Purchase photos

Fore! McDonald's expansion incoming

10/19/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

There will be no more putt-putt golf on south Vine Street in Hays. But customers will get quicker service from the McDonald's drive-through.

JR's Golf, a favorite pastime in Hays since the early 1960s, came down earlier this month to make way for progress.

The McDonald's restaurant is expanding its south store at 1206 Vine.

The putt-putt course just to the north of the McDonald's store was torn up and the area leveled for construction for a renovation project that will include additional seating, more parking and the addition of a dual-lane drive-through.

"McDonald's continues to grow in northwest Kansas as well as internationally," said Rick Kuehl, owner of McDonald's of Hays, Russell, WaKeeney and Colby. "But (the putt-putt course) is a nostalgic piece, something a lot of people have grown up with, so you do miss it."

The 18-hole putt-putt course was built in 1961 by the Putt-Putt miniature golf franchise and was owned by Ralph Befort, who later sold it to two of his brothers-in-law, Charles "Chuck" Giebler and Mike Befort.

Giebler eventually bought out Mike Befort and worked at the putt-putt course even after his retirement from his business, Centennial Carpets.

"Charles took over the carpet store in 1990," the 82-year-old Giebler said of his son, Charlie Giebler. "And I helped run (putt-putt) in the spring and summer. I really enjoyed the kids and made a lot of friends that way."

Charlie Giebler agreed.

"I worked there from about the time I was 12 to 20," he said. "It was a busy place back then, and we catered to kids a lot."

The Gieblers added batting cages on the property to the west of the putt-putt course in 1992. They owned the putt-putt business until the early 2000s before selling to Ron Flax, who then sold it to Jamie Kuehl, the youngest son of Rick and Gail Kuehl who renamed it JR's Golf.

"Jamie was in college, and we thought that would give him an opportunity to manage a business other than McDonald's," Rick Kuehl said. "It's not easy owning and operating a business, and he learned a lot about the basic pieces of business without the pressure of high volume to deal with."

Upon graduation from Fort Hays State University, the younger Kuehl entered McDonald's "Next Generation" owner-operator program and eventually closed the putt-putt business.

"It's amazing the number of people you talk to who grew up playing golf there," Rick Kuehl said. "It was the thing to do on spring and summer evenings."

"There were a lot of birthday parties, a lot of get-togethers there," Chuck Giebler added.

* The Kuehls built the first McDonald's in Hays, at 3406 Vine, in 1979 and added the south restaurant in the early 1990s.

"We built the building for the volume that we anticipated at the time," Kuehl said. "We outgrew it once, and we did a major remodeling several years ago, and we outgrew it again. That's created a good problem, but you have to have the ability to take care of the customers as they keep coming through in larger and larger numbers."

The store hopes to be closed only a few days during the renovation/addition process when the changes are made inside the kitchen area.

"We still will try to keep the drive-through going during that time," Kuehl said. "You try to find a way to make it work so the customers can continue to use the store."

Construction is ongoing now, with a projected completion date sometime before Thanksgiving.

"We are part of a program that started 18 to 24 months ago in the United States, and they have this construction process down pretty well," Kuehl said. "I think folks will be totally amazed when they see what the block looks like. I think they will be pleased."