Story by Megan Whitehead | Jun 28, 2016

The Ken Lanning Golf Center is now open at Turkey Creek for children, individuals with disabilities, and veterans.

by Tom Loeffler
photos by Rufus Harmon

DSC_0301Call this a great venture for an even better cause. This, indeed, is something special for some very special people – the Ken Lanning Golf Center, designed specifically for children, individuals with disabilities, and veterans, made its debut at Turkey Creek in April and is already receiving rave reviews.

“This golf course is going to touch a lot of lives,” says Scott Hovis, executive director of the Missouri Golf Association and the driving force behind the course. “It’s going to give people the opportunity to play golf who’ve never had the opportunity before. It’s a chance for them to learn a life sport, and it’s something families can go out and enjoy as well.”

To be sure, this is a lot more than just a golf course. “The thing I like most about it is that it opens up the ability level and is accessible to those people who want to play golf and do something that is really family-oriented,” Missouri Special Olympics regional program director Diane Brimer says. “When things can be adapted so they can do it together, it really makes them feel like they’re a part of something.”

The course features small lakes stocked with fish that are easily accessed as well. “That’s another huge activity that a lot of our local families like to do together,” Brimer says. “Fishing has always been a bit of a challenge for them, but this will be another great opportunity for a family outing.”

There are no less than 21 sports offered for Special Olympians in Missouri, everything from basketball to alpine skiing to volleyball to horse riding. In central Missouri, there are more than 2,800 of these athletes, and more than 15,000 statewide. “We’re consistently growing, which is always a good thing,” Brimer says. “It’s so great to find locations like this in our area, if nothing else for them to come  and try a sport and get a taste of it.”

This nine-hole, par-3 course is handicapped-accessible, with ramps where needed for easy entrance to tees and greens. There are cart paths around the entire course for carts and wheelchairs – both can be taken onto the greens – and will be free of charge to those who qualify.

The course measures 833 yards from the back tees, with holes ranging from 77 to 137 yards. The course’s tees and greens are field turf, the same turf used on most football fields these days. But instead of long grass with a rubber base, like you see at Faurot Field, this is  short grass with a sand base.

DSC_0261“They play exactly like greens,” Hovis says. “They’re amazing. It will take a shot coming in and stop. They’re very receptive. A good, quality shot will even have backspin.”

If this concept sounds unique, you’re right. It’s not only the first of its kind in Missouri (Springfield has a three-hole course like this), it’s the only one like it in the nation, Hovis says. “I don’t know of another nine-hole course like this,” he says. “It’s going to be special.”

When not being used for tournaments or other special events, the new nine, which is located on the northeast portion of the property, will be open to the public and have a minimal fee to play. “This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time – five or six years,” Hovis says. “I think it’s a perfect fit to what Turkey Creek already has.”

Ken Lanning was a significant player on the Missouri golf scene for decades. He was a member of the MGA Board of Directors for 31 years, and his impact on junior golf in the state was second to none. The Rolla native passed away in 2014 at the age of 90. “He was Mr. Junior Golf in Missouri. He’s the reason junior golf is where it is today,” Hovis says. “He was just an amazing man who had a big heart. He taught a lot of us how to play.”

The Lanning Golf Center will be owned by the Missouri Junior Golf Foundation, which is part of the MGA. They’ve agreed on a 99-year lease with Turkey Creek owner Dan Baumgartner. “Without Danny letting us move our offices out there in the first place, then with him seeing how great this is going to be down the road, we couldn’t have done it without him.”

Cost of the lease? Only $1 a year. “We’re very excited about it,” Baumgartner says. “There are a lot of businesses who are starting to find out about it, and they’re getting very excited about it too.”

To be sure, this should be an economic boom for Jefferson City and the surrounding area. Because of the unique nature of this handicapped-accessible layout, state events, such as the Missouri Special Olympics and Wounded Warrior tournaments, have already signed up.  It could very well draw national interest as well.