The Muny Life: Swope Memorial, Kansas City

Clubhouse, Swope Memorial, Kansas City, June, 2013.

Clubhouse, Swope Memorial Golf Course, Kansas City, June, 2013.

My Muny Life column in the current issue of Golf Digest is about Swope Memorial Golf Course, in Kansas City. The course and the huge urban park that contains it were named for Thomas H. Swope, who gave the city thirteen hundred hilly, wooded acres in 1896. (Five hundred more acres were added later.) Swope died in 1909, and many people suspected that he had been poisoned by Dr. Benjamin Hyde, who attended him in his final illness and was the husband of one of his heirs, a niece. Swope’s body was disinterred and checked for strychnine, and Hyde was tried for murder but not convicted. In 1918, Swope was reburied, about a hundred and fifty yards from the tenth tee, under a monument that overlooks downtown.

IMG_1750Among the people I played with was James Armstrong, at right in the photo above. He spent thirty-eight years in the shipping department at Hallmark Cards, a job that was good for his game, because his shift was late. He’s one of the best putters I’ve ever seen, including on TV—his nickname at Swope is Drano—so I was surprised when he said, toward the end of our round, “This year is going to be my last.” I asked him how he could even think of giving up golf when he was still playing so well, and he said, “No, this is the last. Starting next year, twice a week is going to be it for me.” I asked him whether he really considered playing twice a week to be quitting. He thought about that for a moment, then said, “Sometimes I might squeeze in three.”

Drano, sinking a long one.

Drano, sinking a long one.

Like me, Armstrong believes in customizing his gear. Here’s his pushcart, a Sun Mountain Speed Cart, which began as a castoff from another player:

Note the improved cupholder and pencil caddie.

Note the bespoke cupholder and pencil caddie, which he made from an old headcover.

Armstrong has added distance off the tee by giving his driver an improved paint job:

P1070243Two days later, I played with Joe Cutrera, a Vietnam veteran, who owns a liquor-and-grocery store not far from the golf course. The store is in a high-crime area, he told me, but he hasn’t been robbed since 1984.

Joe Cutrera, Swope Memorial.

Joe Cutrera, Swope Memorial.

Cutrera’s job, like Armstrong’s old one, leaves plenty of time for golf, since he doesn’t need to be in his store all the time. He had customized his pushcart, too:

P1070354Swope Memorial was redesigned by A. W. Tillinghast in 1934. The city thoroughly refurbished it in nineteen-nineties, and when I visited it was in extraordinary condition. On one hole, an assistant superintendent was watering a new bunker, to de-fluff the sand. Do they do that at your club?

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Swope’s fairways are zoysia, just like the fairways at the Kansas City Country Club, another Tillinghast project, and the whole property is beautiful and beautifully maintained—as you can see from the photos below.

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