Flint Hills National Founder Wanted World-Class Facility
Andover, Kan. – Thomas Devlin was bothered by the fact that he had to travel from his home state of Kansas to quench his thirst for first-class golf facilities. So the former owner of Rent-A-Center – he sold the business he created in 1973 to the London-bases conglomerate Thorn EMI in 1987 – decided to found his own club.
He contacted world renowned architect Tom Fazio and asked him to survey the Wichita area for the best possible site. A 640-acre parcel of land two miles from Andover turned out to be the prime locale. The land was originally owned by Bill Graham, whose daughter had married Kansas Hall of Fame golfer Johnny Stevens. Stevens always believed the property could be developed into a world-class golf facility.
Thus Flint Hills National Golf Club was born.
"We didn’t have any type of championship course in the Wichita area," said Devlin on the Flint Hills’ Web site. "We all have to put back into our community. I felt it was time for me to see if I could create something that would give the Wichita area something that would be nationally known."
And when the club hosted the 2001 U.S. Women’s Amateur, it drew rave reviews from USGA officials and competitors alike. Despite sizzling temperatures that week, the course more than stood up to the game’s best players, and produced one of the great 36-hole championship matches in the event’s history, with Meredith Duncan surviving a late rally from 2001 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Nicole Perrot to win in 37 holes. Duncan stuck her tee shot at the 37th hole – the par-3 10th – to a few feet to claim the Robert Cox Cup.
Six years later, Flint Hills again will be the site of a national championship. This time, the nation’s best 55 and over players will assemble Sept. 1-6 to decide the USGA Senior Amateur Championship. Mike Bell, 60, of Indianapolis, Ind., who got into last year’s field at Victoria National Golf Club (also a Fazio design) as an alternate, is the defending champion.
What the field of 156 competitors will find at Flint Hills National is a highly challenging course, one that Fazio said "…is as good a course as I’ve designed."
The 6,511-yard, par-71 layout features 67 bunkers and 24 acres of ponds that bring water into play on eight of the 18 holes. The zoysia fairways and tees are accompanied by bentgrass greens that total 70,000 square feet.
This will be the third time the Senior Amateur has visited Kansas, and the second time the event is being played in the Wichita area. Curtis Person Sr. won the 1969 title at Wichita Country Club, while James Stahl Jr. was triumphant at the 1995 event at storied Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchison.
Devlin, however, wasn’t the only family member involved with the club’s construction. His wife, Myra, designed the clubhouse, guest house and founder’s lodge. His oldest son, Tom, built the teeing grounds and another son, Tim, headed up the irrigation crew.
Members of the facility include Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer George Brett and Brett and John Schnatter, founders of the Papa John’s pizza chain. But they will take a backseat during the Senior Amateur.
"Mr. Devlin is totally committed to supporting amateur golf," said Dave Henson, Flint Hills’ director of golf, "and is looking forward to hosting more national amateur championships."
Story written by David Shefter, a staff writer with the USGA. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.