By Ken MacLeod
If any municipal golf course deserved a nearly $22 million renovation, it is KickingBird in Edmond.
So says Mike McGraw, current golf coach at Baylor but a man who played a crucial role in Edmond’s rise as one of the nation’s junior golf powers and an overall golf-mad city.
Before McGraw was an assistant and later head coach at Oklahoma State, he ran junior programs at KickingBird for its first professional Art Proctor while also coaching Edmond North and leading it to three state championships.
Between the stable of top professionals known as the Oak Tree Gang playing out of Oak Tree Golf Club and the constant talent being produced at KickingBird, Edmond became known as a golf power far outstripping its size, which was about 12,000 when McGraw moved there and just over 95,000 residents today.
As Director of Golf Brian Soerensen said at KickingBird’s grand reopening Thursday, how many cities of Edmond’s size anywhere have produced five current PGA Tour players? Edmond has in Kevin Tway, Robert Streb, Max McGreevy, Taylor Moore and Austin Eckroat.
“I get a special feeling when I come around here,” McGraw said. “KickingBird has always been a little different. What Art did to get the junior programs going here, bringing the Oklahoma Open here. It’s always had a special feel. It didn’t surprise me that they would put that kind of commitment to it.
“Edmond is such a special golf community that it almost requires a course like this. It was always one of the best public courses in the state and now is right back on top of the list. KickingBird got here first in 1971 and then Oak Tree a few years later. You combine what both those facilities did in promoting golf and it’s just unique. I’ve lived in a lot of communities but never in a community that supports and loves golf the way Edmond does.”
McGraw, Proctor and many others were set to enjoy the renovated course with rounds in special tournaments Thursday and Friday before the course reopens to the public Saturday, nearly two years after closing for a complete renovation of the course and clubhouse detailed in our June-July issue.
A tour of the course Thursday with superintendent Brad Joliff revealed immaculate Tahoma 31 Bermuda fairways and 007 bent grass greens. The greens are larger in some areas, but definitely where the action starts on many holes. Similar to the recent renovation of John Conrad in Midwest City or previously at Shangri-La, some of the classic architectural green templates such as the punch bowl, Biarritz, lion’s mouth and others have been incorporated. False fronts and swales will make putting a more skilled proposition that it was previously, particularly judging lag putts. It looks fun, but will certainly frustrate some.
“Matt Dusenberry (golf course architect for the renovation) came in and gave everything a little bit of character, a little bit of flair,” Joliff said. “You’ve got a massive green on the par-3 sixth that will be amazing. I’m not a golfer, but I’ve talked to a lot of golfers and they’re expecting to have the time of their lives.”
The new irrigation system will allow for much greater uniformity of conditioning, Joliff said. Distance has been added in key areas. The previously par-5 ninth will now be an uphill par-4 while the fourth hole has been moved from a par-4 to a par-5.
The new clubhouse, event center, restaurant, grill, indoor teaching center, short game area and Track Man range with Flight Scope simulator games should all be popular among Edmond residents and visitors.
“This is a true community project whether you play golf or not,” said Mayor Darrell Davis. “People will come from miles to see this and miles to play it. It’s good for the game, good for the community and good for the golfers. You talk about renovations, this is a total remodel. It’s totally different. It’s really good.”
Above: Edmond mayor Darrell Davis hits the ceremonial first tee shot.
Making remarks at the ribbon cutting were Davis, Sorensen, Edmond Director of Parks and Recreation Brad Raney, Larry Barefield from contractor Mid-America Golf and Landscape, Joel Lippert of Lippert Construction, David Payne of architect Bockus Payne and Kevin Leonard, chairman of the KickingBird golf advisory board. All gave Sorensen and Joliff kudos for the way they pushed for the project then led the city through the two-year rebuild.