American Indian PGA golfer will ‘talk to the land’

By Carl Manning
Mayetta, Kansas (AP) 6-09

Notah Begay Photo by Kimberlie Acosta

Notah Begay III, the only American Indian golfer on the PGA tour, is tapping his roots as he builds an $8.5 million course on a reservation in Kansas: He said the tribal land must be asked “what it wants you to do.”

The 18-hole Firekeeper Golf Course – Begay’s first signature course – will cover 240 acres near the Prairie Band Potawatomi Casino and Resort on a reservation near Mayetta. Named for the Prairie Band, known as the “keepers of the sacred fire,” Begay said the course should be ready to open next summer.

Begay, a member of the Navajo Nation, said the needs of the land come first.

“You say a prayer, talk to the land and ask it what it wants you to do,” he Monday said in announcing the project. “We incorporate into it the natural design of the land. We didn’t want to add things that weren’t naturally there or needed.”

Begay said the par 72 course will employ about 30 people and will include a club house, driving range and practice green.

Golf course architect Jeffrey Brauer, who is working on the course with Begay, said the project will move about 80,000 cubic yards of dirt, most of it from areas for three holes.

By comparison, he said the median amount of dirt moved to build a traditional golf course in 250,000 cubic yards and in some cases up to 1 million cubic yards.

He said the course will use the original land features such as the rolling hills, native grasses and vegetation, wind direction and rock formations.


Although this is the first golf course to carry Begay’s name, it’s not the first his Dallas-based consulting company helped design for an American Indian tribe. Begay said he’s been working on a golf course for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation in Cherokee, N.C., that will open in August.

Begay said there are some 75 tribal golf courses, mainly connected to casinos in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

Steve Ortiz, Prairie Band tribal council chairman, said the council first considered the golf course six years ago but decided to first build a health clinic on the reservation about 15 miles north of Topeka.

Efforts also are under way to construct a state-owned casino in Wyandotte County and another in Sumner County, both areas where the Prairie Band casino draws its customers. There are three other tribal casinos in northeast Kansas and four casino riverboats in nearby Kansas City, Mo.

“We’re trying to show Kansas that we’re a premier world class resort. It’s a leg up on the competition and will make it the first true destination resort casino,” Ortiz, the tribal chairman, said. “We’re offering something the others don’t have.”

The project also will be an economic boost to the area and draw more visitors to northeast Kansas, said Douglas Kinsinger, Topeka Chamber of Commerce president.

The casino has 1,100 slot machines, 35 table games and a 300-room hotel along with restaurants and bars. It opened in 1998 with Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., as the manager, but the tribal council took over the casino operation in 2007.

The casino doesn’t release figures on how much money it makes, but Ortiz said it’s operating about 10 percent above expectations.

“We’re grateful to be maintaining our market position in the current economic situation,” he said.

On the Net:
Prairie Band Potawatomi