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Monday, February 22, 2016

Lawrence, Kansas: Turkey Bend? Windy Bend? Eagle Bend! Nice Course, But Little Wiggle Room

Eagle Bend Golf Course
1250 East 902nd Rd
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone: (785) 748-0600
Website: LawrenceKS.org/eaglebend
Prices: $$$$

If you find yourself traveling to or through Kansas City, Topeka, or Lawrence, Eagle Bend is not the cheapest public course by far, but it is a well maintained and challenging layout. The first six holes are links-style with undulating fairways surrounded by native grasses (sorry, no gorse) with the final 12 meandering through marshy woodlands surrounding the Wakarusa River.
Prices range from $22 (walking/18 holes/M-F) to $49 (riding/18 holes/weekend) with seniors (60+) and juniors (under 18) getting a slight price break during the week. There are no military or veteran discounts and, oddly enough, no "twilight" or winter rates and "NO DISCOUNTS (PERIOD) ON WEEKENDS". You pay full price no matter what time of year or time of day it is, no wiggle room (more on that later).


The clubhouse is small with a snack bar that seems to do little business, a very limited pro shop, restrooms, a few tables and a couple TVs. I am not sure what capability to snack bar has, but I have never seen anybody sitting in the clubhouse eating a hamburger or sandwich. The pro shop has a small selection of balls and tees, a couple golf bags, and a few gloves, hats and shirts. It does not appear that Eagle Bend's clubhouse is intended to generate much income as far as I can tell and it obviously does not.
The course is very walkable with the exception of the 300-yard treks between the clubhouse and 1st/10th tees and the 1st/10th greens and the 2nd/11th tees. Relatively flat, the only exertion you will encounter are the large gullies in front of the 17th and 18th greens.

The fairways are Zoysia grass and very well maintained. I have been told that their greenskeeper used to work for a cross-town course, Alvamar, and from what I have observed, they are lucky to have him because their fairways are in much better shape than semi-private Alvamar's Zoysia fairways. If you hit a ball in the fairway, you should have a good lie, a ball that sits-up, and that is normally the case at Eagle Bend. The only exception, strangely enough, is the 18th fairway where the Zoysia stops at the 150 yard marker, leaving a routinely poor lie off of what looks like Perennial Rye grass for your approach shot to the final hole. 

The greens are decent and fairly fast, but few people seem to repair their pitch marks, so even the best putt can go astray from time to time. Maybe they could sell, or even give away, inexpensive pitch mark repair tools in the pro shop and post a few signs reminding people to clean up after themselves. Zoysia on the landing area of the 18th would also be a big plus.

There are not a lot of sand traps, but the few they have are strategically placed. The sand is heavy, likely river sand from the nearby Kansas River, leading to difficult shots and inconsistent results for those of us who do not carry a PGA Tour card.

With four sets of tees (gold, blue, white and red), the course is challenging for both sexes and all skill levels. Being close to sixty, I have lost some distance in recent years and find the blue tees a tad too long for my pleasure, so I normally play the whites when I want to enjoy myself. With prevailing winds from the south/southwest, all but four holes are reachable in regulation for the average golfer from the whites:
Hole #7 - From where the white tees are normally placed, hole #7 (par 4) plays close to 400 yards, normally into the wind, making it very difficult to reach the green even with two good shots. 
Hole #8 - A par 3, hole #7 normally plays between 150 and 170 yards directly into the wind with a lake running down the right and a large bunker left of the green, requiring anything from a six iron to a five wood off the tee. 
Hole #15 - Very similar to #7, this nearly 400 yard par 4 routinely plays into the wind with native grasses on the left and woods to the right as well as protecting the green on all sides.
Hole #18 - Another 400 yarder from the new, slightly elevated tees, this hole play into the teeth of the wind and has native grasses and woods lining the entire hole. There is a large gully in front of the green with a creek running under and on both sides of the fairway, narrowing to less than 20 yards for any short or errant shot.
When you are a high handicapper or senior and have difficulty hitting a drive over 220 yards with no wind, a par 4 that is 400 yards or a long, well-protected par 3 into the wind makes birdie impossible and par unlikely. From the white tees, 375-385 yards should be the longest par 4 on the course if you want to be fair to the average golfer and speed play.
Otherwise, Eagle Bend is fair and a good challenge as the wind is almost always blowing, swirling and changing directions because of the influence of the Clinton Lake Dam which towers over the west side of the course. Two of the four par 5s, #9 and #12, normally play downwind where par, even birdie, are very possible. Hole #12 is a double dogleg par 5 with trees to the right off the tee and a large lake guarding the left side of the fairway on your second and third shots. Hole #17, a short par 3 over a gully where par is achievable and wild turkeys can often be seen on the terraced slope in front of the green, is esthetically the nicest hole on the course.
Eagle Bend does not participate in GolfNow or other web-based discount green fee schemes, something a lot of courses utilize to fill empty tee times and generate additional income for the course. After all, it does not cost anything to have more people playing golf because overhead is the same while additional revenue is generated through green fees, cart rentals, pro shop and snack bar sales, and range ball fees. 
While on the topic of range ball fees, Eagle Bend's are some of the highest in the area at $5 for 25 balls and $400 for an annual pass (unlimited balls). I get 75 balls for $8 at a crosstown range and paid a little over $100/year for unlimited balls while a member at Alvamar, so Eagle Bend's prices are "out of range", pun intended. High range ball prices are another phenomena I do not understand. The investments (balls, facility, personnel, equipment) have already been made, so why not get as many people hitting range balls as possible by lowering fees to a more reasonable level? I refuse to pay $5-$15 for a bucket of balls as do many others I know, so instead of generating some income, they generate little. Penny wise and dollar foolish in my opinion.

I play Eagle Bend several days a week and would think that with all of the empty slots I see, that the city would be clamoring for income, but the City of Lawrence and their employees do not seem to be very interested in profit. Maybe if the course had more play and a more enticing clubhouse, they could lower green fees, offer military/veteran discounts, extend junior/senior discounts to the weekend, and have twilight rates, adding even more revenue from those who would have played elsewhere. As an example, I play most of the winter at Alvamar because they reduce green fees to $15 (18 holes/walking/7 days a week) in the winter, several dollars lower than Eagle Bend's "unbending" fees. 

The City of Lawrence government seems eager to maintain the status quo in this city of around 90,000. They stifle competition in favor of their friends (not a decent chain restaurant or selection of retailers in town) and are stuck in the 20th Century when it comes to managing their only golf course. Eagle Bend could be the premier golf destination in eastern Kansas, but backward thinking and poor management make it an average, underutilized entity likely on the brink of obsolescence and ultimate closure to become another park or free Frisbee/soccer golf complex.

If you play a lot like I do, they do not have an annual membership, but they do offer punch cards for 10, 20, 50 or 100 rounds (good for more than a year) with savings ranging from 25% to 60%, bringing green fees down to as low as $11 per round (walking) for a 100-round card ... if you are willng to pay $1,100 in advance.

Eagle Bend is a fun, challenging course in desperate need of innovation, creative marketing, and management that embraces thinking "outside box" rather than maintaining the status quo. Golf courses are losing business and thousands are going bankrupt across the nation, a path I hope Eagle Bend is not headed down because the only other options in town are private and very expensive.

CombatCritic Gives Eagle Bend 7 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!

Seven Bombs Equates To:
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Title: Turkey Bend? Windy Bend? Eagle Bend! Nice Course, But Little "Wiggle Room"

Key Words: Eagle Bend Golf Course, eagle, bend, golf, course, links, City of Lawrence, Lawrence, Kansas, university, KU, Jayhawks, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Translation for Civilians: S&G = "Shits & Grins"

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