Spotlight shines on U.S. Adaptive Open superintendent

A visit from USGA execs, hall of fame reveal among highlights for USAO host at Sand Creek Station in Newton, Kan.


James Houchen with the U.S. Adaptive Open sign
James Houchen, GCSAA Class A superintendent at Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton, Kan., is overseeing the course during the USGA's U.S. Adaptive Open, the first time the event has taken place outside of Pinehurst Resort. Photos by Andrew Hartsock

For the record, not all of the events that pushed James Houchen — somewhat uncomfortably — into the spotlight at the U.S. Adaptive Open were a surprise.

Take, for instance, the visit from USGA CEO Mike Whan and President Fred Perpall to Houchen’s crew before the second round on July 10. Whan and Perpall stopped by Houchen’s maintenance building with the USAO trophies, as well as breakfast burritos for the crew.

“That was all arranged,” says Houchen, GCSAA Class A superintendent at Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton, Kan., since its grow-in in 2006. “They wanted to be there as the crew was coming in from their morning tasks. It was nice that they came by.”

Another Houchen-centric event again made the self-described introvert squirm a bit. A plaque on the Sand Creek Station’s Hall of Fame was revealed, identifying the 24-year GCSAA member as the course’s second hall of famer, alongside former GM Chris Tuohey. The plaque, displayed prominently on the course-facing wall of the pro shop, reads: “This is the course that James built.”

Those were about the only moments of discomfort Houchen suffered as the third Adaptive Open, which features the world’s best golfers with disabilities, was held in the Heartland after the first two editions went off at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina.

“It’s almost scary,” Houchen says of the event, which closed Sand Creek Station to the public from July 4-10. “It’s almost too smooth.”

Hall of fame plaques including James Houchen's name
The back wall of the pro shop features a hall of fame, one which now prominently features Houchen's name.

His assessment includes the weather. July is regularly hot, dry and windy in Newton. The hottest day for the USAO competitors was Saturday, when it hit a mere 90 degrees for that practice round. The first two days of the three-day competition only got into the mid-80s, though that figure was expected to tick up a bit for the July 10 championship round.

Newton even dodged a rain bullet. The course did receive a substantial soaking on July 3, forcing the crew to deal with a few washed out bunkers. Fortunately, another storm forecast to hit on the eve of play slid around the course, leaving it, in the words of John Petrovsky, CGCS, manager of the USGA’s Green Section Education who was tapped to support the USAO as a championship agronomist, in the “Goldilocks zone.”

As the tournament headed toward its first-ever cut — the field of 96 was trimmed to 45 for the eight men’s and women’s impairment categories — Houchen reflected on his first USGA championship since the 2014 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.

“Prep for this is something different,” he said as one of the field’s seated competitors rolled by. “Just seeing the field, the participants … every participant here has a different story. It’s unique.”

Andrew Hartsock is the editor-in-chief of GCM