The Links at Novadell wins the 2015 Flattest Course Award. Yeah, sure, it’s not exactly a links golf course, considering that it’s eight hours away from the nearest ocean. But it’s perhaps the flattest 18 holes of golf I’ve ever played, with wide open spaces that invite the wind to wreak havoc on golfers.
Hopkinsville, Kentucky, in far Western Kentucky, is a three-hour drive from Lexington through perhaps the loneliest, most uninspiring stretch of road east of the Mississippi River. Which meant that in order to make my 8:27 a.m. tee time, I left the homestead at 5:00 a.m.: not ideal game preparation.
Despite a sad and road-weary performance, getting to experience such an inexplicably fun golf course was worth the drive. Hopkinsville rests on the ancient flood plains of the Cumberland and Ohio Rivers, The Links at Novadell was created from prime fields of farmland.
Seemingly endless fields of corn, soybeans, and hay, mixed with a partially finished housing development and a few agrarian wind break lines of trees, surround the golf course, reminding golfers that they are on the edge of the middle of nowhere.
In fact, the actively farmed fields make up the unmown areas abutting the brutally deep mixed Bermuda grass rough that simply eats golf balls. These agricultural spaces are dangerously close to the playing corridors and fairways.
Designed by career designer and shaper Don Charles, The Links at Novadell opened for play in 2002.
The entire design is an interesting exercise in reverse psychology: at first glance, the course appears wide open, as the lack of trees and only a few houses and water hazards create an unjustified sense of comfort from the tee. However, woe be to the golfer that misses the fairway. The rough is incredibly penal and the fields are out-of-bounds.
At 6,643 windswept yards from the gold tees, The Links at Novadell presents a course rating and slope of 70.1 and 119, respectively. From the championship tees, the course can be stretched to 7,132 yards for a course rating and slope of 73.0/122.
Other than being nearly flat, the course has several other distinct characteristics. The fairways have subtle but significant slopes, creating unforeseen bounces and dangers both laterally and by depth.
There aren’t many blind shots at Novadell, as you can usually see the green from tee, or at least from the fairway, due to the uninterrupted views. However, the lack of vertical background does create potential depth perception issues, so making sure you have a yardage book or accurate GPS device is a must.
The fairways are framed by mounding on and around the fairways, which contain plenty of bunkers, brutally thick rough, and the aforementioned farm fields lying perilously close by.
In keeping with the links styling, the Links of Novadell has large greens that present a variety of contours and strategic obstacles. Some greens contain longer, gentler slopes, while others have distinct tiers with tricky transition zones on longer putts.
The flatness of the course and the once and future housing development that is slowly overtaking the fields reminds me of the North River Club. Both have tremendous visual horizons that will eventually (sadly) give way to an unremarkable housing development.
Or maybe it will be remarkable, at least by Hopkinsville standards. One of my playing partners, who’d driven down from Louisville and stayed at a hotel the night before, said he asked the hotel clerk how to get to the course, to which she replied, “Oh, you mean out there where all them rich folks live.”
Other than the lack of elevation change, my overriding memory of the Links of Novadell is the beautiful condition in which the course was kept. It was a very, very green oasis in a desert of tan.
There is no on course warm up, as a tough first hole punches golfers in the nose. There is trouble on all sides of fairway, including at the end between the fairway and green complex.
How tough, you ask? On the first hole of a tournament I’d just driven three pre-dawn hours I carded my only 11 I carded the entire year.
There are a handful of really good holes at Novadell, though I don’t know that I’d rate any particular hole as great. The back nine in particular features several really fun par four holes. It’s a nice collection of holes with strategic variety: short, long, narrow, attackable.
Perhaps the best feature of the design is that it allows the wind dictate if each successive hole a birdie opportunity or a scratch and claw fight to save par.
Unless you’re visiting Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Division, I’m not sure why you’d have occasion to ever stop in Hopkinsville.
But if you do find yourself in that part of the Pennyrile, carve out some time to visit the Links at Novadell, you’ll be glad you did.
And remember, after you survive posting an 11 and losing three balls on the first hole, the rest of the round will just be gravy.