U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Nine Facts About Fascinating History of Flint Hills National
July 21, 2017 | Andover, Kan.
By David Shefter, USGA
Before Flint Hills National Golf Club – hosting its third USGA championship this week – became a world-class facility, the 640-acre property was the residence of well-known Wichita businessman William L. Graham.
Graham built his fortune from a $200 loan during the Great Depression, first through real-estate holdings, then oil and finally banking. He raised his six children on his Andover, Kan., estate that featured lakes and woodlands. Nearly a decade after Graham passed away in 1981, another prominent businessman, Tom Devlin, was looking to create a sanctuary where golf and nature could coexist in perfect harmony. He discovered Graham’s property and eventually purchased it to create Flint Hills National.
“My dad would be really proud of this,” said Bill Graham, the fifth of six children. “[Devlin] kept the serenity of it.”
One of several lodges on the property, which is being utilized this week as the media center, even bears his name.
So as this week’s U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Flint Hills National nears its conclusion, here are nine interesting facts about the property that many people might not know:
The Aluminum House
Located on the same site as the current 10th green was a one-of-a-kind house built entirely from airline parts from the Beech Aircraft Corporation. The Dymaxion House was the brainchild of Buckminster Fuller, the man who invented the geodesic dome. Not long after World War II ended, Graham thought he needed a way to keep people in the aircraft industry employed. So he had Fuller build the house and provide enough parts for a second, which he stored in the barn.
It featured plexiglass windows and had doors shaped with curved corners.
“[My father] thought it was going to be a big deal, way before private planes were a big thing,” said Bill Graham.
After Graham died in 1991, the family donated the home to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. Volunteers spent six weeks taking it apart and museum conservators needed more than six years to sort, catalog and clean the 3,600 pieces from the two fused prototypes. Visitors to the museum can now look at this unique home.
Because Graham’s home was built next to a large pond, Graham installed a diving board so his children and guests could dive or jump into the water. Because the depth of the pond went from 3 to 20 feet, the pond could serve not only as a place to dive in, but also a swimming hole. Today, the pond protects the par-3 10th green.
Graham was an avid pilot and he kept three airplanes on his property. Because of this, he needed a place to land them, so a level grass field was created. When Flint Hills National was created, that landing strip became part of the club’s practice facility. But there is a friendly reminder of the past via a windsock that can be seen a few hundred yards from where golfers hit shots.
Graham was an avid golfer who played a lot at nearby Wichita Country Club. But when he or one of his children wanted to hit balls on his property, he set up a makeshift range on the roof from the wood-brick house (he had three houses within his residence). The roof was flat, so he could put down a mat and he would often aim at a cattle watering tank that he turned on its side.
“That was the target,” said Bill Graham, who recalled hitting balls as a child. “That was the target.”
The family, in fact, still owns a golf course in nearby Derby, Kan., that William Graham once purchased. Hidden Lakes, an 18-hole public facility, is now operated by Bill Graham’s nephew.
Phoning It In
Because William Graham often liked to navigate his houseboat through the various tributaries and lakes in the area, he wanted a way to communicate with his office when an idea popped into his head. This was long before the day of smartphones, so Graham had the telephone company lay lines throughout the property and install sockets to plug in his telephone at various spots. Sometimes, the socket would be on a tree trunk or near a rock.
“He wanted to be able to do business anywhere,” said Nancy Graham, Bill’s wife.
Hide and Sneak
William Graham did a lot of things to help entertain his children, including the construction of what Bill Graham called “sneak” houses. There were eight in total – some as high as 30 feet – and all were created from big bales of hay. Bill Graham recalled going into some of these houses and getting lost in the dark.
“It was phenomenal,” Bill Graham recalled. “They were for entertaining the kids and guests.”
The estate was located on Easy Street in Andover, but William Graham always changed the exact number on the mailbox. The true address always matched the current year, so in 1960 the address was 1960 Easy Street. Bill Graham had no idea why his father did this, but it certainly made for interesting fodder.
In addition to creating a place for his children and guests to swim, William Graham widened the main lake on the property to allow for boating, specifically water skiing. Even though it was a thin strip of water, Graham built it it wide enough for a powered boat to make a fast one-way run. It also provided Graham and others a place to fish.
Plenty of wildlife and native trees were on the property when Devlin purchased the property. The new owner realized this was a special place and even when trees were removed to create the routing, he had them temporarily planted at a nearby nursery and then brought back to the property when the course was completed. The estate also was a haven for hundreds of different wildlife, everything from deer to turkeys. Devlin made sure his new retreat would not disturb the original inhabitants, and even the lodges and residences were carefully planned and created so the manmade structures would look as if they had been there for decades.
“I think [William Graham] and his [late wife] Marge would marvel at what happened to the property,” said Nancy Graham. “Tom Devlin is such a perfectionist. He had a vision for the property. He did such a nice job planning everything.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.