One of my decisions early on this season was, in addition to playing better golf, to play golf at better courses. This week I made an exception because the cause of the charity scramble I was playing in was more important than where it was played.
So, for the first time in probably six or seven years, I made the short trek down U.S. 27 to Connemara Golf Course on the north side of Nicholasville, KY. I’d had enough bad experiences at Connemara that years prior I had sworn off it forever, never to return.
Fortunately, time had smoothed the edges of my memories and I’d heard enough good things about some of the changes made at the course by the new ownership group that I was willing to give it a second chance.
In 2006, the Connemara course was purchased by the founder of Alltech, whose corporate headquarters is directly across the street. Dr. Pearse Lyons and Alltech poured significant money into improving and beautifying the golf course.
The many improvements include a completely renovated clubhouse, numerous aesthetic hardscaping projects, and general turf condition improvement. To the owners’ credit, the course looks significantly better than when last I laid eyes on it.
Plus, Dr. Lyons, who is an Irishman that followed the equine and distilling businesses to Kentucky, paid particular attention to Irish-ing up Connemara Golf Course, to better connect the course to its namesake, the Connemara region of Ireland.
Gaelic and shamrock themed signage is prominent throughout the property, and Irish cultural icons the clubhouse. Even one greenside bunker on the par 3 7th hole is clearly shamrock shaped.
Before Dr. Lyons purchased the golf course, the most Irish characteristic of Connemara G.C. was the Norfolk Southern railroad line immediately adjacent to the course’s western border.
From our scramble-friendly white tees, the course plays to just over 6,000 yards with a course rating and slope of 69.5/111.
However, for all of Dr. Lyons’ efforts, he could only put so much lipstick on the pig that is Connemara Golf Course. The layout is fundamentally flawed, resulting in a course that neither possesses nor requires imagination or intrigue.
Thus, it’s hard to comprehend that Connemara was designed by Jack Ridge, the same PGA professional that designed my beloved Houston Oaks in Paris, Kentucky.
The front nine is actually a pretty decent collection of varied golf holes, requiring golfers to pursue holes in every direction. This means that, for at least half the course at least, golfers have to pay attention to the wind on the largely treeless, wide open, rolling terrain.
I don’t know if they have upgraded the irrigation or made turf changes, but the course was the greenest I had ever seen it, by far. Some winter miscues had left plenty of room for improvement on the tee boxes and greens.
Nonetheless at least there was a discernible difference between the fairways and rough during our round, something not necessarily true of the Connemara of my youth.
I wish I could highlight a signature hole at Connemara’s revamped setup. However, the signature stretch of holes at Connemara is more notorious than remarkable.
The stretch of holes beginning with the par 4 14th hole and concluding with the finishing 18th hole simply go back and forth from elevated green, down to a valley, and back up to a blind or semi-blind elevated green.
It might be the most unimaginative stretch of golf holes in all of Kentucky, certainly in the greater Lexington area. And frankly, without moving a ton of earth, I’m not sure what could be done to remedy this extreme design malady.
This isn’t to suggest that one shouldn’t play Connemara. It has always been an inexpensive option, when compared to its Central Kentucky competitors.
The proshop and clubhouse staff were as friendly as any I’ve encountered this year. There is a perfectly nice practice range and green to get warmed up with. And now there is even a formal, enforced policy outlawing denim on the course, something wholly foreign to memories of Connemara.
But it will be a hot day in Dublin before I could go so far as to recommend Connemara G.C. Which, in a funny twist of fate, is definitely not what we experienced on Sunday.
When we teed off, it was a breezy, overcast 62 °F with a brisk breeze and intermittent drizzle more characteristic of a Galway City winter than June in Kentucky.
Unfortunately, I was the “A-” member of my group. However, luckily, I was part of a foursome that was much more interested in having a good time and enjoying the camaraderie than playing serious golf and contending for a victory.
So, we withstood the elements and managed to have a good time on our way to posting a just-shy-of-respectable seven-under 64.
Connemara is a popular place for scrambles, due to its facilities’ setup and overall affordability, so it is good to know that the course continues to make strides aesthetically and competitively. Maybe in another five or six years, I’ll head back and see how much additional progress has been made.