The #1 ranked golf course in Kentucky is the Valhalla Golf CLub in Louisville. Designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus and opened for play in 1986, Valhalla is one of only four sites in the nation to host a Senior PGA Championship, PGA Championship and Ryder Cup. It has also been named the host site of the 96th PGA Championship in August 2014. I called the club to see if I could play and was surprised to learn they were closed for the season. The course is undergoing renovation.
The #2 course in Kentucky is also in Louisville: the Big Spring Country Club. A few last minute contacts were able to get me into the club with a 11:50 AM tee time. After driving out of West Virginia, Julie & I had planned to get a hotel room at the last minute in Lexington. A country music concert and a horse show changed our plans after we failed to find any available rooms. We stayed in Mount Sterling with a 110-mile journey to Louisville on Saturday morning. Naturally, the weather forecast was calling for afternoon thunderstorms with the possibility of severe weather.
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #2
Date: 28 Apr, tee off at 11:30 AM
Conditions: partly sunny, 6 MPH wind, 60 degrees
Lost balls: 0
Lost balls: 0
Score: 76 on a par 72
Upon arriving at the pro shop, I was given the option to tee off by myself at 11:50 as scheduled or hurry off to the practice range and pair up with a club member for an 11:30 tee time. I chose the later option and met Dr. Norris Jennings. It was a good choice.
Doc was a 68-year old family physician who had cut back his office hours to 13-days/month after 41-years in the business. A native of western Kentucky who grew up in Paducah, he attended the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in Lexington before settling into Louisville. When he learned that I had just traveled through eastern Kentucky, he shared his opinion of that section of the state: “they don’t make enough whisky to live in eastern Kentucky”. He is married with two bachelor sons, aged 37 and 41. He tells his wife to spend their money on herself as it does not look like she will ever see the day when she is shopping for grandchildren.
Dr. Norris Jennings
We caught up to a foursome on golf carts playing ahead of us by the 9th hole. Doc knew all of the members in the group; he referred to one man as a “buffet veteran” and described him as a man who is as broad as he is tall. Doc enjoyed walking the golf course; over the years he has witnessed first-hand the impact lack of exercise has had on his patients.
Doc sits on the board of directors for Community Health Systems, a Tennessee-based firm that owns & operates 130 hospitals across the USA. One of his responsibilities is to attend 3-days of the Kentucky Derby where he represents the company to suppliers and physicians. He also attended one day of the Masters tournament this year at Augusta National. He believed all of the corporate jets in America were parked in Augusta that week as he estimated 500 jets were sitting on the tarmac parked within inches of each other. He was surprised by the impeccable cleanliness throughout the Augusta National golf course; I was surprised by the rules involving lawn chairs that he shared with me. Every person who attends the tournament is issued rules of conduct prior to their arrival. No brightly colored lawn chairs are allowed; no lawn chairs with arms are allowed . Interesting!
I did play golf in addition to listening to the conversation with Doc. I bogeyed five of the first six holes. The only par occurred on the 2nd hole after a chip shot from the green side bunker stopped 6” from the hole. Lady Luck showed up on the 7th hole; I wrapped up the front nine with par-birdie-par. She stayed with me through the back nine where I finished at even par after my approach shot on hole #12 landed 1’ from the hole for a tap-in birdie; on hole #16 a 40’ putt dropped in on for my third birdie of the day. I told Doc we would have to play together more often.
163-yard par 4 hole #2
399-yard par 4 hole #5 (view of approach shot to the green from the fairway)
161-yard par 3 hole #6
405-yard par 4 hole #18
View of approach shot to the green from the hole #18 fairway
I referred to hole #12 as the Young Guns hole. At 307-yards it is a reachable green for younger players and their long tee shots. It is a risk & reward proposition: landing on the green could result in a make-able eagle putt (2-under par). With a creek that wraps itself around the green, a miss could result in a loss ball and the associated penalty stroke. I played it safe with a tee shot into the fairway and was rewarded after my approach shot stopped near the hole.
307-yard par 4 hole #12
View from the cart path of hole #12 green
View of hole #12 green looking back up the fairway
After playing golf, we headed down to Churchill Downs to shop in the gift shop. I used to think that the Kentucky Derby was a 1-day horse racing event; it is a 3-week festival leading up to the climatic derby race. As we arrived at the Downs, crews were tearing down equipment in the main parking lot from a previous event. Cars were streaming into secondary parking lots. The posted fee for parking was $40, a little more than we wanted to pay for a short visit to the gift store. We lowered our window and asked advice from a security guard; she pointed us to a free parking lot - - - within 100-yards of the $40 lot. I liked that much better.
Free parking just ahead!!!
It was Saturday night, one-week before the running of the Kentucky Derby. The crowd was streaming in to attend the opening race of the season. They came dressed for the occasion, and were more than happy to pose for pictures asked.
Last minute shoppers can pick out their hat in the gift store.
I walked back to get the car while Julie finished shopping. After asking one more group to pose for a picture, they turned the tables by asking me to be in the picture. How could I refuse?
It was time to eat dinner after our visit to Churchill Downs. Another Yelp review led us to the nearby Hammerheads restaurant. The drive took us through a run-down section of Louisville where I would be nervous leaving my car parked on the street - - - but we continued to drive on to our destination. It was easy to spot the restaurant with a hammerhead shark hanging above the entrance door. We fell into line to await the restaurant opening, which immediately filled all available seats in the basement of a house once the doors flew open. The food was prepared by a group of young men who resembled hippies from the 1970‘s. The service was fast and the food was to-die-for good. Those boys either really know how to cook or they use a special hemp seasoning.
Pork tacos & grippo fries
Beef brisket on a pretzel roll with french fries cooked in duck fat
Chocolate brownie with bacon topping drizzled with chocolate & caramel syrup
The storms finally did arrive later that night, carrying with them golf-ball sized hail. By a stroke of luck, we happened to be shopping with our car safely parked in a covered ramp. We drove out of town that evening on a road covered with 3-4” of shredded leaves from the hail storm that had passed though the area. Lady Luck was still with me! I was hoping the owner of this unique car also saw the storm coming in enough time to move it to safety.
You would expect to see a bubble machine mounted in the trunk!
We drove home Sunday in the rain. We traveled 4,500 miles in 17-days to play golf in 11 more states, during which hardly a day passed when our car’s windshield wipers were not in use. The rain has continued all week since we have been home. I am hoping it starts to dry out soon - - - there are 28 more states ahead yet to play!