Once upon a time, Widow’s Watch Golf Club, now known as Golf Club of the Bluegrass, was a beautiful escape into the Jessamine County countryside. Unencumbered by civilization and its shortfalls, Widow’s Watch golf course was routed through raw, rolling hills with thick timber stands framing the incredibly natural terrain. It was my favorite course in the greater Central Kentucky area.
Of course, at that point I’d only probably played Lexington’s municipal courses, and maybe Cabin Brook or the Players Club on the rare college-budget splurge. I worked at Widow’s Watch Golf Club for most of 2001, and played the course as often as I wanted. I worked as a member of the cart staff, rotated inside to the Pro Shop counter, and even mowed greens on weekends (due to my prior experience at Quail Chase Golf Club in Louisville). So, I got to know square every inch of the golf course, and I absolutely loved it.
When I began, the management group that operates Triple Crown Country Club in Union, Kentucky, was operating Widows Watch. The club had two PGA golf professionals on staff, who could not have been more different. Michael had trained as an accountant; straight laced, buttoned up, a numbers man devoid of tolerance for shenanigans. Scotty was as country as the day was long; folksy, charming, a real man of the people that reveled in pressing the flesh.
From the day I started working at Widow’s Watch, I sensed a strong tension existed between management and Mr. Sims, whose Harrods Club, LLC actually owned the land upon which the course was built. I would later learn that the primary source of that tension was the long term vision for the course. Word around the water cooler was that apparently Mr. Sims wanted to develop the land adjacent to the golf course with high end housing as soon as possible, while the Triple Crown objected to the development plans, or at least the development schedule. The whole matter came to a head by the end of that summer and resulted in the Triple Crown Group ceding operational control of the golf course to Sims.
The course was beautiful, despite its construction being fundamentally flawed. Home inspectors will tell you water is the root of all evil. On a golf course not located in Scotland, lack of a reliable water source for irrigation becomes problems number one, two, three, and five through 10. Widow’s Watch’s only water supply was the “front pond” located behind the No.1 green, which was roughly half it’s current size. At only three seasons old at the time, the lack of water would prove to be the course’s primary impediment to maturing gracefully.
The summer of 2001 was brutally hot and dry, and the course struggled with the lack of water. I specifically remember the superintendent measuring the pond everyday to calculate how much water he could afford to put on the course that night. Unsupported by a municipal or utility water supply, the course’s bent grass fairways, greens and tees really got scorched.
Despite the difficult conditions, Widow’s Watch remained a joy to play. It was a wonderful unique golf course, one which felt like the fields, forests, and mounding were placed there specifically to support a fantastically natural looking golf course. The old barn was still standing between 8 green and 9 tee, only enhancing the rustic charm of this golf gem in the middle of no where special.
There were no roads framing the fairways, and the old farmhouse, original barn, and a water tower were the only interlopers amongst an otherwise scenically rural horizon. The gigantic houses that golfers can marvel at now weren’t yet even blueprints, and the roads now connecting Harrodsburg Road to Cambridge East didn’t exist.
While collecting flagsticks from the back nine, I commonly watched deer grazing near greens and coyotes sneaking from the woods to the pond for a drink. The 16th tee box was the highest point of elevation between downtown Lexington and the Kentucky River to the south, providing majestic views of not only the entire golf course but also the surrounding farmland and countryside.
More than just the aesthetic changes, the actual golf course was very different, too. The front pond didn’t extend nearly as far east or north as it now does. The current second hole didn’t exist; instead of a short par three, the current third whole was a slightly less angled, super-long par which required a forced carry across the lake from the tee. It was a great golf hole that unfortunately has been turned into a short, horseshoed atrocity.
The current sixth hole was actually two different holes: a challenging downhill par 3, followed by a temptingly drivable short par 4 up a significant hill. The course had, and continues to have, a respectable number of quality bunkers, but the wind and elevation change were the primary defenders of par. There were only four or five holes on the entire course that were visible from any road, which gave the Widow’s Watch golf experience an inherent sense of serenity and the golfer a return to nature.
The tee boxes were a little rough around the edges. Dry weather led to patchy, multicolored tee boxes and fairways. There were several low-lying areas and green spaces bordering the property that didn’t get mowed, which served as unofficial natural preserves and wildlife areas.
And now, all of that character is lost. There are now enormous mansions bordering the course, especially prominent from the front side and wide neighborhood roads. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the current version of the course is an abomination. The current owner, Danny McQueen, who has been as instrumental and influential as any single person in the Central Kentucky golf community over the past several decades, has done an admirable job of nurturing Golf Club of the Bluegrass into a mature golf course. The course is definitely in better overall shape more consistently under his stewardship than under the previous regimes.
As much as I hate the changes to the layout, enlarging the front pond was probably a necessary evil, given that the lack of reliable water problem wasn’t going to cure itself. The slope on the former 5th hole was so severe that it was almost impossible to keep the fairway green without absolutely drowning the entire area. And there are a few holes on the back nine that remain secluded, far from any evidence of the presence of man. Truth be told, most of the layout remains the same and retains some feeling that not a lot of earth had to be moved to create the golf course. Most importantly, marquee closing holes remain in tact from their original glory years.
But, at the risk of actually becoming the cranky old man my soul yearns to be, it’s not the same. It was better then. And, with all due respect to Mr. McQueen, it will always be Widow’s Watch to me.