The story behind Brough Creek National GC

By |  November 14, 2019 0 Comments
BCN (Photo: Seth Jones)

Full circle — A shot of the green of Nos. 1 and 7. The course ends and begins on the same green. (Photo: Seth Jones)

MacKenzie. Ross. Tillinghast.

Twitter?

A modest piece of property near the Missouri River in Kansas City, Kan., has transformed from unused family land to a seven-hole short course birthed by social media and energetic buddies wanting to improve their hangout. Brough Creek National GC, named after property owner Zach Brough (pronounced “bruff”), might go down as the first golf course if not built, then inspired — and funded — entirely by social media.

The course hosts its grand opening this month and will welcome its “early adopters” to play the course for its locked-in green fees rate: free. They’ll come from all corners of the United States. Members teeing it up at the invite-only grand opening will include golf nuts from California, Ohio, North Carolina and Massachusetts, among other places.

This is what happens when an online idea sparks to full flame. But after the grand opening, what will become of Brough Creek National (BCN) and the bros who have formed what they endearingly refer to as Some Guy’s Backyard Architecture?

Dirt’s not cheap

Meyer zoysia greens at BCN (Photo: Seth Jones)

Almost ready — The Meyer zoysia greens in this photo are just a few weeks away from popping for the grand opening in October. Oh, and not to worry, the boat will be long gone by then. (Photo: Seth Jones)

It’s opening Sunday for the NFL season. Here in Kansas City Chiefs country that means work ceases at noon Central Standard Time. At 4429 N. 79th Street in KCK, brats are grilling while the Brough Creek National maintenance team retreats indoors to catch the action.

If this were a private country club, Zach Brough would be the superintendent, Ben Hotaling would be head pro and Evan Bissell would be director of marketing. But this is the opposite of a private country club. While the guys call Brough superintendent, he prefers the more casual term of maintainer.

“I own the property, so I’ve got to be out here cleaning it up,” Brough says. “We all wear a bunch of different hats.”

“He’s got the tractor, and he’s the only one who drives it. He’s the one mowing and the one that waters when we need it during the week,” says Hotaling. “Everything about what we’re doing is tongue-in-cheek.”

The group met at Kansas University in Lawrence. Upon graduation, the crew reconvened at Brough’s place regularly, then Hotaling moved in. One night, Hotaling told Brough they could have a pretty decent golf hole from right there on the porch if they took down just one tree …

No. 7 at BCN (Photo: Seth Jones)

No.7 — The closing hole is 140 yards. Beware, the Popeye’s Chicken sign might make the player hungry for some biscuits. (Photo: Seth Jones)

The chainsaw came out and everything spiraled from there, Brough says.

“That’s when I started blogging about it,” Hotaling says. “It was a joke to start. It’s not much of a joke anymore. The people wanting to help became too much to ignore. And taking trees down is addictive, because you see so much progress immediately.”

Armed with enthusiasm and tech savvy — Hotaling is in technology sales and Brough is a business intelligence developer with a penchant for multimedia — the Brough Creek team first asked its social media followers to help out by donating materials. While used flagsticks and cups were nice, they soon realized their followers wanted to donate money. Their GoFundMe page quickly raised $20,000. The only payback they offered was a thank you and a lifetime membership at Brough Creek National GC, where they promise to never charge green fees.

“The materials are the most expensive thing,” Hotaling says. “Dirt, man. I think we spent $4,000 on dirt!”

Progress you can feel

Evan Bissell hitting wedge shot (Photo: Seth Jones)

Aiming high — Some guys shoot hoops at halftime. At Some Guy’s Backyard, Evan Bissell (pictured) hits full wedge shots. (Photo: Seth Jones)

The Brough Creek crew has caught the eye of many on social media (SomeGuysBackyard.com, @someguysbackyrd), including those who do this golf maintenance thing for a living.

“It’s unique, it’s fun and it isn’t being done anywhere else,” says Carol Turner, second assistant superintendent at the Ladies GC of Toronto. She saw the course in person while visiting GCSAA headquarters in Lawrence for a meeting. “It looked so fun and cool. They still had a lot of work to do because I saw it in the early stages. I wish I lived closer because I’d love to help out and play there for fun.”

What does a turf professional see as the biggest obstacles for the guy’s backyard?

“Keeping up with everything budgetwise,” Turner says. “Finding money to do the basics.”

The crew is tracking all their expenses on their website. Turf has been the biggest expenditure so far, but the team didn’t get over their heads and try to build USGA-spec greens.

Green at BCN (Photo: Seth Jones)

Star Treatment — The BCN crew uses the Hudson Star (HudsonStar.com) greens mowers on its Meyer greens. (Photo: Seth Jones)

“Having real greens was never a consideration. If we wanted to go to the lake for the weekend, we don’t want to worry about our greens dying,” Hotaling says. “We wanted to pick something that is going to have a good chance with minimal human interaction.”

They chose Meyer zosyiagrass, a popular grass in the Midwest, after a long discussion with Brandon Horvath, Ph.D., University of Tennessee. Horvath found BCN on Twitter. As he followed along, he became a fan of the BCN team and volunteered his expertise, something the BCN team quickly took him up on. “The guys have an idea,” Horvath says, “but they also have no idea.”

Horvath hoped they would go with a different turf variety than Meyer, but says the decision was a good compromise, based on budgetary restrictions. “Their biggest challenge … none of the guys have a direct understanding of turf management,” Horvath says. “It’s like the running joke in the industry — I have a nice lawn, so I could maintain (University of Tennessee’s) Neyland Stadium, right? Well, you can’t.”

Horvath says that despite their lack of formal turf background, the BCN team will be successful, because they understand their limitations.

“When they asked me about turf, I gave them the names of some sod producers. I didn’t do the work for them. They did their due diligence. When it came time to choose sand, they sent me samples to look at. They’re likable guys, and if they’re willing to engage people who want to see them succeed …” Horvath says. “If they have enough time, energy and money, they’ll have something playable … like a throwback to 1965. For the backyard? That’s pretty cool.”

The team has topdressed three times in recent weeks, hoping to peak for the grand opening.

“We’re going to cut it to half an inch, and it’ll be like a really good greens surround,” Hotaling says. “And that’s more than we could ever ask for.”

It’s hard work, but at the same time, it’s fun.

“If you said to me, ‘Hey, want to go rake some forest land?’ No! That’s not fun,” Hotaling says. “But it’s my opportunity to hang out with my friends. It’s progress you can feel with your hands and see with your eyes. All of that combined makes it fun. We’re working towards something bigger, which is exciting.”

Working for a living

Clearing forestland can be backbreaking, but documenting the job can be hilarious. While the guys are wielding chainsaws, throwing sand and pushing rollers, the fourth member of their crew, Mark Robinson, is armed with a video camera. The creation of Brough Creek National GC is equal parts golf project and reality TV.

“We’re realizing that the visualization aspect of what we’re doing is the core driver for our success, so we’re really investing in it,” Hotaling says. “You can only post so many of the same aerial videos, so we’re trying to drive interest in us, not just BCN. If we’re well-respected, known people, that gives us a little bit more opportunity.”

They’re not sure what that opportunity is exactly, but they’re hopeful that once BCN is complete, another project will arise. This could be a niche market, they hope — creating backyard golf courses.

“We have a chance to put one in the ground and have people come and check it out,” Hotaling says. “If a wealthy person has some land and was considering a synthetic putting green … how about doing something like BCN instead, and actually hitting some shots? If a community wanted to do this, we’d love to.”

After all, it’s better than working.

“We’re all five years into working, and working sucks,” Hotaling says. “The prospect of hanging out for a living — that would be sick, right?”

A wedge in one hand …

Brough says the prospect of doing more courses with his friends beyond his own backyard is what keeps him motivated. At first, when they had 60 comments on a blog, he thought that was as far as the project would go. Now they have 1,700 members and people in 10 countries wearing golf apparel with his name on it.

Which also could make a property owner nervous. While he has understanding neighbors, he doesn’t want people teeing it up in his yard at their convenience.

“We’re going to have three or four weekends a year where it’s just, come on out here and play,” Brough says. “Beyond that, it’s got to work for us. It’s a liability thing — I can’t have people falling off my hill.”

There’s a bucket of balls in the driveway. The Chiefs game is at halftime. Some guys shoot hoops. At Some Guy’s Backyard, they take turns firing at the pin 100 yards away tucked behind the creek. Their motto is that golf should be played with a wedge in one hand, a beer in the other.

Some of the architecture references at BCN — a Redan hole, the Road Hole — might be a little auspicious. After all, there is a Popeye’s Chicken sign on display near No. 7 green. If the Golden Age architects were here to see it for themselves, they might tell these Jayhawks to turn in their crayons.

Or maybe they’d pat them on the backs. After all, in this age of social media influencers and trending topics, who is to judge? Like Willy Wonka angrily shot to Veruca Salt, “We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

“It’s unconventional, it’s different,” Hotaling admits. “But it’s a ton of fun. We’re having success, we’re selling merchandise, people are liking it and it’s giving us different opportunities.
It’s also proving you don’t have to spend $1 million a year to have a really good freaking time



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