One of my favorite walks: My Old Kentucky Home State Park Golf Course, Bardstown, KY

This picture from the 1st tee captures the "target golf" aspects of several of the holes containing playing corridors.

This picture from the 1st tee captures the “target golf” aspects of several of the holes containing playing corridors.

One of my favorite walks this summer was at the Kenny Rapier Golf Course at My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown, Kentucky.  It was neither the easiest nor the hardest course to walk, but it is one of the most pleasant.

It’s difficult to succinctly describe the course because it really is a tale of a few courses in one.  The course originally dates to 1933 and was completely retooled in 2001 by Fred Rux of Mobile, Alabama.

What is now the front nine was built in the 1990’s and was the back nine until the 2001 renovation.  The original 9-hole design was completely replaced during Rux’s remodel, which created a new back nine more in keeping with the feel of the front nine.

I'm not sure still photography adequately captures how large or how sloping the greens are at My Old Kentucky Home State Park Golf Course.

I’m not sure still photography adequately captures how large or how sloping the greens are at My Old Kentucky Home State Park Golf Course.

Following along so far?  Good, because the result is a really fun track that received four stars from Gold Digest’s “Best Places to Play” in 2008 and 2009.

The course isn’t terribly long, measuring only 6,351 yards from the back tees with a par of 71 and a course rating and slope of 69.5/119, respectively.

The big, modern green complexes are full of fantastic and severe undulations and multiple tiers surrounded by large mounds that frame the putting surfaces nicely.

The greens are large enough that there could definitely be at least a one club difference, if not more, depending on the pin position.

After two holes in the woods, the course opens itself up to the full brunt of cross breezes for several holes.

After two holes in the woods, the course opens itself up to the full brunt of cross breezes for several holes.

Mercifully, the greens are not mowed or maintained to be fast at all, which, for once, is perfectly fine.  Super-fast greens would be unplayable at My Old Kentucky Home due to all the slopes and contouring, both with respect to receiving approach shots and putting.  It’s not quite windmills and clown’s mouth level of elevation change on the greens, though it’s close.

The Bermuda grass turf was actually in pretty full and in good condition when I played the course this summer.  There were some thin and dead spots in the fairways here or there, but overall, considering the frigid, grass-killing winter Kentucky experienced, I was impressed with the course’s grass coverage.

The approach to the par four 6th hole appears innocuous, but the multi-level green guarded by bunkers and out-of-bounds adds stress to the shot.

The approach to the par four 6th hole appears innocuous, but the multi-level green guarded by bunkers and out-of-bounds adds stress to the shot.

The front nine starts out in a densely wooded area with a parkland style layout.  The first two holes are framed by tall hardwoods on all sides, creating narrow, bending corridors between the Bermuda tees and greens.

After a couple of holes, the course turns out into a tree-less expanse of several new holes adjacent to the Heaven Hill Distillery visitors shop and warehouses.  This portion of the courses uses an abundance of mounds that frame the fairways, which are acutely susceptible to winds due to the holes’ elevated tees and greens.

After the brief walk “on the plains,” the course returns to the hilly hardwood forests to close out the front side.

After a quick Gatorade purchase in the simple, function-over-form clubhouse, the course opens up on the back nine.

The long par five 10th hole may be the only straight ahead, grip-it-and-rip-it hole on the entire course.

The long par five 10th hole may be the only straight ahead, grip-it-and-rip-it hole on the entire course.

This side of the course contains much younger and fewer trees, so one’s play is not as constrained to target-style golf. There are still trees, but there is much more room to move the ball, giving golfers the opportunity to “cut the corner” if they know where to hit it.

To help safeguard par, however, are the elevation changes, mounds, and the aforementioned handful of trees that often prevent direct line of sight from the tee to the green.  In my opinion, this facet of the course, when coupled with its relatively short yardage, makes for a fun golf experience.

Most of the holes contain some bend or dogleg to them.  Whereas on the front nine, the corridor of trees dictates where one can and can’t play, on the relatively more open back nine, the angles and short distances create great risk versus reward opportunities.

The 11th, seen here, and 12th holes in particular stand out as holes where one can't see the landing area if driver is the play from the tee.

The 11th, seen here, and 12th holes in particular stand out as holes where one can’t see the landing area if driver is the play from the tee.

I learned very quickly that My Old Kentucky Home is not a course on which one blindly reaches for driver and lets rip kind of course. The distances and angles force golfer to think from the green backwards to the tee.

In addition to the fun angles that the trees and elevation changes create, the course had what I found to be above average bunkers, both in terms of strategic location and maintenance quality.

Another of the outstanding qualities of the course was its variety, especially on its par three holes.  There are a fantastic mix of long and short par threes, each with its own aggressive and bailout possibilities.

The tee shot on the par three 16th hole is intimidating and difficult, but beautiful at the same time.

The tee shot on the par three 16th hole is intimidating and difficult, but beautiful at the same time.

The signature holes at My Old Kentucky Home are numbers 16 and 17.  Number 16 is a big, daunting par three that requires a long tee shot from a highly elevated tee across a ravine to a big, back-to-front sloping green.

This is immediately followed by a semi-blind, severe dog leg right par four with a creek at both ends of the fairway.  Both tee shots require elements of discipline and creativity, and both holes punish a poorly placed approach shot with large, sloping greens.

The obvious disappointment during my visit was that the 15th fairway had suffered severe damage and was virtually unplayable. Large swaths of the fairway were barren mud puddles, while what little grass remained was so soggy that water squirted out underfoot with each step.

Hopefully a mild winter will allow the 15th fairway to recover, because it could be a really fun hole.

Hopefully a mild winter will allow the 15th fairway to recover, because it could be a really fun hole.

It’s an isolated hole that gets insufficient air circulates through corridor, which when coupled with the previous winter’s damage probably doomed the fairway to an entire season lost without turf growth.

While the course contains lots of elevation changes to challenge the walking golfer, it’s a very easy walk from most greens to the next tee, resulting in a very pleasant stroll.

The golf course at My Old Kentucky Home State Park is by no means a masterpiece.  I suspect it could be overpowered by someone who proves both long off the tee and can control their ball flight with modest precision.

The severe dogleg right 17th hole is a brilliantly executed hole, with varying fairway tilt depending how much corner one attempts to cut.

The severe dogleg right 17th hole is a brilliantly executed hole, with varying fairway tilt depending how much corner one attempts to cut.

Nonetheless, the large greens with the multiple, complex undulations and sloping make is a wonderfully fun course for golfers of any skill level.  The course’s scenery is fantastic, with each distinct section of the course offering something different yet equally pleasing to the eye.

My experience, from the routing to the strategic elements to the aesthetics, certainly merit a return visit in future years.

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2 thoughts on “One of my favorite walks: My Old Kentucky Home State Park Golf Course, Bardstown, KY

  1. 15 – 17 can be brutal if you don’t have your tee ball working that day (I know 16 is a par 3 but it requires a long club into it).

    15 fairway has never been right since it opened. Combined with the poor air flow, and it literally being cut into the side of a hill, I’m not sure it’s ever going to be the most conducive to growing grass.

    OKH can be fun, a favorite of the guys that buy the State Park Pass. You can play it and Lincoln Homestead on the same pass, and they’re only about 20-25 minutes away from one another.

    One major problem I’ve had with OKH over the years is their tee box maintenance, if they’d clean that up a little it would elevate my view of the course immensely.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Hidden Cove Golf Course at Grayson Lake State Park – an addition to the Must-Play list | One Bearded Golfer

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