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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.