By Kevin Haskin
MAYETTA — Among many PGA players, any signature to a golf course is applied cosmetically to an entrance sign, or a scorecard, or a picture in the clubhouse.
But the autograph Notah Begay lended to his first project, Firekeeper Golf Course, came with input, and even authorization, for the design concepts incorporated on virtually every inch of the 240-acre tract.
For that, course architect Jeff Brauer was truly grateful. Brauer, who is based out of Dallas, also designed two other public courses considered to be among the best in Kansas, Colbert Hills in Manhattan and Sand Creek Station in Newton.
“I’m sure he could have got to Stanford without the golf scholarship,’’ Brauer said of Begay. “He’s real smart, very articulate. Some of the pros I worked with never showed up.
“Notah was there several times before the interview, several times during, plus we sat down in Dallas to go over the plans. He understands plans, he understands the appeal and he’s given it a lot of thought.’’
Other pros who do attempt to lend their expertise sometimes cannot detail their intentions.
Not so with Begay. Whether he was plotting holes from the tips (7,445 yards), or the forward tees (4,705 yards), Begay shaped shot values in his head and expressed them as Brauer sketched the holes.
“Some of the pros, I think I know what they’re getting at, but they do it intuitively and can’t describe it,’’ Brauer said. “Notah provided a very big contribution, a lot more than what the general public thinks of the average signature design when they show up at grand openings. He was out there a lot.’’
The grand opening for Firekeeper is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Sunday with a presentation from representatives of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. A nine-hole charity scramble will follow. Begay will team with Kansas basketball coach Bill Self against North Carolina coach Roy Williams and the head pro at Firekeeper, Randy Towner.
Brauer will be among those in attendance. He hopes to get in a couple of rounds upon his return, realizing that on occasion those outings can be bittersweet.
“Believe it or not, I can usually go out and enjoy the day and just play it as a golfer,’’ he said. “I’m sure I’ll go back with Notah and maybe do the post-mortem, and when you really start looking at stuff, you’re never satisfied.
“Any course we’ve ever done, you can look at it and realize there’s things you could have changed. But I will not do that on Sunday.’’
In spite of any imperfections Brauer wishes he could use a mulligan to fix, he is confident Firekeeper will receive rave reviews.
The course was carved out of three zones — prairie, lightly wooded and heavily wooded. Most will consider the wooded areas to be the more appealing design. But Brauer notes that Begay’s favorite hole is No. 4, which is part of the prairie landscape that comprises the opening third of the course.
The project came in roughly $1 million under budget, which reflected the desires of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation to retain the natural beauty of the land.
“There’s a lot of golf courses that are going bankrupt that had too much money spent on them,’’ Brauer said. “That’s not the tribe’s style. They told us from the beginning they wanted the land to shine and not move too much earth. And we didn’t. They didn’t want the glitz of Vegas. They wanted it more like downhome Kansas. We were consciously trying for keeping it low key.’’
Maybe that description fits Begay’s game. The four-time PGA Tour winner is not a bomber. But he knows how to set up shots and offered that expertise on the design, while recognizing land contours and prevailing winds.
The advice Begay offered, Brauer said, resembled an informative clinic.
“He was really a great teacher, because he is a guy who really plans the shots,’’ Brauer said. “It’s a level of detail that, frankly, average golfers and even above-average golfers, don’t get.’’
Average golfers, however, understand what makes the sport enjoyable.
“Now, we’re all so far behind (touring pros) it’s like, ‘Let’s go down to where I can shoot a 9-iron in like they do.’ We move up, realizing that long golf is not fun golf,’’ said Brauer, who, in his late 50s, has gone through the tee box transitioning.
“Sometimes you have courses that are designed from the back tees and no one’s going to show up and play from there. So we put a lot of emphasis in all the sets of tees, and from where those people like to play golf.’’
Still, Begay can invite high-level players to join him at Firekeeper. Even his Stanford teammates.
“Not that we ignored Notah,’’ Brauer said. “He says he’s going to bring his buddies out here to play, Tiger and the rest.’’