I’ve played several truly, soul-crushingly difficult golf courses, rounds during which I realized early on that “it’s going to be one of those days.” I’ve played on greens that were, I thought, lightening fast, to the point of being punitive. None of those experiences compare to what I experienced at Traditions Golf Club in Hebron, Kentucky last week.
John Mark is a member at Traditions G.C., and was kind enough to invite me up to play a round during the Club’s April Member-Guest day. The course has a reputation as one of the best pure golf experiences in Kentucky, so, of course, I jumped at the chance to play a round there with him and our friend, Nate, who also belongs to Traditions.
Opened in 1992 to numerous awards and accolades, this Ken Heil and Mike Macke course can be a beautiful, thrilling test of golf. However, as the early season remedial and preparatory work continued on the course around us, the speed of the greens would be my overriding memory of the round.
There was little indication, just by sight, of the pain that the greens could inflict from playing so unbelievably fast. The layout presents a variety of challenges: uphill and downhill tee shots and approaches, blind shots, wide and narrow fairways, forced carries. Nothing about the course felt routine, repetitive, or boring.
Set amongst the woodlands of Boone County’s western rolling hills, standing on Traditions’ first tee box, the golfer is lulled into a false sense of serenity by the rustic vistas. The course sits atop a series of ridges, so elevation change and strong winds are the natural defenders of the golf course, in theory.
The course looked like they aren’t watering it right now, which meant that everything was running out: drives, approaches, chips, pitches, flop shots, and putts. While amusing and different, I doubt the course can stand up to a sweltering Ohio Valley summer without water.
Not being complete masochists, we played from the blue tees, which play to a course rating and slope of 73/135 at a merciful 6,773 yards, rather than the championship tees further back.
The greens were the story of the day. They were so fast, in fact, some holes simply could not be putted, with even extraordinary care and effort on my part.
There were greens that you literally couldn’t putt out on without laughing out loud (or erupting in anger, but luckily, we didn’t have any human volcanoes in our group this day).
For example, on I had a putt on No. 13 from 50 feet away take a peek in the hole as it nearly came to a stop, then proceeded to roll 7 or 8 feet past the hole. Mercifully, since the come-backer was for double bogey, my playing companions picked it up for me.
Earlier in the day, I’d putted up to within two feet of the cup on the ninth hole from just off the front right portion of the green, perhaps 20 feet from the hole, only to watch the ball roll all the way off the front of the green (picture a really slow boomerang path unfolding before my disbelieving eyes). On number 8, I hit a low punchy chip onto the putting surface, only to watch in horror as the ball rolled off the green and down into the left green-side bunker.
My brain couldn’t handle Traditions’ greens on this particular day, and the pressure of putting each successive glass-top green eventually wore me down mentally. My otherwise decent golf round degraded into mindless repetitive motion and pain for the last few holes, and the scorecard reflected the cumulative grind as the round drew on.
The superintendent had punched and top-dressed the greens a week or two prior, and thank the Lord, the aeration hadn’t completely healed, because without the Plinko-style depressions occasionally gripping one of my putts on the way off the green, my north-of-90 score would have easily made it into triple digits.
Toward the end of the round, as I soaked in another beautiful vista from elevated tee box, I wondered aloud if and why anyone would ever walk such a punishing golf course.
John Mark promptly informed me that Traditions G.C. serves as the home golf course for the University of Cincinnati golf teams, and I instantly gained a new respect for collegiate golfers.
Throughout its twenty-ought year existence, Traditions has hosted some fairly prestigious tournaments, including a KY Section PGA championship, a Kentucky Open, Kentucky Amateur, and a Big East Conference Championship.
It’s an impressive resume for a course that sits kind of out-of-the-way, secluded from most of the trappings of being inside the I-275 ring around the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area. The Club holds itself out as the golf club for golf purists and enthusiasts.
The entire course property is devoid of housing, so there is little to distract the golfer. The Clubhouse is simple, containing a comfortable pro shop and a lavishly masculine bar and restaurant area.
There is no pool and there are no tennis courts, as such delectation might unnecessarily divert the members’ attention from their golf. There are two separate practice areas and ranges, though.
It’s not all bad; not in the least. The course is gorgeous, laid across a series of ridges and valleys. Once the foliage of the wooded surround comes in later this spring, I might not even recognize it as the same Traditions Golf Course.
But I couldn’t get past the greens. No flat spots on the greens meant no relief for my broken mind. I don’t know if my short game was “off” that day, of if it was just that the course conditions overwhelmed me.
The rest of the course, save for where bunker repair and maintenance was ongoing, and the new tees being installed on all four par 3 holes, was perfect, virtually flawless. Despite playing over, across, and through the hills, valleys, and ridges of the rugged terrain, the golf course is utterly playable.
For instance, I never saw a side-hill lie in the fairway. The rough was lush, but not overly penalizing, perhaps a one or two club difference at most. The extensive mounding fit the natural terrain, and the few bunkers I hit out of were in impeccable condition.
Understand that this was just one round on one particular day. I have no idea if this kind of green is an aberration or the standard at Traditions. Either way, it is a fantastic golf course, and I very much look forward to my next opportunity to return.