Happy New Year! The PGA Tour is returning to Kentucky in 2018!

The Barbasol Championship will call Kentucky home in 2018 (and hopefully beyond).

When most golf fans think of the PGA Tour coming to Kentucky, the magnificent Valhalla Golf Club is probably what comes to mind, having hosted multiple PGA Championships, Senior PGA Championships, and even a Ryder Cup (the 2024 PGA Championship will return to Valhalla as well).

The ambitious owners of Keene Trace Golf Club, located just outside Lexington, KY, hope to change that.

This past November, the rumors that had been circulating all year were confirmed when the PGA Tour announced that the 2018 Barbasol Championship, the stateside event held simultaneously with the British Open, would relocate from the Alabama’s Grand National Lake Course to the Champions Course at Keene Trace.

The Champions Course is seven miles from my house, so I am beyond thrilled that the PGA Tour is, at long last, coming to my home area.  Keene Trace is a club that I’m familiar with, and thoroughly enjoyed playing on the Champions course the half-dozen or so opportunities I’ve had to play it (Keene Trace has two 18 course, the other being Keene Run).

The green at Champions’ devilish short, downhill par 3 16th (photo keenetracegolf.com)

The Champions Course is probably one of Arthur Hills’ most entertaining and enduring designs, and I’m eager to see how it is received by Tour professionals.

Before you architecture junkies shake your head, I know Hills’ designs have many critics and critiques, some rightly so, but his limited work in Kentucky has been spectacular.  In my humble opinion, this course is, perhaps, second only to Olde Stone in terms of the best of Hills’ work in our area.

It will also be interesting to see how the local golf and greater community at large receives the event.  Louisville has earned a reputation as fostering big, boisterous crowds at Valhalla and providing a week-long party atmosphere around the events Valhalla has hosted.

With sloping contours and natural amphitheaters, Valhalla is a fantastic golf spectator venue. The Champions Course at Keene Trace will be a bit more constrained by it’s housing development and wooded terrain.

Lexington isn’t Louisville, it’s much smaller, more conservative, and much more of a college town.  Likewise, with all due respect, the Barbasol Championship isn’t the Ryder Cup or the PGA Championship, so I’m very curious as to what kind of atmosphere will exist at Keene Trace.

Regardless of the magnitude of the tournament within the ranks of professional golf, I’ll be excited to be there, either in a volunteer, media, or simply a ticket-buying golf fan.  It has been almost 60 years since the PGA Tour visited Kentucky with the final Kentucky Derby Open in 1959, and roughly 20 years since Lexington last hosted major professional golf of any kind, having last hosted the then Senior Tour’s Bank One Classic in 1997, so this doesn’t feel like an opportunity to be missed.

Despite my excitement at Keene Trace landing a Tour event, I’m just a tad somber about the tournament relocating because I genuinely enjoyed watching the tournament when it was played at Grand Lakes in recent years.  That was a course that I was able to play a week after the pros played it a few years ago, and it was an incredible experience.

Seeing a course on television that I have distinct memories of playing creates an emotional investment in that tournament.  It happens to me every time I watch the Heritage at Harbour Town or the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, so I’m interested if my memories of Grand Lakes will recede into oblivion beyond what I’ve preserved in my blog post.

Regardless of my personal mixed emotions, 2018 is set to be an exciting time to be a part of the central Kentucky golf community.  I hope that you will tune in.

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