“I’m driven by this crazy sport!”
When you hear a phrase like that escape the mouth of Bob Kendrick, you totally know what he’s talking about, right?
You see, the executive president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, a man whose name has become as synonymous with Kansas City baseball as George or Satchel or Ned, isn’t talking about baseball. Bob Kendrick may be known around town, and the nation, as the contemporary face of Negro Leagues baseball, but quietly, there’s another pastime he can’t seem to get enough of. Another stick he loves to swing.
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Bob Kendrick, baseball man, is obsessed with golf.
“Outside of the work I do with the museum, that’s my passion,” Kendrick says, sitting in a conference room within the museum’s executive offices. “I don’t know anything that frustrates me the way this game does, and I still can’t wait to get back to it.”
When we meet, he is, as usual, dressed to the nines: crisp collared shirt, checkered red tie with matching accented cufflinks. Tailored slacks and spit-shined brogues. He flashes a thousand-watt smile as he recalls how this love affair began.
A native of Georgia, Kendrick moved to Kansas City in the mid ’80s to play basketball on scholarship for Park University. During that time he also worked at The Kansas City Star, creating the plates that go on the presses. A self-described weekend warrior, Kendrick remembers how he’d limp in most every Monday after hours of weekend basketball. One day, two older co-workers invited him to try out golf with them at Minor Park in south Kansas City. It was love at first tee: “When you take that first swing, you’re hooked.”
There are a few reasons why Kendrick’s passion for golf has only grown since that first encounter three decades ago. For one, the game helps him conquer the everyday hassles of life and work.
“There’s integrity in golf. What other sport can you call a penalty on yourself?” he says. “And it’s not about the outward competition between the guys you’re with, it’s about trying to be the best golfer that you can be. You learn a lot about yourself and your ability to bounce back.”
But like most things concerning Kendrick, and the Negro Leagues museum for that matter, the love is best communicated through the late Negro Leagues icon Buck O’Neil.
“Buck and I played a lot of golf together,” Kendrick says. “Outside of whatever he was doing with baseball, golf was definitely that other thing for Buck. He knew every blade of grass over at Swope.”
Kendrick has a couple of dozen Buck O’Neil golf stories he could tell. Like all the times he and O’Neil would go to Swope Park, sneak off with an unattended cart and go to whatever hole was open for a few swings (who’s going to tell Buck O’Neil to wait in line?). Or the times he and O’Neil would host museum clients on the green and how those visitors would be in awe at how easily O’Neil could out-swing men 30 years his junior (“seeing these men struggling to keep up with Buck was a sight to see,” Kendrick says, laughing).
But perhaps the most memorable outing was the last round of golf of O’Neil’s life, when he, Kendrick, their friend George Hobbs and famed sportswriter Dave Kindred drove over to Wolf Creek Golf Club in Olathe. There was no handicapping, of course — O’Neil insisted on playing the same tees as everyone else.
“He hit a 94 that day,” Kendrick recalls. “A 94 at 94 years young. Do you know how incredible that is?” Kendrick remembers, almost verbatim, O’Neil joking around about the score afterward: “Well, fellas, I shoot my age,” he said. “But that ain’t a good score anymore.” Kendrick erupts into laughter. “I can only hope to shoot a 94 at that age,” he says. “Heck, there are some days I can be happy to shoot a 94 right now!”
Nowadays Kendrick tries to play golf at least once a week. He was leaving in a few days to play a few rounds down in Atlanta. He looks forward to his yearly outings to Orlando with his buddies (Hobbs, Carter Broadcast Group vice president Vic Dyson, Royals Hall of Famer Willie Wilson) to play the Florida courses (and scope the lurking alligators).
And he always makes time for a trip to the Vegas desert to play at the Paiute Golf Resort (“the scenery is breathtaking,” he says).
But still, some of Kendrick’s favorite courses are in his backyard: “You’ve got to love Swope,” he says. “It’s just a great golf course.”
There are still a few items on Kendrick’s golf bucket list: He’s yet to visit Pebble Beach or attend any of the four major tournaments. He hears that every golf obsessive has to make a trip to Scotland at some point. In due time, perhaps. For now, just playing the other sport he loves with good friends is all he needs.
“I love the joy golf brings and the camaraderie that I have with the guys I play with,” Kendrick says. He glances over my shoulder at a painting of Buck O’Neil, wedged between his two Chicago Cubs teammates Ernie Banks and Lou Brock, beaming his trademark endless sunrise of a smile.
“There’s just a lot of life in golf.”