From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:
McPherson Country Club is a Perry Maxwell design a half hour north of Hutchinson, Kan., home of famed Prairie Dunes Country Club, another Maxwell course. Both first opened in 1937. Since Prairie Dunes was originally a nine-hole course (Perry's son Press added nine more in 1957), it's a pretty good hunch that Perry worked on both projects at the same time.
But that's where the similarity ends. Prairie Dunes was shaped from rolling sand dunes. McPherson Country Club, six miles north of the town of McPherson, sits in a narrow tree-lined valley formed by a creek that flows into the Smoky Hill River. McPherson looks more akin to Tulsa's Southern Hills (another terrific Perry Maxwell design, completed in 1936), and indeed fairways like the second and fifth look very much like Southern Hills’ fairways, with wide drainage swales cut diagonally across them to move water into stream beds.
This is a charming little nine-hole course, made especially memorable by a set of tiny, mostly canted greens and an alternate set of tees that makes each hole play much different on the second trip around. The 137-yard third, for instance, plays uphill over a row of old maples to a hilltop green that's mostly blind, except for a bunker on its right flank. On the back nine, it becomes the 187-yard 12th, played from a tee well to the right of the other one. It's still uphill, but this time over the bunker instead of trees. The green, by the way, looks like a sombrero with the front rim cut off. Two thirds of the green is a dome, dropping off to a lower shelf in the back.
It's like that on every hole, and most times, the alternate tee demands a shot over one or more trees.
This is not a Maxwell championship design. It's just 5,781 yards, par 69 for the round, but it's the tightest little course in the whole state of Kansas. And the greens are ornery, pitched to degrees that most architects today would refuse to build.
If you're a Perry Maxwell fan, McPherson Country Club (which offers outside play, but doesn't advertise it) is worth your time. But this is not pure Perry Maxwell. While local newspaper clippings confirm that Perry did indeed lay out the course in 1936 (until I gave them a photocopy, club officials weren't really sure who'd done their course), Wichita sportswriter Mal Elliott made the discovery of other newspaper articles proving McPherson was a sand greens course from the time it opened until 1948.
I found that surprising, since Maxwell first developed his reputation in the 1920s converting a bunch of Midwestern sand greens to grass. Elliott tracked down the daughter of former McPherson club pro Jerry Jackson (who'd laid out several small-town courses in Kansas). She provided proof that her father converted MacPherson's greens from sand to bentgrass in 1947.
I'm personally convinced that Jackson also created the present eighth hole. There's no way a sand green could have sat on the steep sidehill where the present eighth green is. What's more, there's a wide open field between the eighth hole and the parallel second, a field as wide as a fairway. I'm betting that at the south end of that field are the remnants of an old Perry Maxwell sand green, and that somebody (probably Jackson) shifted the entire hole to the east, pulling the fairway down onto a sideslope that slants toward the creek.
Nor did Perry Maxwell do the alternate set of tees. During a second visit to the club, I met with several members who told me the second set of tees was added in 1982 by Terry and Kenny Malm, golf course contractors who happen to be members themselves. They also rebuilt a couple of the greens at that time, and added the four bunkers that exist on the course.
So McPherson Country Club is not solely Maxwell, although it does have a great Maxwell routing that makes fine use of a narrow rectangle of land carved out by a stream. It may not have a pure pedigree, but it's a hell of a lot of fun to play.