Today was an exceedingly disappointing and depressing day on the golf course at Old Silo Golf Club.
Never mind that my struggles getting off the tee reared their ugly heads again, making it pointless to even try to keep score. Or that I didn’t make nearly as many putts as I should with my new Anser 2 putter. Those obstacles have little to do with my dour mood.
No, while I arrived at Old Silo in Mount Sterling, Kentucky hopeful that the course was in much improved condition over what I had visited almost one year ago, I was immediately heartbroken as I peered out of the pro shop windows down toward the 9th and 18th green complexes.
I’m not one for kicking someone while they’re down, but the magnitude of the fall of Old Silo’s conditioning deserves to be known by you, Dear Readers, lest you have unrealistic expectations of what you’ll find at Old Silo based on historical reputation and my own prior glowing review.
The barren, sand-less, weed-filled bunkers had been completely and utterly neglected. Apparently abandoned permanently. The once beautiful, high-walled bunkers filled with white sand that so defined Graham Marsh’s first foray into golf course design in the U.S. were no more.
It’s not that the bunkers hadn’t been raked or that there was more soil than sand left in the traps; that’s par for the course for most municipal and some daily fee courses in Central Kentucky.
No, this is a conscious and complete abdication of any pretense that Old Silo remains a well cared for golf course. And it’s really sad.
During the past 15 years, Old Silo was regularly regarded as the standard of excellence for daily fee golf courses in Kentucky. Any magazine or blog list that didn’t rank Old Silo among its top five public courses could be disregarded as not credible.
The course is routed through an incredibly diverse and interesting piece of property, with its ravines, creeks, massive elevation changes, and impressive rock wall outcroppings, none of which has changed. However, the course is a shell of its former self, which makes it all the more sad for those of us that would prefer to remember it as it once was.
Last season, I asked the golf pro what was going on with the bunkers, and was told there was a plan to remove some and renovate others. This year I was too disgusted to even bother asking.
No longer are the fairways a lush green. Sure, fast and firm is fashionable and desirable in golf today, but the once brilliant sheen of bent grass has given way a mix of native grasses that aren’t so thirsty during our hot, humid summers.
No longer are the greens some of the best in the state. Sure, the contours and multiple tiers are still there, injecting at least some modicum of strategy into one’s golf game, but I’m not completely sure that management hasn’t applied some sort of growth retardant to slow or halt the grass on the greens from growing.
Despite being crispy to the touch and an awkward shade of beige not commonly found during springtime in Kentucky, the greens rolled extremely slow; so slow that balls stopped on down slopes with inexplicable regularity.
Where once lush, full, green rough resided has been taken over by an unyielding invasion of dandelions. Even several of the tee boxes are falling victim to these most insidious of lawn weeds, indicating to me that if there remains a chemical budget at Old Silo, it has been slashed to next to nothing.
I’m not mad about this development. I get it: times continue to be tough for golf courses in Central Kentucky, as courses were so obviously overbuilt in the past two decades (never mind what’s going on, there’s a new Jack Nicklaus Signature course coming to the U.S. 68 Golf Corridor in Jessamine County…allegedly).
The only ill-will I begrudge the owners and management is that the course still charges $50+ for a weekend morning round, pretending that there’s nothing wrong. The course picture galleries on the Old Silo website border on deceptive marketing and clear violations of Kentucky’s consumer protection laws, but they’ve obviously got bigger fish to fry.
As far as the particulars as to why the course has devolved so far down, I’m not close enough to the situation to know. I suspect a combination of factors, including its distance from the area’s core population center (it’s a solid 45 minutes from downtown Lexington), the declining numbers of casual golfers, and the tremendous expense of keeping such a large golf course in top shape.
Frankly, I don’t know if the course operated in the black. It has changed hands once or twice, though I suspect each subsequent owner has seen their grand plans quashed by a lack of sufficient revenue.
There’s a housing development loosely attached to the golf course, but it’s by no means large enough to support a high-end golf course, even if all the residents were avid golfers. There’s a really nice bar and restaurant in the clubhouse, but I’ve never seen it approaching even a quarter full.
I’m glad the course is still open and operating, even if it’s on a shoestring budget with what must be a skeleton crew. As long as it remains open, I suppose I may allow myself to hope against hope that someone will somehow, some way find a way to invest in returning the course to its former top-notch conditioning.
However, as loathe as I am to write this, because Old Silo truly is one of my favorite courses, I can no longer recommend planning or bothering to play it until it’s conditioning is brought up several notches.
If it makes economic sense to fill in the bunkers and make them grassy areas, then the owners should get on with it. Sure, removing even more of Marsh’s original bunkers will diminish the architectural, aesthetic, and strategic values of each hole, but ANY change would be better than the conditions that now exist at Old Silo.