Requiem for a Heavyweight of Kentucky Public Golf Courses – The Fall of Old Silo

2016 will mark the 3rd consecutive season that the bunkers at Old Silo have been completely neglected.

2016 will mark the 3rd consecutive season that the bunkers at Old Silo have been completely neglected.

Editor’s note: Old Silo Golf Club closed permanently in 2017.

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.

The bunkers aren't the only casualties of Old Silo's austere times: the chemical budget has been slashed as well, as dandelions dominated the course's landscape.

The bunkers aren’t the only casualties of Old Silo’s austere times: the chemical budget has been slashed as well, as dandelions dominated the course’s landscape.

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.

Despite being the height of grass-growing season, the grass isn't growing at Old Silo...except where it shouldn't be.

Despite being the height of grass-growing season, the grass isn’t growing at Old Silo…except where it shouldn’t be.

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).

For those of us that remember playing Old Silo in it's prime, today was like visiting the golf course of a ghost town.

For those of us that remember playing Old Silo in its prime, today was like visiting the golf course of a ghost town.

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.

In better times, the view from Old Silo's 6th tee box was one of the best in Central Kentucky.

In better times, the view from Old Silo’s 6th tee box was one of the best in Central Kentucky.

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.

34 thoughts on “Requiem for a Heavyweight of Kentucky Public Golf Courses – The Fall of Old Silo

  1. This is almost precisely what happened at Indian Ridge Golf Club outside Oxford, OH. Previous owners let it rot. Bunkers were not maintained; weeds all around it. A course that at one point had some of the best greens in the Cincinnati area were shells of their former selves.

    Thankfully, the requiem for Indian Ridge has not been written yet. A new owner took over last year and in the process of bringing it back to its former glory. Bunkers on all but 2 holes have been completely re-done. Turf conditions continue to improve. A gigantic, and very necessary, water retention pond has been built to aide with watering, as they don’t have city water.

    Still, very sad to see what’s become of Old Silo. Feel publications and raters need to know about what’s going on there and adjust their rankings accordingly.

    • That’s all I wanted to do by writing it up. I hesitated to even write the piece, because I have no interest in publishing a Hit Piece. But it was a course I (and a lot of others) held in such high esteem, I just thought the information should be out there.

  2. That’s sad to hear and I’m glad you posted. I played there about 3 years ago which must have been at the beginning of the decline because it was in nice shape. Most modern designs are over bunkered if you ask me, including Old Silo. I wish more designers would understand that bunkers are tough for amateurs to play from, costly to maintain, and just slow down play. If Old Silo fills in a bunch that seems like a great move! I wish them the best.

  3. Not going to claim to be a golf course designer or architect here, cause I’m not, but am an avid gofer who plays a lot of varying courses in the central KY area. I too have seen the decline of OS, and it is sad. What I don’t understand though, is what’s so hard about turning a sand bunker into a grass bunker? Maybe there is more to that process than I think, but it seems to me if they were going to turn X number of sand bunkers into grass bunkers, this could have been facilitated relatively easy last spring and they would have playable grass bunkers now. So, is there more to it than cleaning out the existing sand, working up the dirt a little and planting grass seed and watering?

    • V – there you go being logical and trying to make sense, things that are both foreign and offensive on this Blog. I’m with you, if grassing them in were the plan, why not just get on with it? Which makes me think there isn’t a plan and they’re just trying to get by spending as little as possible.

  4. Making the decision to refuse to play or return to a course until it returns to acceptable condition is definitely not going to help them by any means. Especially a course you claim to love. I can understand not wanting to pay their top rack rate for such horrible conditions, but that’s up to the management to lower the rates. Boycotting the place and spreading the word to others to do the same will close their doors faster than 88 weed infested bunkers will.

    • I’m not advocating anyone boycotting the course, by any means. At $20 a round, it’s probably a decent value. However, I wrote a glowing review two years ago, highly recommending it to readers. And I felt obligated (and sad) to update my opinion, lest anyone rely on that older, no longer accurate review.

    • It also doesn’t help to keep paying $50.00 a round to play in crappy conditions that it appears little to no effort is being given towards improving. If everyone kept paying that to play in the condition the course is in, then why make any improvements? What’s the incentive? Kind of like the Chicago Cubs for many many years…crappy product but the fans kept coming so there was no real/urgent need to try and improve the product. Has to be a line drawn somewhere. All Dave was doing was reporting the facts so everyone could make an informed decision.

      Though the design of OS beats my home course by a country mile and everything being equal I would take OS over it in a heart beat, at least my little old country home course works on the bunkers and keeps the overall conditions of the course serviceable, with few workers I might add. They were out turning up the bunkers last night with some mechanical equipment then raking and smoothing them out. Doesn’t mean the course is perfect or doesn’t have it’s faults, cause it does, but they try.

      I used to go out of my way to play OS, and for me it’s a good bit out of the way. But at $50.00 with the current conditions, my money will be spent elsewhere unless or until I hear that either conditions have improved, or I can play it for about $20.00.

  5. This makes me sad. I helped build and grow this course in. I was superintendent there until 2006. This was my pride and joy. It was in pristine shape when I left (by my choice) because I knew the new owners didn’t know what they were doing.

    • That’s the reason I wrote the column, because for years the course was so well conditioned and challenging, yet still fun to play.

      If we crowdsource you a stipend, can we get you back to Old Silo?

    • I feel the same way. I was an assistant pro there for 3 years after the club opened and it was still Graham Marsh’s pride and joy. So sad to see what’s happened in the past few years.

    • I was a member there for several years and live in Mt. Sterling. In the last three years I doubt if I have played 10 rounds total there.

      The previous condition of the course was definitely one of the reasons I played there and so much golf. It certainly has lost its appeal.

    • I feel the same way. I was an assistant pro there for 3 years after the club opened and it was still Graham Marsh’s pride and joy. So sad to see what’s happened in the past few years.

  6. I was the original manager of the Fairfield Inn Hotel and was there during construction. I hosted many meetings in my meeting room with the owner of the farm that gave the land to Graham Marsh so he could sell home lots..The problem was from the start when the story was Mr. Marsh was going to use the course as a show course to fly investors in to show them what he could do in their town..So he uses the rolling hills of my home town and as soon as he gets a few deals he puts it up for sell..I get it..But like most investments or investors who now are the new owners of a beautiful golf course they don’t truely understand the cost thst goes into maintaining it.. But this course has changed hands more than I want to count and I actually lost count.. But it never has been marketed correctly.. Just like the hotel I ran you have to put a lot of time and creativity in drawing groups in which convinces the community to develop attrations and other activities for the golfers other than Applebees and Walmart.. So when the course is not making enough money they once did to pay grounds keepers or Lowes comes to town and they all leave to go where they get more hours and benifits then they loose business like the local competition the Mt. Sterling Golf and CC they was going broke themselves and decided to go simi private to generate funds.. So now the course that many sault after to play on but could not because they weren’t a member now all flak to instead of OS that they could always get on.. Personally I never found it to be a fun course to play..when I was done even in its prime I was glad to be done.. But maybe because like the others it didn’t compare to the feeling I had playing at the Country Club

  7. I heard that OS had been financially mismanaged for the past few years and that had a lot to do with their present situation. I talked to a guy from Powell County and he told me that he became a member for $500 when the membership was suppose to be much higher and was told to not say anything to anyone. During his membership term evidently the guy that took his money was relieved of his duties and it turned out that his name wasn’t even on the membership list. His paying in cash made it more complicated for him. He said they finally reluctantly allowed him to finish out the golf season.

  8. This is sad to see I never seen it in its glory days, I have worked there now for two seasons i see first hand how it changes we have been working very hard to clean these weed infested bunkers and make the place nice again I love this place as mush as the next person and so does my son we are very short handed on crew there and the owners don’t spend as much money as they should but it’s hard to spend money and not see a return I talk to the regular golfer’s every day so I know how you all feel hopefully it will turn around soon….

  9. Fix the damn, problem people we need to speak out.‼️ Let’s find out what the problem is and do something about it who do we call, Who do we talk to? Who do we go see in person❓ Everything in Mount Sterling is getting better why do we want to let our golf course go to shit.‼️😤😤

    • You can speak with Stephen Howard the owner of Old Silo.
      Call the Old silo phone # and your call will go straight to him.

      • I know. Maybe down the road I’ll reach out to him to let him explain what happened (seems inappropriate right now).

        I hope he is able to find a buyer or operator that can bring it back.

  10. The article was spread around again today and there have been steady improvements over the past few months with turf conditions. And, rates were reduced.
    Old Silo had a major theft last year. Plus, one of the owners was gravely ill starting in February and passed away in May. This article may just be the death kneel to the course. I know the article squarely impacted revenue dramatically at a crucial time at the beginning of the season. It’s a great track and one that needs support instead of getting kicked and kicked until the doors close.

  11. Wait, are you blaming all of Old Silo’s woes on this article? Dude, that’s just totally laughable. For one thing, and this is meant as no disrespect to the bearded one here, but how many people do you think actually see/read this blog? It’s not like this site has the readership of the Lex Herald or some such. Secondly, Old Silo’s downfall started WAAAAY before this blog post was written. I played there, I have witnessed the downfall myself, it didn’t take this blog to keep me from the place. Heck, I probably steered more people away from the course than this blog did by just word of mouth. I didn’t want people driving out of their way paying $40+ dollars to play a track that was not “up to par” so to speak. And hey, I am a FAN of the place, when it’s just even in decent shape. If the course has made improvements, please let everyone know and beat the bushes to get people back out there. But PLEASE don’t come on here and make it seem like this blog is responsible for OS issues, because that’s a total farce.

    • I didn’t blame the article for ‘ALL’ of Old Silo’s ‘woes’. I do know the article had a negative impact on revenue… just ask the head golf pro. He told me several groups had canceled and had mentioned the blog. I also know they are working hard and have worked through some difficult times. My opinion is the course is worth the price. They run deals regularly. Tee to Green agronomy is in good shape… bunker are the only issue IMO. Once again, this article did resonate and impact… at what level I don’t know. Perhaps, minimal. My point was to just be the change you want to see and help this awesome course continue getting back on track. I play there, it’s a fun place and I plan to support it through the good and bad. That fine sir is neither laughable or a farce.

      • ” I know the article squarely impacted revenue dramatically at a crucial time at the beginning of the season. ” So based on your follow up, you were talking out of your ass, coming back later to admit you didn’t really know the level of impact. People were turning away from this course before this blog was ever written, and they probably turned to the blog in hopes there was improvement. I played there in 2012 and even then, while the layout was great, the course conditions weren’t all that great. To hang your hat by saying this blog “squarely impacted revenue dramatically” when you didn’t even know the truth is just intellectually dishonest, especially since the decline of this course started at least 5 years prior to its writing.

        I hope I don’t wind up playing at a new course you’re working, either. Judging your duplicity, it’s clear you’re not to be trusted when it comes to speaking the truth about course conditions, etc….

        It’s really sad this course closed, too. It really was a great layout.

  12. Pingback: Old Silo Golf Course, Mt. Sterling, KY – The Best of the Bluegrass | One Bearded Golfer

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  14. I think the course is still holding its own. July 2017 Golf Digest has it ranked as number 9 in KY and its not even open.

  15. That’s a sad article to have read but an accurate description of what was also one of my favorite KY layouts. After moving to Va Beach and being around a wide variety of layouts and price ranges, I was always curious about Silo and it’s status. I witnessed the start of the downfall with the bunkers (originally 103 i believe) , and this was at least 5 years ago. Living 12 miles away I was able to play a fast evening 9 or a day of 36 and playing at least 2 times a month, we noticed the neglect quickly. The course also changed ownership right around the time and from my recollection, it started shortly after. I had considered it one of my personal favorites right up there with Tobacco Road, Wolf Creek and other “bucket list” layouts. (Of course being a local KY course I was biased but it made my list anyhow) I recently moved back to KY and have been wanting to revisit the course. When looking for the site tonite, I saw on their page it was listed as “permanently closed”. I searched further and used the question of, “is old silo permanently closed?” to find this write-up and description. It sounded like it was well on its way at the time of this article and I guess it’s true now. Such a waste of one 18 hole course in Mt Sterling and a 9 hole course in the neighboring county (Clark). I suppose soon the weeds and grass will then too cover up the evidence of a super nice course and what could have been,.. just as has happened with M. MANOR or Blackfoot or whatever the 2nd name of 9 hole course off Boonesboro Rd in Clark Co. was called. I wonder if the range is overgrown too or practice area? I would consider hitting some practice balls but seeing the surroundings might be too sad! Hope somebody sees the potential and can afford the costs. This is all based on my reading reviews about its decline and I havent had eyes on in about 4 years. Its always going to be a fav of mine and I hope its not too far gone yet.

  16. Was this golf course open in 1993.? I golfed somewhere near I 64 back then. Any info is appreviated

    • I believe it opened around 2005. You may have played Kearney Hills which is a Pete Dye that you can see off 64 between Lexington and Georgetown.

  17. My stepfather, George Campbell, purchased the land that was sold to the Old Silo golf course developers. He purchased the property from the University of Kentucky’s women’s golf coach…I think her last name was Evans? My stepfather and his father, Roy Campbell, purchased the property in 1997.
    My stepfather passed away from kidney disease in February of 1999. Almost one year later to the day of his death, I walked 18 holes at Old Silo. If I remember correctly, the course had 90+ bunkers of sugary white sand….unbelievably beautiful!!!
    Before his death, my stepfather hunted wild turkey on the property. On the 1st par 3 on the front 9, I hit my tee shot into one of the bunkers. As I walked into the bunker to play my shot, I noticed there were turkey tracks in the sand. Then I noticed the bunker was shaped like a turkey’s foot. I snapped the sand from my towel after I played my bunker shot….and 20+ turkeys flew from another bunker on the opposite side of the green. I watched the flock of turkey fly to an adjacent tree line where I saw a larger group of possibly 50 more turkey.
    I thoroughly enjoyed playing the course even though it was a difficult track to walk. I thought it was very appropriate that I jumped a flock of wild turkey on a golf course that my stepfather had hunted for his favorite game bird.
    Very sad to hear the death of a once scenic Kentucky golf course….🏌️‍♂️John Winkler “Chips”

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