Sam Bailey may be unlike any other golf course superintendent. How many people in his shoes have their pump house located between the hippos and chimpanzees?
“We have to call zoo security to get into the pump house,” says Bailey, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and nine-year member of the association who oversees Swope Memorial Golf Course in Kansas City. Besides the skyline view of downtown, Swope Memorial has much to offer. Those who work and play at the course can hear the roar of lions and the calls of other animals that inhabit the adjacent Kansas City Zoo.
On occasion, bobcats that don’t belong to the zoo find their way onto Swope Memorial, which will be invaded by numerous golfers this month. The course is hosting the Kansas City Golf Association’s (KCGA) Women’s Match Play Championship May 4-6; the Missouri Class 4A high school boys state championship May 14-15; and the KCGA Men’s Match Play Championship May 18-20.
Swope Memorial has quite a history. It was designed in 1934 by legendary architect A.W. Tillinghast, whose work includes major championship venues Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., and Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. It also hosted the city’s first PGA Tour event, the Kansas City Open Invitational, in 1949.
Bailey, 37, arrived more than a year ago, and had already put his stamp on golf in the region. A native of Schuyler, Neb., he spent his early career in Arizona, which included time as assistant superintendent at Phoenix Country Club. His first superintendent job was closer to home, at nine-hole Evergreen Hill in Battle Creek, Neb. Bailey’s next move was to Kansas City, to become superintendent at Heart of America Golf Course, and it was there in 2016 that he earned the Superintendent of the Year honor from the Heart of America GCSA. Bailey — who with his wife, Heidi, has children Hannah, Eva and Jonah — credits mentors Scott Anderson, Charlie Costello, Tony Bertels and Nate Pehrson for his professional growth.
May is an ideal time for events at Swope Memorial, Bailey says, because the undulating Poa annua greens are at their healthiest. That’s good, as they’ll be getting quite a workout. “When you get the best of the high school golfers and the best of the Kansas City-area players at your course, you want it to play well,” Bailey says.
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.