Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Golf in the Blugrass state of Kentucky

Wed Oct. 15, 2008

TRIP TO KY Pine Mountain State Park Wasioto Winds
Wasioto Winds is located at Pine Mountain State Resort Park approx 120 miles south and east of Lexington KY… this course is less than 5 years old and was designed by Michael Hurdzan. It is a teriffic golf course, and Dr. Hurdzan has designed several courses I have played and even has a couple on the Top 100 (one on the current list is Calusa Pines in Florida).
This course was the vision John Brock, the state park general manager and he hired Dr Hurdzan to design this magnificient layout. Dr. Hurdzan is one of the leaders in environmental design and getting Audobon ratings for courses.
I played today with Frank Stivers, an attorney from London KY (not to be confused with London England) a teriffic golfers himself, (low single digit handicap) and Donnie Caldwell, the asst pro, joined us on the back 9.
Wasioto Winds, a Shawnee name meaning Valley of the Deer, was rated 4th amoug Best New Affordable Public in Jan 2003 by Golf Digest. And with good reason. It is basically a flat golf course in a mountain setting. But don’t let its flatness lull you into thinking its easy, it is, in fact, quite challenging but I will say this: a high flying shot, against the background of these majestic mountains full of fall color is a breathtaking sight to behold, and there are lots of shots like this here at Wasiota Winds.
Water comes into play on 15 of the 18 holes which brings the challenge into this otherwise pleasant experience. I had a half dozen pars with 4 great up and downs out of the sand. Unfortunately I also sent a few balls to a watery grave and one high onto a rock wall which brought my score to 89. Frank on the other hand shot a smooth 78 and Donnie shot 38 on the 9 that he played.
Wasioto Winds features 5 par threes and 5 par fives. This is an uncommon format but one that I, for one, love, because often the holes on a golf course with the most character are the par threes and par fives and Wasiota Winds is no exception.
Mr Brock also had a vision to bring the First Tee program to Wasioto Winds. This course sits in one of the more financially depressed counties in Kentucky, a county where, as I understand it, 1 in 3 jobs is in coal mining. The First tee program here has introduced over 1000 underprivdleged kids into the world of golf—learning not only golf, but lessons of life that go along with them. They put an average of 280 kids through the program each week. There is an indoor training center for so they can work with these kids year round and have even created a 3 hole short course for the beginners in this program, which I found amazing. As you can imagine, raising money to fund this program in a financialy challenged county like this is not an easy task. So if you want to support their effort call Donnie Caldwell at 800-814-8002 and he will tell you how to donate.
Wasioto Winds is playable year round due to the introduction of cool-weather turf grass called L-93 Bent Grass.

One more thing about the area. This course is part of Pine Mountain State Resort Park. It also sits right next to the Cumberland Gap, the area through which Daniel Boone crossed the Apalacian Mountains. The region is also home to several Civil War battlefields. So there is lots to do around here in addition to golf. I was told it would be likely that I would see Elk around the golf course, but that was not to be today. If you come, watch for Elk.

I am on this press trip because the Kentucky department of tourism is investing in several signature golf courses intending to create a trail similar to the Alabama Golf trail. Watch for Kentucky Signature series, a trail of 8 courses in Kentucky’s bluegrass country. The courses are very affordable and wonderful.

Thurs Oct 16
Last night I stayed in the lodge at Pine Mountain, had a lovely dinner, and retired to my room to watch the last of the presidential debates. I was up at 6:30 for a 7:00 AM drive to General Burnside Island State Park. This park was named for General Ambrose Burnside, a Union General, who had a detachment of the army in the area in 1863, whose primary purpose was to protect the inhabitants of East Tennessee who were still loyal to the Union. The high point of the area became an island when the Army Corp of Engineers built Wolf Creek dam to create Lake Cumberland with over 1200 miles of shoreline.

Memorial day of 2008 General Burnside Island Golf Course reopened with a new design by Brian Ault. This is quite a contrast to Wasioto Winds. Here at Burnside the natural beauty of large boulders highlight the tree lined mountainous landscape with lots of elevation changes. And the course plays 6400 yards from the tips—which means I can finally play a course from the tips, a rare occasion for me.

At noon I met Ron Roberts the head pro, Greg Blevens, the greens superintendent and his asst Ryan, to play this new course. It was drizzling and misting right from the first hole, which continued on and off throughout the day. It does not present a course in its best light, but even in this overcast light, this is a wonderful golf course. I rarely encountered a flat lie in this course as we navigated the many elevation changes and beautiful trees through the wonderful design of Brian Ault. I birdied # 2, which is always a thrill. On number 5 Greg looked at me and appeared to be sharing a secret to green reading here at General Burnside “everything breaks toward the water” he whispered to me. It took me a minute to realize that on an island, which this course is, the water is located in every direction. So his little tip didn’t help much.

Burnside has 4 par fives (3 of them are on the front) and 5 par threes for a par 71, but for a course this short, many of the par threes are too long for me. #5 is 222 yards and #7 is 214 yards then 172yards, all carry over water, and finally a reasonable 167. I don’t particularly like par threes that require me to take driver if I want to have a chance to reach the green. So I think they could improve it here. I didn’t particularly like a 225-yard carry to the fairway on 13 either but these exceptions aside; this is a terrific challenging golf course. The fairways are a bristly Zoysia grass that causes your ball to sit up like on bristly carpet. It s a great surface to play from and these young bent grass greens putt true, quick and beautifully. Greg and Ryan hit 275-300 yard drives all day while Ron and I were hitting “mere mortal “ distances. I loved it here and would love to play here again. We did see some wildlife here, a couple deer wandered out on the fairway, clearly unphased by our presence, There is no hunting on the island and there appear to be no deer predators, so they must feel safe. We also saw a couple groups of wild turkey. They, unlike the deer, must feel a bit threatened, because I am sure one of the turkeys had a sign hanging round his neck that said, “don’t shoot, it’s not Thanksgiving yet!”

They are planning a resort hotel on the island which should add to its appeal, but I am staying less than a mile away at the Burnside marina on Lake Cumberland on a houseboat--- what a way to go--- you can golf and go house boating and party all you want on board. These 80 foot houseboats have TV’s heat and air, several bedrooms and bathrooms, full kitchen and even a hot tub on the top deck. This is the way to go. If you visit here- rent one of these houseboats.

Friday Oct 17
Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park is the last of three courses I am playing. This course was ranked #6 “best new Affordable Public Courses” by Golf Digest in 2004 and is another design of Brian Ault also featuring zoysia grass fairways. There are 61 bunkers and 5 sets of tees on this 7273 yards layout to accommodate all levels of players. Unlike General Burnside, they have built a brand new clubhouse. The greens fees here, like the rest of the Kentucky Signature series are very reasonable $42 on weekends and $38 on weekdays. They do have a resort nearby which sits lakeside and has fantastic lake views. It is so close to the Tennessee boarder that Trooper Island, just a few hundred yards from the resort is ½ in Tennessee and ½ in Kentucky. Bruce Bottom, the head pro told me they get 25,000 rounds a year. I don’t know how they support a golf operation of this caliber at such reasonable rates, but they do.

Unbeknownst to me as I drove there, I had crossed into the central time zone and was surprised when I looked at my watch which read 10:00 am and looked at their clock which read 9:00. Not so bad I was an hour early for my tee time with Bruce.
Dale Hollow is another terrific course in the Kentucky Signature Series with over 140 feet in total elevation changes from the lowest to the highest point on the golf course. The difference between this and General Burnside is this has several more uphill holes some quite severely uphill. And it is true target golf, the greens are severely contoured, as are the fairways, the good news is that almost every hole is a thing of beauty. In fact Bruce tried to tell me that there is really not a signature hole on the course, probably because its full of signature holes.

As my friend Jeff May used to tell me “It was a good day for bad golf” A lovely sun filled day, quite unlike yesterday but Just one of those days where I couldn’t get either my long game or short game going, and I was a bit out of sorts when I came to their par threes. I am guessing Brain Ault must hate par threes cause once again these are almost all too long or require too much carry for me, and I was only playing this course from 6400 yards. I did hit one par three in regulation with my driver, however.
In spite of my poor play I did have a wonderful time, because sometimes the company takes precedence over ones capabilities of the day and Bruce and I laughed together all the way

If you go:
· Airports : Lexington or Knoxville
· Information: http://www.parks.ky.gov/golftrail/
· Accomodations: They have play and stay packages with reasonable room rates
Other activities: lots to do out doors, boating fishing horseback riding
Canoeing and visit Civil War battle sites