From farm to fairway

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Now that he’s built it, will they come?

“I hope so,” says former Goessel dairyman Myron Schmidt, who has crafted with his own hands a nine-hole golf course adjacent to the dairy he operated for more than 30 years.

That’s right. A nine-hole golf course.

Hollywood’s baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa corn field has nothing on Schmidt’s Pine Edge Golf Course built over what used to be Marion County wheat ground and pasture grass.

After working on the project as a labor of love for some seven years, Schmidt officially opened the course to the public on Sunday.

And, while the cars aren’t lined up bumper-to-bumper along 130th Street for a mile and a half west to Kansas Highway 15, word of mouth was attracting the curious before Sunday’s opening.

“I’ve had around 60 people on the course in the last two weeks-and that’s just by word of mouth,” Schmidt said.

Unlike the baseball field in Iowa, the inspiration for Pine Edge didn’t come from a mysterious voice out of nowhere.

“I was probably driving a tractor, creating dust around the house,” Schmidt said with a chuckle as he tried to recall the moment the idea crossed his mind.

As he was driving, Schmidt said he was mulling over what to do with a seven-acre piece of rolling ground near the dairy that always flooded out his crop whenever substantive rains fell.

“The thing is, I like to golf and I like to landscape,” he said. “So I decided to do something else with the land-like put it into grass or something. I said, ‘I’m going to put a pond in there at least.’ Then all of a sudden it hit me-why don’t I build a golf course around the pond?”

Inspired, Schmidt said he climbed to the top of his twin 80-foot silos with pad and pencil in hand.

“I drew three different layouts, and after about a year I decided on one of them and told my wife about it,” he said. “She just laughed and said, ‘Oh, sure.'”

That was eight years ago. It took him about a year to settle on the best design. He sold the dairy to a young family at about that time and began to go to work on his new dream.

Except for a few special projects, such as building the huge pond that lies at the heart of the course, Schmidt did all of the work himself-with the help of a few friends along the way.

“You learn as you go,” said Schmidt, who got some instructions for building golf courses from Kansas State, but otherwise plowed ahead based on his own 30-plus years as a recreational golfer-and his inquisitive nature.

“When I was on the dairy board, I’d take in golf courses (at meeting sites around the country) just to see what they were like,” he said. “I got a lot of ideas from them.

“My problem was when I golfed was I always talked to the maintenance people,” he added. “I wanted their ideas. And they were very helpful.”

Schmidt said he didn’t really care what his friends and neighbors thought of his proposal, but he’s been pleased with how supportive they’ve been as the course began to take shape.

“A lot of people drive by, but the response was very positive,” he said. “I was really surprised.”

Schmidt took the name for the course from the row of pines that line one side of the property.

“I guess I wanted a name no one else had,” he said. “You have Pine Ridge, but I haven’t heard of any Pine Edge so far. And I guess the ‘edge’ part is that you’re living on the edge when you’re playing out there.”

Duffers who seek out Pine Edge may be surprised how professionally built-and challenging-the par-30, 1,364-yard course is.

“All of the greens are built basically to PGA (Professional Golf Association) standards,” he said. “They’re built with a drainage system under them and have four inches of pea gravel on top of the drainage pipe. Then there’s two inches of road sand, and then at least 12 inches of fine sand.

“Then you just plant the grass seed into that.”

Schmidt designed Pine Edge as a “short course.” Three holes rate a par 4 while the rest are par 3, and the distances range from 237 yards to 81 yards.

“This course is what I would say is a niche course,” he said. “You don’t find many short courses around. My motto is, ‘Sharpen your wedge at Pine Edge.’ That basically tells you what the course is about.”

Most golfers won’t need to bring their woods along, he said.

“If Tiger Woods would play it, as an example, he’d probably use the pitching wedge and putter all the way around,” Schmidt said with a chuckle.

“But we’re not Tiger Woods. I’ve used all the way from a 4-iron. If you’re a strong hitter, then a 9-iron or pitching wedge will do it-I have quite a few bunkers.”

Though each hole is crafted with obvious care, Schmidt’s favorite is No. 3, a 126-yard beauty which he calls his “signature hole.”

“It’s a drive with nothing but water between the tee-off and the green,” he said. “I love the landscape of it, too, with the two silos in the background.”

Those silos are a constant reminder that the course borders a working dairy operation.

“If the wind’s right, you can even have the flavor of the farm out here,” Schmidt said with a laugh.

Early response has been overwhelming from those who have taken on Pine Edge.

Typical is the comment Schmidt received from Bruce Bradshaw, a member of the Bethel College faculty, who played the course recently with his 12-year-old son.

“This course will challenge the good golfers, but is still tender for the beginner,” Bradshaw said.

Schmidt also appreciated a comment from a Canton golfer who said he had always dreamed of playing the island green at the famous Augusta, Ga., course.

“‘Now,’ he says, ‘I only have to drive 15 miles,” Schmidt said, referring to Hole 3.

From the beginning, Schmidt said he envisioned Pine Edge as a business proposition-but with a lot of personal pleasure as a by-product.

“I basically saw it as my retirement,” he said. “I always said I wanted a course that’s tough enough-and one where I can someday sit on the mower, watch the greens being watered and listen to golfers use bad language.”

Schmidt is charging $7 to play a nine-hole round and $10 for 18 holes, with a cut rate of $3 per nine holes for children up to age 18. Yearly and lifetime memberships are available, as well as discount deals.

“From the very beginning I built this as a business-to be enjoyed by people at as low a cost as I could possibly make it,” he said.

At the same time, Pine Edge is built on a foundation of trust and goodwill. Patrons are asked to pay by the honor system when they check in at the clubhouse.

“I always feel golfers are very trustworthy,” Schmidt said. “If they don’t pay-and have fun-that’s fine. But it’s on their conscience, not mine.”

Schmidt said after seven years of ongoing labor, Pine Edge is certainly playable-but it is not finished.

“I’m always going to be making improvements,” he said. “There’s always things to do. I want to eventually put in a putting green and a driving range.

“But I just need to generate some money now,” he added with a laugh.

While Schmidt hopes Pine Edge will be a self-sustaining business proposition, it’s obvious from the sense of wonder and satisfaction in his voice that Pine Edge is already a success in his heart.

“I always wondered whether God was with me on this,” he said. “But I concluded he was because the year I put in the irrigation system through the winter, we had a dry, warm winter. Then, the next year, when I planted the greens, we had moisture.

“I give God a lot of credit, it all sort of fell into place,” he added.

“I always felt, well, you’ve got to have a lot of faith. I figured if he doesn’t want me to build it, he’ll send a flood when it’s time to put in the irrigation system.”

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