Long story short.
Therein lies the gist of Jeff Burey’s pitch to ease youngsters into the game and to provide golf with a possible answer to a dilemma that is very real. And should you be skeptical about a set of six holes that are each about 30 yards in length with cups that are 6 inches in diameter (1.75 inches wider than the regulation cup), let us turn to an esteemed member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Ben Crenshaw has told the story countless times, how when he first went to Harvey Penick, the legendary instructor gave him a 7-iron and a blade putter. “You chip this ball up on green,” said Penick, “then you putt it in the hole and you’re playing golf. That’s golf.”
A nod of the head from another corner of the World Golf Hall of Fame. “It’s a very profound lesson,” said Tom Watson. “It is playing golf in the truest sense of the game.”
When icons named Watson and Crenshaw are supportive of Burey’s pet project he calls “Wee Links,” then there is considerable reason to think that it is a better entry point than putting young children on a tee and telling them that five or six shots should get them near the green – just beware bunkers and water.
“ ‘Wee Links’ has all the emotions you expect in golf, but on a smaller scale,” said Burey. “But you want young children to get the ball in the hole with the lowest score possible,” and to accentuate that point, Burey talks of a scene that unfolded in front him and his friend, the renowned eight-time major winner.
They were at the Twin Oaks Golf Complex in Eudora, Kan., where Burey owns a Par 3 Course, a driving range, and a “Wee Links.” Watson spoke with some youngsters who were trying to do as Penick had suggested to Crenshaw decades earlier – chip it up, putt it in – and when one of the kids did just that, there was great joy. “Jeff,” said Watson, pointing to the youngster, “he’ll never forget that.”
Each man, in his own way, is a legend in golf. Watson globally, of course, but in Kansas circles, and especially in Johnson County where they both live, they surely don’t need introductions. Just a few weeks ago, Burey was inducted into the Kansas Golf Hall of Fame, a lifetime member of the PGA who has forged an impressive trail.
A native of Norwalk, Conn., Burey has worked at an impressive array of clubs – Wee Burn in Darien, Conn.; John’s Island Club in Vero Beach, Fla.; a quaint little place in the North Carolina called Pinehurst; then a pair of gems in Kansas – Wolf Creek and Prairie Dunes.
To rattle off those names is to understand how Burey came up with the title of a book he decided to write. “Blessed! Stories in the Life of a Golf Professional” is a tribute to the memories and the mentors – Mike Krak at Wee Burn, Lou Miller at John’s Island, and Jay Overton at Pinehurst.
When retirement beckoned, Burey felt the burning desire to stay involved. There was his involvement in SNAG – “Starting New At Golf” – where 300,000 young school students had it as part of their physical education curriculum. When he took over Twin Oaks and worked with David Axland – an acclaimed shaper with Coore & Crenshaw – to do a “Wee Links,” it was as if Burey, now 73, was rejuvenated.
“I’m so motivated because this is exciting,” said Burey, who added that another “Wee Links” is coming to Heritage Park GC in Johnson County “and we have hopes of building 11 of them in the Kansas City area.”
Not to digress, but if there is anyone who can appreciate the greatness in small packages, it is Burey. As a member of the Norwalk (Conn.) High School state basketball championship team in 1966 he got to watch game-after-game a 5-foot-9-inch phenomenon, teammate Calvin Murphy, who averaged 40.1 ppg that season.
Hoops aside, “I always knew that I was going to have a career in golf,” said Burey, who has had a brilliant one. Being head professional at Pinehurst when he was just 27 years old rates as a notable achievement, certainly, but what defines him is the enthusiasm with which he is tackling this latest project.
“But he’s always been that way,” said Watson. “He’s always been passionate.”
To explain the vision of “Wee Links,” Burey tells people what it’s not. “It’s not pitch ‘n putt, it’s not mini-golf, it’s not an executive course. It’s ‘Wee Links.’ ”
There is no trademark for the name – there are other facilities in the country called Wee Links – but Burey’s brand has six holes, each with “fairways” and “rough” leading to a double green.
Twin Oaks is a total of 152 yards, so holes are an average of 25 yards and the idea is as simple as simple can get. Pitch your shot onto the green, then putt. Cups are larger, flagsticks are 5 feet, “there are no hazards, no bunkers,” said Burey, “but it allows kids to do what Tom (Watson) says is important. ‘Let them play golf, not hit golf balls.’ ”
Burey, backed by Watson, has done a wonderful job pitching the simplicity of the idea to clubs in the Kansas City area. “We only need one acre, maybe an acre-and-a-quarter and it can be built for about $38,000, especially when there’s already irrigation,” said Burey, who is encouraged that clubs see this as an amenity for members and golfers.
Because remember, this vision is for 5- and 6- and 7-year-old kids. It’s not daunting. It’s the voice of Harvey Penick telling Ben Crenshaw: “You chip this ball up on green, then you putt it in the hole and you’re playing golf. That’s golf.”
Simple stuff that has been forgotten by so many in the game. But fortunately, not by Burey.