Kansans’ Local Knowledge Stymied at Sand Creek Station

Kansas native Chase Hanna wasn't helped by his familiarity with the APL host venue, and hopes to bounce back after a disappointing first-round 78. (USGA/Chris Keane)
By Hunki Yun, USGA
July 14, 2014

NEWTON, Kan. – The cars in the parking lot of Sand Creek Station Golf Course represented 26 states, having transported competitors of the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship from as far away as Connecticut, Florida and Washington. Although the players have gathered for a single, common purpose, their stay in Newton is fleeting and their connection to this town is gossamer, like a tumbleweed drifting across the Kansas plains.

However, one player has ties to Newton that are as deep as the roots of the cottonwood, Kansas’ state tree. Although Chase Hanna is from the eastern part of the state in Leawood, a suburb of Kansas City, Mo., his ancestors played a key role in the early development of Newton, which was founded in 1871.

In 1887, his great-great-grandparents, John Axtell and Lucena Chase Axtell, both physicians, founded the town’s first hospital, and the Axtell Clinic is still part of the Newton Medical Center. The Axtells’ youngest daughter, Marian, married George Hanna, and many of their descendants still live in Newton. Chase’s father, William, grew up there before settling in the Kansas City area after law school.

Chase had played Sand Creek Station many times, both in competition – the course has hosted the Kansas Stroke Play Championship since 2011 – and during casual rounds while visiting his grandparents, who moved to Colorado last year. But the University of Kansas sophomore had never played it under the conditions he faced during the first round of stroke-play qualifying, in which he shot 78.

“I never played it with the north wind,” said Hanna, 19, who won both the Kansas Amateur and Junior Amateur in 2013. “It really picked up on the back nine. It made the course feel different.”

The rarely encountered wind direction negated much of the potential advantage that Hanna and the other players familiar with the course might have enjoyed.

“It was really hard this afternoon, because every shot was into a crosswind,” said Michael Gellerman, who shot 74 after commuting from his home in Sterling, an hour away. “For any golfer, that’s not easy.”

Calvin Pearson’s home is considerably more than an hour away, but he has played Sand Creek Station more often than any other player in the field. The native of Durban, South Africa, just completed four seasons at Wichita State University, located 30 minutes south of Newton.

After the initial period of adjustment brought on by moving from a metropolis of 3.5 million on the Indian Ocean to a landlocked city with one-10th the population, Pearson considers himself as entrenched in the Plains as any native Kansan.

“I wouldn’t trade my experience here for anything,” said Pearson, who will graduate in December. “The people are wonderful and it was unbelievable watching the basketball team go to the Final Four [in 2013.]”

But as it did for Hanna, Gellerman and the field’s third Kansan, Michael Greene, the first round’s unexpected wind caused Pearson to feel displaced on a course on which he normally feels so comfortable. Pearson, who has played Sand Creek Station year-round, said that the northerly breeze is rare, even in the winter.

“The last time I played in this wind,” he said, “it was probably my freshman year.”

The Kansans – both native and transplanted – are looking to improve on their first rounds while playing in front of friends and family in their home state.

The residents of a house along the right side of the par-3 13th hole are friends of Hanna’s father, William. As Hanna was walking up to the green, they assembled on the deck, holding up a neon-green sign: “Go Chase!”

“It’s an awesome opportunity to play in a national championship in your home state,” said Hanna. “I didn’t play very well today, so it was very disappointing. But I’ll turn it around tomorrow morning.”

Hunki Yun is the director of strategic projects for the USGA. Email him at hyun@usga.org.


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