Growing up in western Kansas I learned to play golf on courses with sand greens. The arid brown/tan buffalo grass fairways makes me appreciate the lush green golf courses in Minnesota. Fort Hays Country Club, my home course, contained a hazard that was unique in the world of golf. “The Waller” today would be marked with yellow stakes and played as a hazard. We just played it as rough!
Lee Trevino would have loved The Waller. “Play the ball as it lies and hole all your putts,” he always said.
Fort Hays Country Club was built on the hill top battle grounds of the old Fort Hays. In 1866, one year after the end of the Civil War, Fort Hays was established as an outpost to protect the growing river of European settlers who staked claim to their homestead. Thousands of railroad workers quickly followed as they tamed the prairie wilderness. With Denver as a target, the railroad workmen left a trail of twin steel rails that carried civilization through, the pissed off Native American, Cheyenne and Arapaho homeland. Before the railroad brought the White Man, this vast North American grazing land was home to more than 50,000,000 American Bison, “Buffalo”.
The buffalo, like all hairy mammals, are in a constant battle with ticks, fleas and other varmints that made a home in their thick fur. After the infrequent rains on the arid grasslands, water collected in low spots on the prairie. Rolling in the muddy water covered the buffalo with mud that soothed the itching. Each time the hairy beast left the damp wallow hole they took some of the dirt with them; enlarging and deepening the water collection area of the wallow. As the water evaporated, the wallows became dust filled pockets that left a pock-marked pattern on the prairie. Once the rocky dirt below the native sod was exposed, the buffalo would repeatedly use the same areas. Over hundreds of years and thousands of buffalo rolling in the mud and dustings, a “Buffalo Waller,” could become quite large and deep.
When FHCC was designed the routing placed “The Waller” directly in front of the third green. Irrigation was non-existent on the buffalo grass fairways and the sides of “The Waller” were too steep and irregular to mow with a gang-mower pulled by a tractor. “The Waller” was a, constantly changing truly natural hazard, nightmare for golfers who went for the green in two and failed. A ball in “The Waller” meant a bogie or worse. Without “The Waller,” the third hole, slightly up-hill playing at 390 yards, would not have been more difficult that the average par 4 hole. But with the bowl shaped pit, 25 yards in diameter and 10 feet deep, eating any approach shot not perfectly struck, the third became the toughest on the course. “The Waller” was the dominate feature on the most talked about hole in western Kansas.