An almost daily occurrence in the Missouri tourism industry is reading about, seeing pictures of, or meeting representatives from destinations that immediately make my “gotta see that” list.
The Elms Hotel and Spa, a landmark resort located about 30 minutes northeast of downtown Kansas City, was near the top of said list, and I recently had a chance to visit.
Here’s a 20-second history of The Elms:
- The hotel opened in 1888 in Excelsior Springs, a city known for its springs and healing mineral waters.
- The first Elms burned in 1898; the second Elms opened in 1908 and burned in 1909; the current incarnation of The Elms has been welcoming guests since 1912 (except for about eight years in 1970s-80s when it closed).
- It’s hosted a variety of well-known guests, including gangsters such as Al Capone and Bugsy Moran; athletes such as boxer Jack Dempsey; and its most famous guest, President Harry S. Truman, for whom one of the suites is named.
Traveling on an anniversary getaway with my wife, our main goal was to sit poolside and do pretty much nothing while we enjoyed the warm Missouri weather. Mission accomplished.
This was my first experience swimming in a saltwater pool; it’s said to be a little more environmentally friendly than a standard pool and, without extra chemicals added in, it’s easier on the skin and the eyes.
The pool area includes a mammoth hot tub, one that’s six-foot deep and offers seating for 20. Oh, and the bar/restaurant’s staff offer poolside service, so there’s no need to get up to grab something to eat or drink.
In recent months, The Elms has been closed for an extensive renovation project that’s touched nearly every piece of the property, save the beautiful rock exterior and the famous lighted sign that tops the hotel’s roof and serves as a beacon for travelers.
The guest rooms feature new bedding and linens, and flat-screen TVs; suites include new furniture in the living-room areas and little extras, such as dual-head showers in the bathrooms.
It really is a beautiful property, and I’m anxious to someday return so my wife can enjoy the spa (still closed for remodeling; slated to open in late summer/early fall 2012) and I can take a swim in the indoor pool, which is the focus of a major restoration effort as well.
While we were in town, I played a round at Excelsior Springs Golf Course, located just five minutes from The Elms.
As a general rule, I enjoy making snowmen in the winter; I don’t enjoy seeing them on my scorecard. But even a snowman (that’s an 8 for you non-golfers) didn’t ruin the day on this course, which has been around since 1915, plays about 6,300 yards from the white tees and offers more than enough challenge for those who, like myself, consider themselves lucky to play “bogey golf.”
The hallmarks of this pretty course are rolling hills and massive trees. Thankfully, even a below-average player can avoid the water hazards – always a plus – and the course layout offers several chances to take big swings at open fairways.
The front nine was a struggle; it was one of those days where getting comfortable over the ball wasn’t easy. I started to find my swing around the seventh or eighth hole, which was too late to card a decent overall score, but early enough I enjoyed the majority of the round.
My favorite holes:
- No. 2, a 362-yard par four that plays as the No. 1 handicap from the whites; somehow, I managed par.
- No. 6, a 389-yard par four; a slightly wayward drive left me with a tough second shot and ultimately, a bogey five.
- No. 11, for no other reason than the cart path runs close to the nearby airport’s runway and you pass a “low-flying aircraft” sign.
- No. 13, a picturesque, 159-yard par three; I double bogeyed (ugh).
- No. 18, where, thanks to a 20 mph tailwind, downhill slope and hard ground, I mashed a drive that ended up 186 yards from the green. No. 18 is a 571-yard par five.
Yes, I hit a golf ball about 380 yards. It was amazing; until I messed up my second shot, left my third shot short, bladed my fourth, chipped on with the fifth and two-putted for a seven. Ouch.
Despite ending on a sour note, I enjoyed the opportunity to play on a new-to-me course, especially one that has unique features. A marker on the course honors the Civil War soldiers who died on these grounds during the 1854 Battle of Fredericksburg. In the clubhouse, you find a 1800s log cabin that’s been carefully maintained and is decorated with photos and period furnishings.
A couple of food-focused notes about this getaway:
- In Excelsior Springs, grab a sweet treat at the Dari-B. It’s a small ice cream parlor locals love and was a recommendation from The Elms staff. Amazing. Drive time from The Elms, two minutes.
- Eat at Wabash Barbecue, but don’t expect to be able to finish the Piggyback Combo. Even if there are two of you. Wow. When the waitress brought out our plate, I thought she was kidding. Best guess: It’s five pounds of food. Walk time from The Elms, two minutes over, five minutes back.
- Try the newly remodeled restaurant, 88, inside The Elms. For breakfast, order whatever you like, just be sure to get a side of the fried potatoes. Trust me.
A quick thanks to Keith Winge, marketing director at the Elms, and Tim Jarman, PGA Pro at the Excelsior Springs Golf Course, for their time and hospitality.