After the fire: Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate

Nearly a year after a fire left only the shell of his maintenance facility, Gary Sailer, CGCS, has carried on and is again hosting the Tour’s KC Golf Classic.


Filed to: Kansas

Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate
All that remains of the maintenance facility at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park, Kan. Photos by Howard Richman

Trees and brush mostly hide what amounts to the skeletal remains of the maintenance building at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park, Kan.

Mangled beams — unprotected because there is no roof — appear rusty. Not a big surprise. After all, the facility has been in such form for almost a year. Gary Sailer, CGCS, who oversees Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate, has encountered start-from-scratch moments before in his career, but not exactly like this. Previously, he served as the superintendent at two Kansas City-area golf courses embarking on new journeys.

“I was there for the grow-in at both courses. This is like going through a grow-in,” says Sailer, a 29-year GCSAA member.

This week’s Tour KC Golf Classic at Nicklaus GC at LionsGate is a reminder of the grim occurrence that happened there 12 months ago, shortly after the tournament had concluded. But no wave of destruction can deter Sailer, his crew and volunteers from their mission. Support for Sailer has come from his local and national associations, and even a former PGA Championship winner is impressed with many aspects of the golf course. For Sailer, it’s simply a matter of doing his job. “It’s been a challenge, but we’ve rolled with it,” he says.

At nearly 1 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2017, Sailer was in the mood to exhale. It marked the day that everything from the tournament — which had ended July 30 — had been removed. “Skyboxes, bleachers. ... I thought we were getting back to normal,” Sailer says. There was nothing normal, however, about what happened that afternoon. Some of Sailer’s staff was on the course, doing their tasks, when a fire erupted suddenly at the maintenance building. “We pulled out as much equipment as we could,” Sailer says. “We saved probably a dozen pieces.”

Now, all that remains is a shell of the facility. In what Sailer says was thought to be an electrical fire, approximately $470,000 in equipment was destroyed. The total damage, including that to the facility, was in the $1 million range, Sailer says, but it could have been much worse. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and a firewall kept some of the fire in check, which helped firefighters do their job. Sailer managed to save some of his records. “They were OK except for some soot,” he says.

Today, as they’ve been for almost the past 365 days, Sailer’s team is housed in three tent structures. On Thursday, the first day of play for this year’s KC Golf Classic, GCSAA provided a boost via food and words. The association, which has team members volunteering for the tournament, organized the crew’s dinner. Appropriately, it was from one of the region’s well-known barbecue restaurants, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, whose popular Z-Man Sandwich features slow-smoked beef brisket and smoked provolone cheese topped with two crispy onion rings on a toasted Kaiser roll.

KC Golf Classic
GCSAA chief operating officer Bob Randquist, CGCS, visits with staff and KC Golf Classic volunteers at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate during their dinner break.

On hand for the meal was GCSAA chief operating officer Bob Randquist, CGCS, who thanked Sailer and his staff for their service to the profession. “You’re contributing to the overall wellness of the game,” Randquist said. “Professional golfers, even amateur golfers, really appreciate that.”

Pro Shaun Micheel is among them. You may remember him. In 2003, Micheel won the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., but since then has battled health issues while attempting to regain his championship form. He was raised in Memphis on zoysia fairways, so it’s almost like being home as he plays on zoysia at Nicklaus GC at LionsGate. “They’ve done a great job out here,” Micheel says. As for superintendents, Micheel has grown to be fond of them. “A lot of times, they go unnoticed. Maybe we (players) don’t mention them as much as we should,” Micheel says.

Sailer smiled when informed that Micheel enjoys Nicklaus GC at LionsGate. More reasons to smile are on the horizon. “We’ve finally got the wheels moving on a new facility. They’re ironing out the details,” Sailer says. “I think construction will begin in October or November. They hope to be done in March or April.”

What was formerly the maintenance facility measured 4,000 square feet. The new one, Sailer says, will be larger — 7,200 square feet. That should make for a more picturesque view than the last time Sailer saw his maintenance facility, which was when it was engulfed in flames. “News helicopters were flying above during the fire,” he says. “That isn’t how I wanted to get on the news.”

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.

Filed to: Kansas