Story & photography by KANSAS! Magazine Staff
This story was originally featured in our November/December issue of 1962
It was billed as an exhibition match between two of the world's best golfers, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. But there was little question that most of the 4,000 Kansas golf fans who journeyed to Hutchinson late in August came to witness what they considered a more interesting match: The nation's two top pros versus one of the most challenging golf layouts on the North American continent, Hutchinson's unheralded Prairie Dunes.
Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer was a good friend of President Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower was a fellow golf enthusiast. The two would often meet at a course and play through. Palmer shared in his autobiography A Golfer's Life , “He (President Eisenhower) loved to hear me talk about tour life, and I loved to hear him reminisce about his wartime experiences and reflect on current events.”
For the first eight holes it was obviously disappointing for the sadistic souls who had come to see Prairie Dune's man-eating course gobble up Jack and Arnie, as it had lesser golfers. Then on No.9 it happened. Nicklaus pulled his tee shot into the tall chest high heavy rough that borders every fairway on the course. Three shots later he was finally back in the fairway, his possibilities for a par all but killed. Disaster didn't strike Palmer until the 18th when it looked like he would have an excellent chance at a par 70 and a good opportunity to equal the championship course record of 69 held by Bo Wininger of Oklahoma. On the 18th Palmer's tee shot buried in the native grass, yuccas and thistles that have earned Prairie Dunes the title as one of the roughest courses to play in the country. Palmer finally ended his bout with Prairie Dunes with a six on the final par four hole giving him a 72. Nicklaus had a 77. Once again Prairie Dunes had withstood the challenge of the champions.
The Incomparable Prairie Dunes
In many ways, there is no other golf course like it in the United States. Prairie Dunes Country Club, laid out on the high, rolling sand hills north of Hutchinson, is considered the only 'seaside' course in the nation patterned after the true seaside links of Scotland and England. Designed by one of the country's foremost golf architects, Perry Maxwell of Oklahoma, Prairie Dunes was opened by the Carey family of Hutchinson as a nine-hole course in 1937. Twenty years later nine more holes were added under the supervision of Maxwell's son, Pres. A year later Prairie Dunes was the site of the Trans-Mississippi tournament, one of the nation's major amateur tourneys. Winner of that meet was a young 18-year-old golfer from Ohio by the name of Jack Nicklaus, who has since driven, chipped, and putted ahead to become one of the world's top professional golfers.
The challenge of Prairie Dunes, with its yucca studded traps, five-inch low rough and waist-high torturous high rough that outlines everyone of the 18 holes (there are no joining fairways) can be seen in Jack Nicklaus' record on the Hutchinson course. Nicklaus has now played the Dunes nine times and has never parred the course. His best score to date is a 71, one over par. Is the heavy rough unfair? Some highly volatile golfers have been known to take 15 shots to disgorge a ball from a yucca. Arnold Palmer doesn't think so. His answer: "You're not supposed to put the ball in there."
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