Despite my proclivity for attracting cloud cover, Slim, Dustin, and I were able to get out for 18 holes at Nevel Meade Golf Course in Prospect, Kentucky. And FYI, if you want a cool, wet, windy day, simply schedule a round of golf with me, relax, and wait for the sunshine and warmth to give way.
Nevel Meade is located in just across the Oldham County line from the greater Louisville metropolitan area. Perched atop a high plateau above a bend of Harrods Creek, Nevel Meade is a largely tree-less tract modeled upon traditional Scottish Highland style links courses.
The course was designed by Steven R. Smyers, ASGCA and opened for play in 1990. Though less heralded than some of his more famous brethren like Dye and Ross, Smyers has been involved with elite, top-notch golf course designs and renovations (i.e., Isleworth in Orlando, Wolf Run in Indianapolis).
Dozens of deep bunkers and countless rolling mounds guard many of the fairways, approaches, and greens at Nevel Meade. There are several small, decorative trees adjacent to several holes, and a variety of decorative grasses and wild areas that I suspect really add to the visual aesthetic during their respective growing seasons, but they didn’t really come into play during our round.
Nevel Meade’s location atop the limestone cliffs dictates that the prevailing wind is the golf course’s primary defender of par. There is almost no water in play to speak of, and out-of-bounds areas only really only threaten two tee shots. Visually, it appears to be a wide open golf course.
However, the perpetual, subtle elevation changes and clever use of angles require the golfer to stay in position, or almost certainly face a blind shot into an elevated or well-guarded green complex.
The course is not terribly long, which one might expect from a windy links course. We played from the blue tees, from which the course plays to a respectable 6,557 yards, and a course rating and slope of 70.2/119. (It’s 6,956 yards from the tips).
If the prevailing winds are howling and sweeping across the rolling terrain, I suspect several holes could be subject to a two, three, or even four club adjustment, perhaps even more.
Combined with a variety of pin positions requiring precise approach shots into predominantly elevated greens, which are on the larger size of average, the wind could make Nevel Meade extremely difficult on any given day.
However, on this particular day, a storm front had already moved through the region. If our collective games had been in mid-season form, with the wind lying down, the course was susceptible and open to scoring opportunities. Except, of course, for all the water that was leftover on the course.
I overheard an assistant pro tell a lady that they’d received 0.75 inches of rain in one 30 minute storm burst earlier in the day. The evidence of such a gully washer was all around us on the course, especially on and adjacent to the few relatively flat areas of the fairways. Lift, clean and
cheat place was the order of the day, and I had to remove several drives from their own plug marks and casual water.
So, if I were allowed just one criticism of Nevel Meade, it would be that to say that the course drains slowly, except that would be an insult slow things around the world. I’m inclined to give the superintendent a pass, however, because the course’s links-style layout is meant to be kept relatively dry and isn’t designed to move much water at all.
Nonetheless, even with an abundance of water on the course, the greens were surprisingly fast and firm, borderline slick. None of the casual water that plagued the fairways could be found on the greens or in the green-side bunkers, an indication of what tremendous shape Nevel Meade is kept, even this early in the golfing season.
The green speed was consistently quick all day. Well struck approach shots would hold the green fine, but chipping up from around the green and trying to stop the ball close to the pin was a dicey proposition. The greens varied from enormous to smallish, and they all contained multiple undulations and elevation changes.
On the whole, Nevel Meade was a difficult short game test that my game simply wasn’t up for yet. Sure, I hit the odd good chip up, and even managed to hit a long putt to save par on No. 8, a long par three I’d bollocks’d up on the tee.
That my short game generally failed me was particularly frustrating because the new swing fundamentals I’d been working on during my lessons held up during actual play. I drove the ball the best I had in years (not having any trees to bounce drives off helps) using my new swing. My 3-wood and hybrid converted from liabilities to assets on a course that played longer due to the soggy conditions. I was very proud of how far my full-swing game had come.
While playing the front nine, Slim and I both remarked that those holes felt vaguely familiar, as if we were playing a close cousin of Kearney Hill Golf Links in Lexington. The routing of the holes was similarly conducive to walking the course, and playing a ground game on an average, drier day was preferable to a more traditional high ball flight.
On the front side, Nevel Meade’s angles were relatively slight, and the lack of trees made even hard fairway turns seem even less severe. We could play a hole from a less than ideal position, it just required more precision, as an out-of-position shot left one of the aforementioned blind approach shots.
My getting up and down from 90 yards out on the par 3 8th hole stands as a testament to the notion that you can get out of jail at Nevel Meade with precise shot-making and a lot of luck.
The back nine contains more severe elevation changes. Rather than a pure links layout, the routing felt more akin to Gibson Bay in Richmond or Houston Oaks in Paris. Both of those courses sit on a collection of plateaus and ridges, where elevated tees and minimal tree screens allow the wind to intermittently affect the flight of the ball, and the back nine at Nevel Meade is no different.
While the strategy of the front nine is fairly straightforward and scoring predominantly determined around the greens, I felt the back nine gave several more opportunities for strategic decision-making and attacking the golf course.
Both par 5 holes on the back, Nos. 14 and 18, are ripe for birdies with good tee shots. The exceptionally short par 4 16th hole is driveable under the right conditions, but severe, penal slopes in front and behind the green make it a true risk/reward opportunity.
The entire Nevel Meade experience was simple and understated, and therein lies its charm. The clubhouse wasn’t terribly fancy, but it had adequate facilities for the serious golfer. The pro shop wasn’t elaborately decorated, but the staff was warm and professional. The layout didn’t “Wow” us with spectacular vistas, but the course wasn’t over-manicured into something it’s not supposed to be, either.
It’s not a seaside course, and it’s not particularly sandy, but Nevel Meade is a fun and challenging golf course, and probably as close to a links style course as is available in the Louisville area. I realize links golf isn’t every golfer’s preferred Cup of Joe, but I do enjoy it if for no other reason than it’s a different golf course experience. The scenic drive to the course through some magnificent farms and homesteads alone is worth a visit to check it out. And if you are looking for a serious but not impossible golf challenge, considering adding Nevel Meade to your rotation.