by Mark Janssen
Colbert Hills Photo Gallery | Indoor Practice Facility Photo Gallery
MANHATTAN, Kan. - It was April 30, 2000, that golfing celebrities Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd, Annika Sorenstam and Deb Richard joined their host, K-Stater Jim Colbert, for the opening drives, chips and putts on the Colbert Hills Golf Course.
Now 10 years later, the facility is recognized as Kansas' premier public golf layout by Golf Digest, while Golf & Leisure and Maximum Golf have recognized Colbert Hills as one of the top 100 golf values in the United States.
For the last decade, all that was missing at the course has been a clubhouse that would match the pristine beauty of the 7,525-yard golfing design that meanders through 315 acres of flowing Flint Hills landscape on the northwest edge of Manhattan.
That all changed in 2010 when a stylish $5.5 million facility was dedicated to complete Colbert's "world class golf course" vision.
"It's humbling to have my name on a course like this," said Colbert, who personally designed the layout of the $11 million golf facility. "It was a golf course designer's dream because the (Jack) Vanier family said, 'Here's 1,000 acres of freedom. Go design your golf course.' That's unheard of in the golfing industry. There were 14 holes that any decent golfer could identify, so the challenge was to fit in the other four holes within the design so people wouldn't know which four they were."
While the course carries his name, Colbert emphasizes, "This is not my course. It's the golf course of the university and it's a public course to any golfer who would like to play it. There's a perception that the course is private, but it's not private at all."
Roughly 250,000 rounds have been played on the championship course in the last 10 years, plus another 50,000 on the Par 3 Course. Colbert Hills has hosted over 800 golf outings in the last decade.
Ten years ago, and today, the signature hole of Colbert Hills is the 600-yard No. 7 that includes a 90-foot drop from tee to fairway with white premium sand bunkers decorating the stretch of green zoysia fairways all the way to, and including, the greens.
Each hole has a five-tee option that begins the challenge of arriving at the bent grass mega-greens that average 10,000 square feet.
If one notices, Colbert says, "This course was built taking into account the windy conditions that we frequently have in Kansas. We made it so you don't have to play over bunkers to get to the greens. You can bounce the ball onto the greens."
Colbert adds that the fairways are "generous" and the roughs are "... not that high unless you spray the ball into the native grass areas.
"It's hard, but it's fair, and a course that any level of golfer can enjoy," said Colbert. "You can play it from 7,600 yards, or from 5,200. What we want our customers to do is pick a comfortable distance for them to really enjoy the golf experience."
And that includes the 69-year-old Colbert, himself, who chuckles as he says, "I used to play from the Black and Blue's, but now I've lost my pride and moved up to the Silvers. You want to play from a distance where you think you can reach those Par 4s in two shots. That's the game you see on TV."
While one thinks of Kansas being a land of flatness, Colbert says that on each nine-hole layout there is an elevation change of at least 125 feet.
While adding the 13,400 square foot clubhouse, plus the 2,000 square feet of outdoor patio space, is the final piece to Colbert's golfing masterpiece, he has had to backtrack to rebuild the 106 bunkers and fill each with premium white sand.
During the construction of the course, Colbert says he continued tinkering with changes that all cost extra money. Due to that, cost cutting measures were taken on the bunkers that are now in the process of being lined and the river sand replaced with the best sand known to the golfing world at a cost of nearly $1 million.
Over the last 10 years, Colbert Hills has hosted the 2003 NCAA Men's Central Regional, the 2002 Big 12 Women's Championships and the Kansas Amateur Championships.
While proud of the course, Colbert is also quick to recognize that the facility is a "living laboratory." It is Audubon Silver Signature certified, a K-State teaching and turf research facility, the first PGA Tour Collegiate Licensed Golf Course and the host to the National First Tee Academy.
"The First Tee program is really important and the program developed at Kansas State is one being used nation-wide, and even internationally," Colbert said. "The K-State staff was very instrumental in developing the nine power points used in the program."
Those points are: integrity, confidence, responsibility, trust, respect, courtesy, equity, accountability and the edge to compete in life and golf.
"In no way does it seem like we opened the course 10 years ago, but it truly is a course that I have tremendous pride in," said Colbert.
New Clubhouse Opened in 2010
Clubhouse Dedication Photo Gallery
The limestone accented 13,400 square foot clubhouse facility, plus 2,000 square feet of outdoor patio space, that matches the prestige of the Colbert Hills Golf Course, ranked No. 1 in Kansas.
"This clubhouse is just a magnificent addition for our student-athletes and our coaches," said K-State athletics director John Currie. "I believe it gives us as fine of an intercollegiate golf facility as there is in the county in terms of quality, proximity to campus and our airport. It's just as good of a setup as anyone in the country."
"The limestone look continues the trend that's been established on campus," said Ernie Barrett of the clubhouse. "It's a wonderful addition to K-State, but also the city of Manhattan. It should help in drawing some outstanding talent to our golf programs, and bring significant tournaments to the community."
The clubhouse includes a dining facility for 222 called "Colberts," plus a "Founders" room, which seats up to 40 for a more private dining setting.
The pro shop has doubled in size, plus offices house David Gourlay's staff, plus the men's and women's golf coaches, and there are locker rooms for both programs.
In addition, trophy cases in the entrance proudly proclaim the successes for the Wildcat golf program, and Colbert's professional career, which includes 28 total titles earned on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour.
"It completes the dream," said the 69-year-old Colbert of the clubhouse. "It's been 10 years in coming, but the wait is definitely worth it. It's just a beautiful facility."
In addition, an 1,800 square foot artificial putting green has been added between the clubhouse and the first tee of the Par 3 course.
"That is going to be a huge benefit for our programs," said men's coach Tim Norris. "It will be an area that we can use during the winter to help us get ready for the fast greens that we see early in the spring with some of the tournaments we attend in the south."
Overall, Norris added of the facility, "It's just a huge step for our program in attracting better golfers and being able to host not only collegiate tournaments, but also amateur and junior tournaments. It just completes our package here."
Women's coach Kristi Knight called it a "first-class facility ... just like the golf course. It's really a facility that the entire community will be able to use and take great pride in."