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.
17 thoughts on “Gay Brewer Jr. Course at Picadome – Lexington, KY”
Below are snippets from the Picadome Board over at the GKL forum:
Nice writeup Dave. You mentioned 5, 6, and 9 as a great collection of par 4s on a single side. I love 6. With better aesthetics and a green just a little bit closer to the creek it would be one of the best par 4s in the state. In fact, it reminds me a lot of 17 at Kearney, which might be my favorite par 4 on a public course in Kentucky. It doesn’t have quite the fairway movement of Kearney’s hole, but the angles and strategy are similar. 5 and 9 are both solid holes, but not among my favorites on the course. What do you like about them? What’s your favorite hole on the course, and why? What about your least favorite? In my dreams, I sometimes imagine Picadome receiving a renovation. The city will never fund it so I’m sure it’ll never happen, but let’s imagine LFUCG decided to spend $2 million and polish the course up a bit. What three things would you want the work to focus on?
Regardless of stimp speed, I think the greens at Picadome run at the correct speed for their slope. A handful of them have some serious tilt. 9 is the most obvious example, but 4, 8, and 14 also have some pretty significant tilt. Running them any faster would be silly. Running them much slower would take away a lot of the character of the course. The small size and significant tilt in a few greens there is a bit reminiscent of Pebble Beach. I’d actually like to see them restore some tilt in a few of the tamer ones, in that fantasy world where Picadome gets money to do renovation work.
Dave, I agree about 14 and 17 being excellent holes. 14 is a great example of what I love about the course, which is that the architecture isn’t often flashy but it always works. For players with decent length who play the correct tees, a smashed drive on 14 can get to the bottom of the hill and give them a big reward over someone who hits a slightly mishit drive. For shorter players who can’t reach the hill, the water well short of the green presents a strategic choice as far as determining whether the correct play is a layup or trying to carry the stream. The result is a hole that stays interesting on every shot for almost every player.
17 is just great. There are a lot of places on the course where it looks like “moguls” like the ones around that green once existed and have eroded over the years. The green area at 1 is a great example. The semi-blind approach to 17 with the moguls obscuring it and creating a punchbowl around the green adds a lot of intimidation. I also think it’s the best hole on the course aesthetically. The grove of crappy pine trees to the right doesn’t do much for me, but 17’s corridor is one of the few places on the course where stately old hardwood trees grow prominently and the shaping near the green is the high moment of the course architecturally. That’s something else I’d like to see restored in a fantasy world – enhancing some of those moguls and even adding a few where appropriate would really improve the course’s aesthetics while also adding some really interesting greenside recovery shots.
5 and 9 are certainly tough enough holes. I just find them a bit one-dimensional. 9’s playing corridor has really become overgrown with ornamental trees that don’t do much besides force punch-outs and block sunlight from turf. I really think Picadome would be dramatically improved with a good tree program that removes some of those ornamental trees and replaces them with a smaller number of specimen oaks or similar hardwood trees. Again, that will never happen and it’s not surprising that a municipal course operating on a budget has more cheap trees than expensive ones, but the pines definitely don’t do the course any favors.
More comments from the Picadome thread over at the GKL forum:
Dave, I like your blog and I think your post on Picadome was really good. I only saw one place I would disagree with you and that would be green speed. Of the courses that I play on a regular basis, I find these to be the fastest consistently especially in the summer. Maybe it’s just gravity and they don’t stimp that fast but they sure play slick IMO. For comparison, most of my rounds are played in Fayette and surrounding counties. Public access only unless invited to play privates. I too live within a mile and consider the ‘Dome to be home.
You know, Dave mentions the start on his blog of alternating par 5s and 3s which is weird. For me, I sometimes struggle getting going. 1 is an easy hole but it seems like I often open with a 6 and a few 7s. 2 is tough for me for some reason so a 4 appears too often. 3 is almost always a 6 for me so I’m often +3 to start. 4 isn’t as bad but for me 5-8 is where I can take a bit of a breather. I always seem to steady through that stretch and 7 and 8 in particular are in my wheelhouse of late. 9 I just hope for a bogey and go on. Almost always score better on the back and I love the closing stretch 16-18. As many rounds as I have played there, 83 remains my best score and I was playing pretty well that day. Distance control and accuracy is the key to scoring here.
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The layout that was Big Elm underwent some major changes in the 80’s. It was renamed The Campbell House Country Club by new owner Kilburn Cormney, owner of the adjacent resort hotel, The Campbell House Inn.
Mr. Cormney commissioned local, state and national level amateur legend Johnny Owens to rework, remove and add various holes throughout the entire 18 hole design.
The front 9 was radically altered. For those who remember, the original front side (at least as I had known it since 1964) formed a very easy walk due to a sensible path with greens close to the next tee.
Some unorthodox rearrangement, deletion of, and adding of two new holes on the front were completely unnecessary and not only resulted in an out of sync route with a lengthy walk/ride to the next hole, but one of the best risk/reward par 4’s in the region #5 (old Picadome/Big Elm version) was deleted and replaced with a very non-descript, straight away, boring golf hole.
With today’s long drivers that old #5 would be even more pertinent, either fly the green and make eagle, or end up behind the huge righthand side tree and scramble for bogey or higher. Seveal other front and back changes really don’t fit with the original course…changing the number of old #6, #8 & 9. I believe number’s 11, 12, 13, 14 & 15 are close to the old version, 16 has moguls and 17 and 18 are mysteries to me.
Might be better track to some, but not someone who played it almost everyday of their youth…worked for Gay Brewer!