One of my great joys of each of the last few golf seasons was the opportunity to play a couple of rounds at Champion Trace Golf Club with my friend, Mark, who has been a member there as long as I’ve known him. If it can be helped, I never pass up an opportunity to play Champion Trace because it’s usually a guaranteed few hours chatting and catching up with Mark, and because I think it’s the best and most complete golf course in Central Kentucky.
Champion Trace is located in the rolling hills of the northwest corner of Jessamine County, Kentucky, just a few hundred yards from where Woodford, Fayette, and Jessamine counties converge. Despite being routed through the upscale Champions neighborhood, the layout never feels like the houses constrain or infringe upon the natural beauty of the course’s setting or its routing. It truly feels like a country club course, in the original sense of the phrase.
Designed by Arthur Hills, Champion Trace has consistently received rave reviews since it opened in 1988, a notion reinforced by the fact that the course has hosted some remarkably prestigious golf tournaments. The course has hosted, amongst others, an NCAA Men’s Golf Championship (1993), USGA Senior Amateur Championship (1994), multiple Southeastern Conference Championships and multiple Kentucky Open tournaments.
Every time I’ve played Champion Trace, the course has been in pristine condition. I’m sure the superintendent battles disease, drought, and waterlogged conditions, just like any course in our area, but none of the warts have ever been apparent to me. During my few rounds there, I’ve focused on battling (poorly) the formidable golf course, rather than being distracted by its conditions.
The tees and fairways have always been manicured, regardless of the season or latest weather trend. During active growing seasons, Champion Trace boasts some of the thickest (and most penal) rough I’ve tried to hack my way out through in Kentucky. The expansive greens generally slope to or away from the fairway, putting a premium on a player’s shot-making ability.
By “expansive greens”, I mean you could fit all of Picadome’s old-style, postage stamp greens onto the first 9 or 10 greens at Champion Trace. And with as much undulation and slope as Champion Trace’s greens contain, I really like that only a few of them use a hard-shelf, terraced layout. The greens rely more on the subtlety of the mounding and slopes of the natural terrain than leaving a poor approach shot dead-in-the-water if landing on the wrong quadrant of the green.
Water come into play and affects decision making on several holes, but I don’t consider it a dominant feature of the course. Likewise, the bunkering at Champion Trace is extensive and always seems to snare a few of my shots per round. But, honestly, when compared to the majority of the other courses around Central Kentucky, Champion Trace’s bunkers are in such good condition that they aren’t really too much of a hazard or penalty.
In my experience, the length of the course, shapes of the fairway, and undulation of the greens are the primary defenders of the golf course. Arthur Hills’ design forces you to think your way around the Champion Trace tract, which is what I’ve come to expect from a championship level golf course.
I don’t have a favorite hole at Champion Trace, because, frankly, most of the holes eat my lunch. The par 4 third hole is a fantastic golf hole, difficult but fair, with some wonderfully scenic countryside views. Both par 5 holes on the back nine (No. 11 & 15) are signature holes in my mind, as both holes afford a player multiple options for attacking or surviving the holes.
The closing four holes, or TV holes, are as strong and memorable as any in Central Kentucky; I would place them at or above the quality of the closing stretch of holes at Kearney Hills in Lexington. Despite whatever my scorecard says, I always feel satisfied walking off the 18th green.
I enjoy playing a variety of golf courses during the golfing season, being unencumbered by mandatory dues and food and beverage minimums. There’s a sort of underdog’s pride in not being a member of a plush country club. To Champion Trace’s credit, it is strictly a golf club, devoid of a club pool and tennis courts that I would have scant interest in utilizing.
With that said, maybe one day my life and lifestyle will allow me and The Wife to look into joining a private golf or country club. For me, Champion Trace Golf Club is at the top of the list (admittedly, it’s not like Idle Hour or Lexington Country Club would ever come beating down my door). If I were forced to play the same golf course, over and over again, for the majority of my golfing life, I am confident that I could enjoy Champion Trace being that course. Should you ever have the chance to play it, don’t pass up the opportunity.
I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member. – Groucho Marx
I generally agree, but with all due respect, Groucho never played golf at Champion Trace.