I’ve always imagined that the Wildcat Course and Big Blue Course at the University Club of Kentucky in Lexington have a little brother – big brother relationship. Being a little brother myself, I understand the notion of living in the shadow of the better looking, more sophisticated sibling.
The Big Blue Course, with its Arthur Hills pedigree, (in)famous island green, and status as the home course of the University of Kentucky golf teams, gets all the love and attention from the Club’s membership, media, and golfing public. And deservedly so; it’s a great golf course.
However, the Wildcat Course at the University Club at Kentucky is a fun, thorough test of golf in its own right. I suspect it would be more warmly regarded if it stood alone as its own golf course, rather than being the “other 18 holes” in the shadow of its more heralded brother.
The Wildcat Course offers four sets of tees from which to play. At 6,254 yards spread over 18 holes of par 71 golf, Tee Three provides plenty of challenge with a course rating and slope of 70.7/135, respectively.
The Wildcat course rolls across the hills and valleys that lead from the clubhouse downward toward the Town Branch of the South Elkhorn Creek, which abuts and forms the southern border of the University Club’s property.
Course owner Danny McQueen designed and laid out the Wildcat Course as very different challenge than the Big Blue Course.
In my opinion, the front nine is where one really makes their score on the Wildcat Course. The sight-lines from the tee box gives me a sense that I can be aggressive with my tee shots, as the trouble is generally obvious and limited to one side of the hole.
Granted, there are several holes that are tree-lined on both sides. But most of the fairways on the front are generously wide and not particularly curved or doglegged, meaning that if you are hitting the ball well at all on the day, you should have a chance to get to the green.
The front nine also includes less and gentler elevation changes than the back nine, incorporating a more natural feel as the course moves towards then away from the aforementioned creek.
Both par 5 holes on the front are easily attacked for birdies opportunities, as they’re not too long and the greens are not that complicated. As long as the ball is kept around the fairway off the tee, even if one doesn’t reach the green, a simple pitch up should be available.
On the other end of the spectrum, the two par 3 holes on the front are long holes that use massive elevation changes from tee to green to force a golfer to think hard about club and shot selection.
I’m sure it’s relatively easy for the members, as they eventually develop a “usual” club for these challenges, but to the once-in-a-while visitor, it’s a scary, frustrating proposition.
The par fours, both on the front nine and the back, include a nice variety of holes that are short and long, wide and narrow, scoring opportunities and “par is a good score” challenges.
From Tee Three, the par fours vary in distance from the brutish 457 yard 3rd hole to the risk reward opportunities at 309 and 303 yards at the 6th and 11th holes, respectively.
In my opinion, the back nine is where a golfer makes their bones at the Wildcat Course. These holes have a lot more and severe twists, turns, and doglegs. The sight lines from the tee boxes alternate among uncomplicated, uninviting, and unconscionable.
There’s certainly an element of target golf to the back nine, insomuch as if you put the ball in the correct position off the tee, the course can open up for you. Miss wildly and the back nine becomes an arduous slog.
And then there’s the wind. If the wind is sweeping across the gentle rolling hills and valleys of the back nine, it can turn the easy holes into stiffer challenges, and turn the challenging holes into impossible ones. For instance, into a headwind, the long, narrow, waterlogged 16 hole might as well be regarded as a de facto par 5.
The final four holes are probably a step above the rest of the course with respect to difficulty and memorability. It’s a strong finish to an otherwise average to above-average golfing experience. The uphill dogleg par 4 15th hole gives way to the long, ribbon-thin 16th fairway, which is bordered by a large pond from 180 yards in all the way to the green.
That same pond provides the drama of a forced-carry, medium length par 3 17th hole. Finally, the Wildcat Course concludes with a big, semi-blind dogleg left to a multiple tiered 18th green. It’s a formidable stretch of holes, for sure.
This golfer can’t go so far as to recommend the Wildcat Course over its more heralded sibling. However, the narrow corridors, hard sloping greens, and myriad bunkers and water hazards provide thorough, if different, challenge than the big, hulking Big Blue Course at the University Club.
If you want to try to get in 36 holes, there is no other facility in Lexington that offers what the University Club does with respect to convenience and variety of experience. At less than $40.00 a round for 18 holes with a cart, it is tough to argue that the Wildcat Course isn’t one of Lexington’s best value plays.
*Editor’s Note: I’ve found it doesn’t matter what course we play, or how good or bad our rounds are, my friend Mark is going to birdie the 18th hole every time, which is a guaranteed way to leave the course with a smile.