Perhaps best known for the signature dinosaur that greets guests at the entrance, Sports Center is a 54-acre family entertainment center that has been located at 6545 SW 10th Avenue in Topeka since 1972.
A Topeka family tradition, the business has undergone many transformations over its 50-year history and recently changed ownership.
Brothers Scott, Kurt, Brad and Brian Walker purchased Sports Center nearly a year ago in May 2021 from previous owners Stan and Sheryl Swanson.
“We’ve always wanted to do something together, us four brothers,” said Kurt Walker. “There’s not much to do outdoors in Topeka, so we wanted to bring a more tropical, amusement park feel.”
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Walker said that while Kansas City residents have many options close to home, Topekans are now required to travel outside the city for a modernized golf experience, and the Walkers would like to see that change.
Sports center expanding offer
Renovations have already begun on the 2,700-square-foot clubhouse, which includes a snack bar, indoor seating areas and a game room, with plans to update current gaming offerings. The Walkers recently applied for and received a liquor license that allows them to begin selling a variety of beer options, including Boulevard Brewing Company products, and are in the process of adding a slushie machine before the summer.
Sports Center patrons can find putter golf, Gooney golf, nine batting cages, a driving range and go-carts. The karts are currently only open on weekends and when there is no school due to the laborious process of daily inspection and maintenance to get them ready to drive. All other activities are open during regular business hours. Hours depend on season and weather.
Low-Cost Outdoor Family Fun Is the Goal
As an affordable option for families in the area, go-karts or 18-hole golf are currently $9 per person. A small bucket of balls to use on the driving range costs $5, with medium and large buckets $9 and $14 respectively. Sports Center continues to offer birthday party options as well as work, large group and school events for the community.
Walker said he and his brothers have added several water fountains around the park, with possible plans for a splash pad near the batting cages to help kids cool off during the hot summer months. He also said the batting cages recently received a much-needed upgrade.
“It’s a completely new system,” he said. “One of the new machines allows you to hit baseballs or softballs and choose the speed.”
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The existing covered pavilion, which can accommodate large groups of people, will soon see the addition of wall-mounted televisions, allowing sporting events to be broadcast during business hours. There are also plans for additional restrooms toward the west end of the property to make the facility more accessible from the driving range, pavilion, go-karts and batting cages.
“It seemed that people had forgotten about that”
Walker said one of the reasons he and his brothers were drawn to the idea of owning the Sports Center was because the four of them played multiple sports growing up. Kurt and Brian played golf.
The former Sports Center golf course closed 15 years ago due to rising maintenance costs that outstripped the revenue it generated. It has been sitting unused and overgrown ever since.
“There hasn’t been much here in the last 15 years, so it seemed like people had forgotten about it,” Kurt said.
He and his brothers, along with their cousin Casey Travis, have been clearing out brush and uncovering old markers to get the old golf course back up and running. Walker said part of the cleanup included fixing overflow problems with the pond that is on the course.
In the process, they came across what is believed to be one of the original signs from when the business was coined the Sports Center.
“We want to bring back the golf course with a different golf experience. We want it to have a different vibe and a fun vibe,” she said.
‘Famous holes around the world’
Part of that plan includes the installation of turf, as well as offering night golf options as the course already has exterior lighting through existing poles. While the design for the new course is still in the planning stages, Walker said he and his siblings have considered centering it around the “Famous Holes Around the World” theme.
This would allow Topeka golfers to play replicas of famous golf holes from far and wide, including a replica of Augusta’s 12th Hole, a 155-yard par 3, which is arguably the most famous hole in all of golf, or the Island Green. , a 132-yard par 3 hole surrounded on three sides by water and located at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.
PGA golfer Jim Colbert first opened the site
His vision also includes a raised bar near the driving range where guests can sip drinks while hitting some golf balls. There have even been talks about adding a restaurant to the property at some point in the future.
2022 marks 50 years since the Sports Center first opened as Jim Colbert’s Golf Center. Duane Dale has been a facilities manager since 1977 and remembers the history of the business almost from its inception.
The house on the property was once the original clubhouse where the first owner and PGA golfer, Jim Colbert, lived. Colbert only operated the center for a little over two years before selling it to Dean Rabe in 1976. At the time, it hadn’t been operational for quite some time.
Rabe essentially started from scratch to rebuild and expand the existing facility, including the addition of a small clubhouse. He restored the 9 hole par 3 golf course and hired Dale as his golf course superintendent.
Dale’s father, a horticulture student at Kansas State University at the time, knew Dean Rabe and got him the job. Dale was responsible for the care and maintenance of the golf course and grounds, a position he has held for 45 years.
“I majored in horticulture, so I liked taking care of the golf course,” Dale said. “Taking care of golf greens requires a high level of skill.”
The addition of a putter golf course and larger 30-by-30-square-foot clubhouse came in 1980, and the putter golf course was expanded again by 18 holes in 1981. The current clubhouse opened in August 1990 and Rabe sold the business three years. later in 1993 to his daughter and son-in-law, Stan and Sheryl Swanson. Dale said that he has seen a lot of change during his 45 years in the business.
“We had a golf course and then a Christmas tree farm for 25 years with 14,000 Christmas trees,” he said. “Dean was trying to find a way to keep me busy in the winter, but he didn’t realize how much work it was in the summer as well. It was a lot of fun, but we didn’t make a lot of money doing it.”
‘It’s fun to work here’
The tree farm became a family tradition for many Topeka families who would take a wagon ride to the back of the property where they could select a tree and cut it down, bag it, haul it, and load it into their vehicle to take home for the season. season. .
In the summer, Sports Center ran a youth golf program for kids, hosting up to four camps a summer with about 60 kids per session, something Walker said they eventually hope to offer again. The company also housed local high school physical education programs and golf teams, as well as youth programs through Topeka Parks and Recreation.
“We’re in the third generation,” Dale said. “People will come here and say, ‘I played here as a kid and now I’m here with my grandchildren.'”
It’s also not unusual for couples to tell Dale they’re celebrating their wedding anniversary at the Sports Center because it was the location of their first date.
“I enjoy what I do. Every day is different. It’s never the same.”
Walker said Sports Center hasn’t been affected by the staffing shortages that many companies have faced in recent years, and he attributes that to its being a good environment to work.
“Usually we have a pretty good group of guys,” he said. “It’s fun to work here and everyone is happy. They come to work here and then their friends want to work here too.”
Walker said Sports Center plans to hold events throughout the year to celebrate 50 years in business.
Along with food truck appearances and specials, information about the event can be found by calling the Sports Center at (785) 272-5522, visiting their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Sports-Center -Family-Fun-Center -146340556791/ or by visiting the company website, https://sportscentertopeka.com/.
“We want this to be the place to be and bring your whole family, and make it fun for kids and adults,” Walker said.