noted, came from the Thomas S. Watson Supporting Foundation, and the Watson Youth Golf Foundation.
The Wee Links course will be part of scheduled programming and will also be available to the public to use. A $3 daily fee will cover admission, use of a club and Almostgolf golf balls recommended for beginners and or youth because they are softer and more controllable on short courses.
JCPRD’s Children’s Services Department is already planning to bring groups to the Wee Links facility throughout the summer as part of their camp activities. Jeff Burey has been contracted as the on-course teacher.
Watson said he believes the Wee Links concept will help draw new interest to golf as a lifetime sport.
“I feel these Wee Links are going to take off,” he said. “The bottom line is it takes about an acre, it doesn’t cost very much to create them or maintain them, and it ties in with any golf course. What better way to get the families out – bring a three-year old or a four-year-old and teach them the right grip and let them swing at it and if they hit it far enough, they can even hit it on the green, about 30 yards, and get them excited about the game. That’s what we’re trying to do.”