Perhaps best known for the trademark dinosaur that greets guests at the entrance, Sports Center is a 54-acre family entertainment center located at 6545 SW 10th Avenue in Topeka since 1972.
A tradition of the Topeka family, the company has undergone many transformations over its 50-year history and recently changed ownership.
Brothers Scott, Kurt, Brad and Brian Walker bought the sports center almost a year ago in May 2021 from previous owners, Stan and Sheryl Swanson.
“We 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 create a more tropical amusement park vibe.”
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Walker said that while Kansas City residents have many options close to home, Topekans are currently required to travel out of town if they want to enjoy a modernized golf experience, and the Walkers would like to see that change. .
The sports center expands its offerings
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 arcade offerings. The Walkers recently applied for and obtained a liquor license to allow them to begin selling a variety of beer options, including products from the Boulevard Brewing Company, and are in the process of adding a slush machine before the ‘summer.
Guests at the sports center can find putter golf, Gooney golf, nine batting cages, a driving range, and go-karts. The go-karts are currently only open on weekends and when school is closed due to the laborious process of daily inspection and maintenance to ensure they are ready to drive. All other activities are open during normal business hours. Hours depend on season and weather.
The goal is to have fun as a family at a lower cost
As an affordable option for families in the area, the current price for go-karts or 18-hole putter golf courses is $9 per person. A small bucket of balls for use at the driving range costs $5, with medium and large buckets $9 and $14 respectively. The sports center continues to offer birthday party options as well as work, large group and school events to the community.
Walker said he and his brothers have added several water features around the park, with possible plans for a wading pool near the batting cages to help kids cool off in the hot summer months. He also said the batting cages recently received a much-needed upgrade.
“It’s a whole new system,” he said. “One of the new machines lets you 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 working hours. There are also plans for an additional restroom towards the west end of the property to make the facilities more accessible from the driving range, clubhouse, karts and batting cages.
“It seemed like people had forgotten about him”
Walker said one of the reasons he and his brothers were drawn to the idea of owning a 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 exceeded the revenue it provided. It has remained unused and overgrown since that time.
“There hasn’t been much here in the last 15 years, so it seems like people have forgotten about it,” Kurt said.
He and his brothers, along with their cousin Casey Travis, cleared the undergrowth and uncovered the old markers to make the old golf course functional again. Walker said part of the cleanup included fixing overflow issues with the pond that is on the course.
In the process, they came across what is believed to be one of the original signs of when the company was invented Sports Center.
“We want to bring the golf course back with a different golf experience. We want there to be a different vibe and a fun atmosphere,” he said.
“Famous holes around the world”
Part of this plan includes installing turf, as well as providing night golf options since the course already has outdoor lighting via existing poles. Although the design of the new course is still in the planning stages, Walker said he and his brothers considered centering it around the theme “Famous Holes Around the World”.
This would allow Topeka golfers to play replicas of famous golf holes from all over, including a replica of Augusta’s 155-yard par 3 hole 12, which is perhaps the most famous hole in all of golf , or the Island Green, a 132-yard par-3 hole surrounded by water on three sides and located at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.
PGA golfer Jim Colbert opened the first site
Their vision also includes an elevated bar near the driving range where patrons can enjoy a drink while hitting golf balls. There have even been talks of adding a restaurant to the property at some point in the future.
2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the sports center opening as Jim Colbert’s Golf Center. Duane Dale has been the facilities manager since 1977 and remembers the company’s history almost from its inception.
The house that stands on the property was once the original clubhouse where first owner and PGA golfer Jim Colbert lived. Colbert only operated the center for just over two years before selling it to Dean Rabe in 1976. By then it had not been operational for some time.
Rabe basically started from scratch to rebuild and add to existing facilities, including adding a small pavilion. He restored the 9-hole par 3 golf course and hired Dale as the golf course superintendent.
A student of horticulture at Kansas State University at the time, Dale’s father knew Dean Rabe and got him the job. Dale was responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the golf course and grounds, a position he has held for 45 years now.
“I majored in horticulture, so I loved tending to the golf course,” Dale said. “The maintenance of golf greens requires a high level of skill.”
The addition of a putter golf course and a larger 30 square foot by 30 square foot clubhouse came in 1980, with the putter golf course expanding to another 18 holes in 1981. The clubhouse Current -house opened in August 1990 and Rabe sold the business three years ago. later in 1993 to his daughter and son-in-law, Stan and Sheryl Swanson. Dale said he has seen a lot of change in 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 too. It was great 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 around the back of the property where they could select a tree and have it cut, bagged, hauled and loaded onto their vehicle for the bring home for the season. .
In the summer, the sports center held a junior golf program for children, hosting up to four camps per summer with around 60 children per session, which Walker said he hopes to be able to offer again. The company also hosted physical education programs and golf teams at local high schools, as well as youth programs through Topeka Parks and Recreation.
“We’re on the third generation,” Dale said. “People will come here and say, ‘I played here as a kid, and now I’m here with my grandkids. “”
It’s also not uncommon for couples to tell Dale that they celebrate their wedding anniversary at the Sports Center because it was the location of their first date.
“I love what I do. Every day is different. It’s never the same.
Walker said the sports center hasn’t been plagued by the staffing shortages that many companies have faced in recent years, and he attributes that to being a good working environment. .
“We usually have a good group of guys,” he said. “It’s fun to work here and everyone is happy. They come to work here, then their friends want to work here too.
Walker said the sports center plans to hold events throughout the year to celebrate 50 years in business.
In addition to food truck appearances and promotions, event information can be found by calling the Sports Center at (785) 272-5522, visiting its Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Sports -Center-Family-Fun-Center -146340556791/ or by going to the company’s website, https://sportscentertopeka.com/.
“We want this to be the place to be and get your whole family out and make it fun for kids and adults alike,” Walker said.