Curtis Yonke was 9 years old when the Colbert Hills Golf Course was established on April 30, 2000. It was named after his grandfather, Jim Colbert, and Yonke, who graduated from Kansas State in 2013, has played on this course more times than he can recall.
On Wednesday, Yonke and another former Wildcat, Kyle Weldon, teed off for the Colbert Hills Charity Classic in its seventh annual event. Yonke finished in a tie for third place at 14-under in 2018, and Weldon placed 10th in 2016 after his senior year at Kansas State, but no Wildcat has ever won the tournament.
Weldon and Yonke look to change that.
“I could see some advantages for them,” Colbert Charity Classic coordinator Bernie Haney said. “Also I could see some pressures for them knowing that being a local, former K-State student-athlete on the golf teams and that we haven’t had a champion that has been a K-Stater yet. I think a lot of them would like to break that mold and be the first K-State champion of the Colbert Charity Classic.”
Yonke, who teed off at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning in the tournament’s first round, used to play the course daily with his grandfather. Colbert, who graduated from Kansas State in 1965 and accumulated eight PGA tour wins over the course of his career, taught Yonke the game.
“He is an awesome teacher, but it was hard because some of the times I didn’t understand what he was trying to teach me,” Yonke said. “He taught pretty old-school, so if he was trying to teach me and I didn’t understand, we both got frustrated. That was probably what was hard about it. When he was teaching me, I used to try and remember every word he said. He used to throw so much information at me that I’d go home and I’d forget. It was probably college or just out of college where I was like, ‘If I can try and remember one thing every day that he teaches me, it will pile up pretty quick.’ That’s when I started to improve a little more so that when I tried to learn everything all at once.”
Familiarity with the course is the ultimate advantage for Yonke and Weldon. Weldon, who had a tee time of 8:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, played at Colbert Hills most recently last August. He’s been a professional for three years now since graduating college, and said his game has seen considerable change.
“I think my game has matured quite a bit,” Weldon said. “I’ve been more able to deal with the ups and downs of the game a lot better. I have a professional mindset, and when you are playing as an amateur or on a college team you are playing for yourself and the team, but as a pro you are competing for a living trying to make money.”
Weldon has finished well in several tournament since moving on from amateur and collegiate athlete status, but has yet to win an event. He wants to change that this week. The winner of the Colbert Hills Charity Classic wins $20,000 this year, part of the $100,000 total purse.
Both Weldon and Yonke stressed the affect weather will have on this course. It changes day to day, they said. When it’s hot out and there’s been a lot of rain, the greens will be lightning quick and the rough will be thick. This is likely the case for this week, Haney said.
But neither of the Wildcat alums are phased.
“I’ve been playing it long enough that I could drive the cart out here with my eyes closed,” Yonke said. “I’ve seen just about every place a pin could possibly be. Just over time and the amount of times I’ve played it, in every condition possible. I’ve probably got the most reps of anybody in this field on this golf course. So hopefully that gives me a little more of an advantage.”
Like Weldon, Yonke is eyeing the trophy. There are stretches of his life when he played at the course every day.
Yonke wants to make his grandfather proud.
“Curtis has really handled it well,” Haney said. “I think that is just the mindset that Jim Colbert helped instill in Curtis. You could see that last year when Curtis played. He really played excellent golf. It would have been one of our all-time scores, but unfortunately there were just a couple guys that played a little bit better that week.”
Yonke’s 14-under last year would’ve been of the best scores in the history of the event had Josh Creel not stolen the show with a remarkable 22-under par. The scores have varied significantly from winner to winner. In 2013, the top mark was 6-under, shot by Zack Fischer. The next Drew Laning won at 15-under.
While the 2018 scores were scorching, Haney expects them to be a bit higher, predicting the winner will finish between 15- and 17-under, he said. The wind and heat will continue remain ever-present challenges.
But no matter the conditions, Yonke is confident.
“I hope to hold the trophy at the end of the tournament, because it’s his trophy,” Yonke said. “This week it’s not as much about me. If I’m contention, I’m sure my family in Kansas City will be up. But it’s my grandfather’s golf course, my grandfather’s trophy and a tournament named after my grandfather at a place where I went to college. To hold the trophy for him, it would be a really cool moment for the both of us.”