It’s often said that Kentucky was the only state to join the Confederacy after the Civil War (ahem, “War of Northern Aggression”) was lost. Despite being the northern-most Southeastern Conference school, culturally speaking, I’d wager a majority of Kentuckians can and do identify much more with Dixie than the rust-belt Midwest (the obvious exception may be the sophisticates that reside in Louisville).
We don’t have a professional sports team in Kentucky, so like the rest of the American South, we take our college sports very seriously. Labor Day signals the unofficial end of summer and the official start of college football.
If you are traveling to Lexington to watch your favorite gridiron gang battle our beloved Kentucky Wildcats, below is the One Bearded Golfer guide for visiting fans of football and golf.
University of Kentucky Football
On a handful of Saturdays each fall, Commonwealth Stadium on the University of Kentucky campus transforms from a creaky mishmash of concrete, glass, and steel into, effectively, the 3rd largest city in the state of Kentucky.
While our team has been anything but dominant over the past several…..er…well, since Bear Bryant coached Kentucky in the 1950’s, our fans love to get out and support our team.
During our many down years, I’ve always thought Kentucky must average the most fans per victory in major college football.
Now that the football program is in the infancy of an upswing, the fan base grows more fervent each week, giddy with anticipation of the good times to come, like a kid counting down the days to Christmas.
The tailgating space at Commonwealth Stadium is vast. At any given tent you’ll probably find a combination of delicious meats (Chick-Fil-A, hanky pankies, or barbecue are my personal favorites), cheeses, chips and bourbon.
If it’s an early game, expect vigorous tailgating before and after the game. If it’s a late afternoon or night game, the Wildcat faithful will begin with a biscuit and bloody Mary for breakfast, then snack and drink until well into the 1st quarter.
The atmosphere inside the stadium swings from congenial to electric, depending on who and how the Wildcats are playing. Plus, at roughly 60,000 capacity, Commonwealth Stadium is small enough that there aren’t any bad seats from which to watch the game.
Lexington Area Golf
In addition to glorious fall afternoons filled with bourbon and football, our almost Southern climate allows enjoyable golf from mid-March until Thanksgiving most seasons. We are blessed with more than our fair share of good to great golf courses in Central Kentucky, so if you can spare an extra day, be sure to take advantage of some fall golf bliss.
Just as the SEC has its powerhouse programs that are in the mix for a conference championship every year, like Alabama, Florida, LSU, and Georgia, Central Kentucky has stalwarts of great golf courses available to home folks and visitors alike.
At only 8 miles from campus, Kearney Hill Golf Links is the crown jewel of the Lexington municipal courses. Host to several championships over the years, both professional and amateur, Kearney Hill was Pete and P.B. Dye’s answer to the City’s demand for a top-notch municipal tract. This fun, long, windswept course never disappoints. Travel tip: This is the course easiest to visit traveling to Lexington from Louisville or Cincinnati, located just minutes from the northern intersection of I-64 & I-75.
Set 11 miles from Commonwealth Stadium in the rolling pastures adjoining the Elkhorn Creek, the University Club of Kentucky offers 36 holes of championship golf on two distinctly unique courses. Arthur Hills’ Big Blue Course at the University Club serves as the home course of UK’s golf teams, and is the more popular and more challenging course. However, the Wildcat Course is certainly no slouch, challenging a golfer’s accuracy and creativity. Travel Tip: On the scenic route from Frankfort to Lexington via U.S. 421 (Leestown Road).
Traveling to play Old Silo Golf Club requires a little planning and flexibility, as you should conservatively budget 45 minutes to an hour to traverse the 37 miles from campus to Mt. Sterling. However, the trip to Old Silo never disappoints, as the course is consistently ranked as one of the top golf courses in the state and one of my personal favorites. Travel Tip: On the way to Lexington if you are arriving from the east (i.e., Huntington, W.V., Washington D.C., etc.).
So long as there’s a top of the heap, there necessarily has to be a group of challengers in the middle that are just a notch below consistently great, but fighting to climb into the elite tier. In football terms, you can consider these courses the Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Texas A&M of the Central Kentucky golfing scene.
If you are wanting to minimize your travel around town once you get to Lexington, it would be hard to pass on playing the Gay Brewer Jr. Course at Picadome, located less than two miles from Commonwealth Stadium. This parkland-style throwback to the golden era of golf is a fun test, with it’s tight fairways and postage stamp greens. Be warned, though, the course has thick Bermuda grass fairways that go dormant at the first hard frost, which can be as early as Halloween some years. Travel tip: this course is by far the closest to UK’s campus.
On the far south side of the Lexington area, the Golf Club of the Bluegrass is a nice golfing retreat set amongst some great rolling horse pastures, for which the Bluegrass Region is famous. While the course is scenic and relaxing, if you are looking to knock back a few adult beverages during your round, you’ll need to bring your own, as the course does not sell alcohol. Travel tip: this is probably the most convenient course to catch on your way into Lexington if you are coming to town from the Bluegrass Parkway (how I-65 travelers will reach Lexington).
Speaking of taking in the amazing beauty of Central Kentucky’s signature thoroughbred farms, the north-side outposts of the Marriott Griffin Gate and Paris’s Houston Oaks Golf Club sit adjacent to some of the best horse farms in the world. Griffin Gate is a resort course located on a sprawling Marriott property that includes a swanky hotel, wide, lush fairways and gigantic greens, making the course enjoyable for even the highest handicapper. Travel tip:
Located adjacent to I-64/I-75 at the Newtown Pike exit, Griffin Gate is the easiest course to find on the way into or out of Lexington via either interstate.
Houston Oaks, a One Bearded Golfer favorite, presents a diverse test of shot-making. Majestic old growth trees and water dot the landscape of the one-time pasture land, and the second nine holes provide some fun, unique golf challenges. Travel Tip: The breathtaking farms along Paris Pike on the way to and from the course, part of the Kentucky Scenic Byway, more than justify driving the 20 miles from campus to the course.
These courses, like Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, though unspectacular and among the perennial also-rans, are still worthy of consideration and will serve a golfer well in a pinch.
If you are traveling north to Lexington via I-75 from Tennessee and points South, it doesn’t get more convenient than stopping for a quick 18 holes at Lakeside Golf Course. This wide open layout features large fairways and green complexes, with a handful of lengthy par four and five holes. The signature 9th hole measures 653 yards from the back tees. Travel Tip: This course is right on U.S. 25/Richmond Road on your way into or out of town to the southernmost I-75 interchange.
Tates Creek Golf Course, set amongst several older residential developments on the south side of town, epitomizes municipal golf in Lexington. The course isn’t particularly long or difficult, and it’s not particularly pretty, but it does offer 18 regulation holes, which in my experience, is always better than getting back home early to tackle the mountain of work or chores eagerly awaiting your return. Travel tip: set at the confluence of several neighborhoods far from the main thoroughfares, Tates Creek is the most hidden of all of Lexington’s city courses.
Of course, if you are visiting in October, make sure you carve out one afternoon to take in the splendor and pageantry of live thoroughbred racing at Keeneland. The racetrack and grounds are stunningly beautiful, and you’ll be able to find every modern amenity inside, from self-service betting kiosks to some of the best food and drinks in the nation (trust me, get the bread pudding).
So, if you’re heading to Lexington to watch your favorite college team battle our beloved Kentucky Wildcats, we at One Bearded Golfer certainly hope you enjoy your stay. I hope you will feel free to use this as a guide to maximize your football and golfing enjoyment. The Bluegrass Region is blessed with a deep roster of fun, diverse, affordable golf courses that I’m sure you would enjoy.
On, on, U of K , we are right for the fight today…