I consider the Gay Brewer Jr. Course at Picadome my home course, and I absolutely love playing there. My GHIN profile tells me I played 13 full rounds there in 2013 (shooting to an average of 87 for the year), though it feels like I was there at least once a week. “Picadome,” for short, is located in the heart of Lexington, Kentucky, less than a mile from my house, but I’d drive all the way across town to play it, if necessary. It’s a wonderful old parkland-style course that is both a fantastic walking and shot-making course.
The Picadome Golf Club opened in 1927 as Lexington’s first public nine hole golf course on a portion of the Hal Price Headley estate, with the course expanding to 18 holes around 1934. In 1966, a year before Gay Brewer’s triumphant Masters Tournament victory at Augusta National, the Picadome golf course was purchased by a private golf club, renamed Big Elm Country Club. Big Elm operated as a private facility until 1987.
In 1988, Allen Cormney, Sr., the then-owner of the Campbell House Hotel that abuts the golf course property, purchased Big Elm Country Club and renamed the course after his hotel. Cormney continued to operate the golf club as a privately owned facility until 2000, when the course was reacquired by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and once again operated as a public golf facility. Finally, in 2007, the course was renamed the Gay Brewer Jr. Course at Picadome to honor Lexington’s most famous golfing son.
The golf course is playable, both for average hackers and very good players. The course is short by modern standards, measuring just under 6,600 yards from the back (Blue) tees. However, don’t let the lack of PGA Tour course length deceive you; Picadome is a course that requires strategic thinking, good course management, and an ability to hit different kinds of shots.
Most, if not all, of the Bermuda grass fairways are framed by a lovely mix of tall white pines and ancient hardwoods. The only water hazards on the course are Vaughn’s Branch and Big Elm Tributary, which meander along the northern side of the course and figure prominently on seven of the 18 holes. The parkland layout of the course means that the holes are laid out in close proximity, and you can easily find a wayward shot on another hole’s fairway just by being a little off your game.
A certain caliber of golfer may be able to overpower Picadome, but I’ve not even flirted with breaking 80. Fairways dogleg in both directions, requiring the ability to both draw and fade tee shots in order to really attack the course. While the creeks make a very small footprint in relation to the total acreage in play at Picadome, the water hazards are incorporated into the course beautifully, affecting strategy and forcing decisions on several holes.
The greens at Picadome are painfully small, and most of them are guarded by very penal bunkers. Despite their small footprints, many of the greens include relatively steep slopes, without the gimmicky feel of artificially terraced tiers. I believe the small, sloped greens are really the primary defenders of par, as the greens put a premium on placement off the tee and only reward precise approach shots. The greens usually roll fairly slowly, which is probably more a function of the City not wanting to have to expend too much money and energy to maintain them during our hot summer months than for competitive reasons. However, I would argue that if the greens were maintained on the higher end of the Stimpmeter, the course could well be unplayable to the average weekend hacker.
Picadome is definitely an urban golf course, wedged between several different neighborhoods, the Campbell House hotel, and Mason-Headley Road, which abuts the entire southern side of the course. The new University of Kentucky Hospital tower dominates the eastern horizon from virtually any spot on the course. However, while Picadome will never to be confused for a wildlife sanctuary, it does support an oddly healthy red-tailed hawk population, who I assume wouldn’t live there if there wasn’t an abundant food supply living on or around the course.
There are a lot of quirky, if not unique, golf features about Picadome, which I think really add character to the old course. For example, a quick glance at the scorecard reveals that the front nine (containing three par 3 holes) plays to par 35, while the back nine plays to par 37, due to its three par 5 holes. Also, the course contains five par 3’s and five par 5’s, something seldom experienced in the sanitized, standardized world of modern golf course architecture.
Other unique Picadome features include requiring attacking golf from the first tee on each side, as numbers 1 and 10 are vulnerable par 5’s that one will regret not securing birdie upon. The fact the front nine begins by alternating two par 5 holes (No. 1 & 3) and two par 3 holes (No. 2 & 4) eliminates the notion of a relaxed start to the round. Both of these first two par fives play uphill, while the first two par threes require accurate shots from significantly elevated tee boxes.
The fact the course concludes with consecutive par 5 holes is also a little unorthodox, but fun nonetheless. If you’ve got a hot round going, it’s a chance to really finish the round strong. If you’ve played lousy all day, the final two holes provide two final chances to swing as hard as you can just for kicks.
The gently rolling terrain at Picadome is as ideal for walking as one will find in Central Kentucky. I’ve fought battles against all of the holes at Picadome, and the course wins more than it loses. Holes 5, 6, and 9, which I think is the best collection of par 4 holes on one side in Lexington, absolutely own me. However, I cumulatively play to par or better more often than not on the par 3 holes, and with five par 5 holes, Picadome gives one every opportunity to score aggressively if you can play skillfully.
There are definitely harder golf courses than Picadome in Lexington, just as there are courses that provide better scenery or have a more natural feel. And I may join a private golf club somewhere down the line, which would certainly curtail the number of municipal golf courses I visit. But for a fun, tough test of golf close to home and at a reasonable price, Picadome will always be special to me and I would invite everyone to check it out if they have the opportunity.
*A special thanks to Jason over at the GKL forum for allowing me to include his photographs of the course. He put together a great Photo Tour of each hole at Picadome a couple summers ago, and I’d invite you to check out his post for a more in-depth visual look at the course. I had hoped to include my own photographs of the course with this post, but pictures of more snow covered fairways and greens from this Winterpocalypse 2014 just seems cruel and inhumane, as we’ve not even seen grass for a couple weeks here in the Bluegrass region.