With the PGA Tour visiting Harbour Town and Augusta National this month, there has been plenty of discussion of good and bad golf architecture, favorite holes, restoring versus remodeling, and the like in recent days.
This got me to thinking about some of the worst holes I regularly encounter locally, so that I could give you, Dear Readers, a baker’s dozen of the worst golf holes in the Bluegrass area in and around Lexington, Kentucky.
My methodology in determining the list of holes was two-fold: 1) I put together a short list of holes I loathe, and 2) took a quick straw poll of my golf buddies and folks more knowledgeable than me on the subject. Very scientific.
Look, I’m a relative novice when it comes to golf course architecture. I’ve read Thomas’s Golf Architecture in America and am making my way Hunter’s The Links, but if you’re looking for Geoff Shackleford or Zac Blair level of technical analysis, you’re reading the blog.
With that said, these are all *almost* objectively bad golf holes. Some fail because of poor design, some flop because of bad maintenance and neglect.
They’re not the hardest holes, just not particularly interesting and generally devoid of options, which mean there is no strategy to the holes. In several cases, they are all risk and no reward that I can ascertain at all.
So, without further qualification or waffling, I give you my Friday the 13th Golf Architecture Massacre, in no particular order.
1. The leading awful hole, universally panned by my panelists, was the 18th hole at Lakeside Golf Course. This 400 yard finishing par four plays straight down a hill, with the fairway running out directly into a lake, which can be reached with a good, not great, drive under normal conditions.
There is no “good” angle of attack. If the drive reaches the bottom of the hill, to the “flat” part, then the 2nd shot is all carry over the water to a peninsula green that provides little deterrent to a ball running off the back into the lake.
If the drive hugs the left side on the way down the hill, there is a grove of trees and a sneaky little bunker that you can’t see from the tee. All with the driving range marked as out-of-bounds down practically the entire left side of the hole.
Given the angle of the “neck” of the green, there is literally no ground game option unless one lays up to the area on the hill immediately above the green.
2. Similarly unloved by our panelists is number 7 at the Keene Run course of the Keene Trace Golf Club, its primary fault obvious to all who have seen it: there’s a big-ass tree right in the middle of the fairway.
A fairway cross-bunker was a favorite hazard of some Golden Age architects. Likewise, a horizontally split fairway forces a golfer to make a strategic decision on how to attack the green.
The little coastal trees in the fairway on 18 at Pebble Beach are beloved as targets either to be aimed at or avoided, the make or break of whether to go for the green in two or lay up.
However, a giant, mature hardwood tree sitting in the middle of a fairway on an uphill tee shot, located at the shot’s apex, or where one would lay back to, is just…annoying.
The entire strategy of the hole comes down to, “Don’t hit the tree,” which isn’t terribly strategic at all.
3. Our next choice, the sixth hole at Longview Golf Course, is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. First, the tee shot has to negotiate the course’s entrance road immediately in front of the tee box, and the very busy Frankfort Pike highway to the left of the fairway.
Giving away one side of a hole isn’t terribly special, granted. However, what enshrines this hole is the double hazard on the approach shot.
Look closely at the tree lines around the green and you will notice that they form a severe bottleneck that is actually narrower than the width of the green. These are large, fast growing white pine trees, that are only going to get bigger and taller (until the next wind storm).
What’s worse is that they are practically growing out of sand traps! If an approach shot hits one of these trees, not only will the ball not reach the green, but it’s likely in a bunker some 30 yards from the flag.
This is an example of either terrible design decisions or terrible maintenance practices, and should never be repeated by anyone anywhere.
4. Another consensus pick was the 16th hole on the University Club of Kentucky’s Wildcat Course. This is another golf hole that essentially forgot the “Reward” part of the risk-reward strategic analysis. There is no place to reasonably bail out on this hole, other than to putt the ball from fairway.
From an elevated tee box, the front of the fairway is actually slightly wider than it appears because of the bottleneck effect of the opposing groves of trees.
In theory, the giant tree on the right might keep a wayward tee shot out of the water further up the hole, but would leave a 220+ yard approach with no bail out.
If the drive is pulled left to avoid the water, one is left with a great view of the mature hardwood trees, either from under the trees or from the adjacent fairway. Any shot from here back towards the green necessarily means that the shot is directly at the water.
If by some miracle the tee shot hits the fairway, then there is no bail out on the second shot, which, depending on the pin position, may very likely require a significant carry over the lake, without much of a bailout to the left of the water.
It is a hole that requires two well executed hero shots, or settling for double bogey.
5. Our fifth awful hole is a result of some forced re-engineering. Formerly the 2nd hole at the Golf Club of the Bluegrass, the par five 3rd hole is a shell of its former glorious self.
To accommodate land planning for the eventual residential development and to eliminate a green that was tough to keep air moving upon, course had to eliminate a par three, build a new hole, and force a change of routing on what was a fun half-shot par five.
As you can see from the photo, from the old tees, there was a forced carry into hole that gently bent to the right. You could get in trouble with driver to the right or extreme left, but it was a driver hole and reachable in two.
From the new tee box, unless you are adept at bending your drive in a controlled fade, it is a wood or hybrid tee shot, as one can easily over shoot the fairway straight ahead from the tee. It’s almost a right angle, which I would argue is rarely, if ever, a good design element.
6. Both of these next two holes suffer from the same malady: long, dog leg right par fives containing nothing but trees, houses, and out-of-bounds for the entire length of the inside of the dogleg.
The first hole at Canewood is especially atrocious because it’s the first hole. As you can see in the photo, the teeing ground is bisected by a main neighborhood road, providing an auspicious start to the round.
Particularly insulting is the sign that management has installed that “prohibits” attempting to cut the dogleg from the first tee. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that on any other course, an outright prohibition on a particular strategic decision.
7. Likewise, the par five 12th hole at Griffin Gate is a long, dogleg right with nothing but bunkers, trees, and back porches all along the inside of the dogleg. And very, very close to the playing surfaces.
As a matter of fact, if you look closely at the map, you will notice that the line of houses actually bulges out the furthest towards the golf course at the corner of the dogleg, just begging to be hit repeatedly by high handicappers.
It’s an intriguingly bad layout because one has to play away from the hole and the dogleg, instead of attempting to cut the corner, if reaching the green in two is going to be attempted.
This poorly designed dogleg is a real shame, because the hole concludes with a wonderful green complex, with the richly contoured, multi-tiered green proving receptive of shots from distance yet challenging to hold on the proper level from wedge and short iron distances.
8. Returning to Canewood, the start of the back nine there presents a design flaw that is outright dangerous, and makes me wonder what in the world the developer was thinking.
The 10th hole is a slightly uphill, dogleg right to a large green. The trouble with the hole is that, what you can’t see from the tee, is that if one aims for the middle of the fairway they are aiming directly at the 11th tee box.
However, the poor unsuspecting saps down the hill on the 11th tee have it easy, they would have already survived the worst part, which is the trek back from the 10th green back to the 11th tee, traveling directly into “oncoming traffic.”
That stretch was the scariest 175 yards I’ve ever walked on a golf course.
9. Cherry Blossom is a perfectly lovely golf course, which has hosted several prestigious Kentucky state golf tournaments.
Nonetheless, I personally think it’s long, dogleg right par five 17th hole is an abomination, due mainly to its tee shot.
From deep in a chute at the bottom of the hill next to the stream, the drive must go not only straight due to the trees and undergrowth, but also straight uphill at least 70 feet.
If the drive is pulled even slightly, out-of-bounds comes into play immediately. Slice the drive, and it’s in a water hazard. Hit a low bullet and the drive won’t make it to the top of the hill, leaving an impossibly sloped lay up for a second shot, leaving more than 250 yards to the green for the 3rd shot.
The topography and the tree-lined chute prove unimaginative and frustrating, at best.
10. The 15th hole at the University Club of Kentucky’s Big Blue Course is as frustrating a hole as I can remember on an otherwise fun, clever golf course. It wishes it could be a big risk/reward par four, but in reality it is an overly penal, forced carry uphill slog.
From the tee, there are ponds that takes up the entire left side of the fairway, with tree just close enough to the tee to block a straight-line hero attempt directly at the green, so one has to play away from the hole out to the right.
Of course the further to the right one plays, the longer and more difficult the uphill approach shot to a ridiculously multi-tiered green becomes.
Now that I’ve examined the satellite images, there’s a 90% chance that I’m going to play straight up the 16th fairway the next time I play that course. It makes better sense than playing the hole as laid out.
11. The par 12th hole at Griffin Gate is one of those terrible holes that you can only have in a residential development golf course. The inside of the long dogleg is filled completely with houses, or in this particular case, ultra high-density patio homes and townhouses.
With thick trees on the left, and bricks, windows, decks, roofs and out-of-bounds hugging tightly to the right side, there isn’t any place to miss. And never mind the fairway bunker on the inside of the dogleg either, from which any shot not pitched out to the fairway requires a massive slice-fade.
There is a bunker at the bend point on the outside of the dogleg, circled in pink on the photo, that I’ve seen one ball come to rest in during 18 years and probably 25 rounds of golf at this course. In that same time, I’ve NEVER seen anyone on the green in two shots.
The whole thing just screams contrived and awful. I think the course would’ve been better served swapping some land from the 12th and 13th holes: make 12 a short, risk/reward par four, and make number 13th a 4.5 shot dogleg par five.
12. Our twelfth and final individual hole is one that was a consensus pick all-star. The 6th hole at Connemara Golf Course (formerly the 15th hole before they switched the nines) appears to be a hole that is universally loathed.
I’m not what exactly sure the original theory or intent of the hole was supposed to be, except to exact a measure of punishment to begin the formerly final stretch of holes.
From the back tees, it’s a “lengthy par four,” according to the course’s website. Translation: if the prevailing southwesterly wind is up, almost no one is getting home in two, unless they’ve dried out and baked the course to near concrete, in which case the ball may careen to the bottom of the hill (and probably go into the lake).
It’s 120 yards just to reach the fairway from the tee from back there. From the back, there isn’t much of a “good” option. If a player lays back to the top of the hill of the fairway, they’re left with a wood, hybrid, or long iron into a green that has water on three sides. If they try to chase one down the hill, they are likely left with a moderate to severe downslope from which to try to attack that same green.
From the up tees (where the traditional blue and white tees are placed), the hole presents a different but equally frustrating conundrum. From there, the flat are on which to plan the second shot only extends about 120 yards from the tee, again leaving a player a brutal approach shot.
Unless the course is sopping wet, any well struck drive or fairway wood shot from the up tee that finds the fairway has a realistic chance of running out thru the fairway and rough and finding the pond. Choosing to lay back from the water is no better because, again, the downslope of the fairway creates a difficult approach shot.
Honestly, the very best play from the up tees (which 99% of players should be playing on this whole) is to pull driver or fairway wood, aim for right hand rough, bomb it as far down the hill as possible, and hope the approach shot isn’t blocked out by a tree.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the green, collar, and green surround are a favorite resting and feeding stop for our local Canadian geese population. And they make their presence known, and mark their territory, in the most loving, disgusting ways possible.
Loathe isn’t a strong enough word for the 6th at Connemara…..
13. …and once a word is invented to properly convey my dislike for that whole, I and most of the rest of panelists would promptly apply it to the vast majority of the Connemara course and property.
Holes number 14 thru 18 are essentially the same hole, with slight variations on distance and of green shape, played over and over in successive order.
Due to the topography, the formula is elevated tee on top of the hill, hit to the fairway below in the valley, and from there hit up to the green on the other hill. Back and Forth.
From the blue tees, the distances read as follows: 402, 462, 384, 380, 393. I think they made the 15th hole a par five just so there is the illusion of some variety. Back and Forth.
If there is any wind at all, these holes are even more Hellish due to the tees all being elevated. A northerly or southerly breeze, and half of the holes just got significant longer. Back and Forth.
Easterly or westerly breezes and all of a sudden there’s a cross wind from which there is no shelter. Back and Forth.
Unfortunately, this mishmash of calamities, including number six, doesn’t quite cover all of the routing deficiencies. One panelist decried the short par three 11th hole as the “worst par 3 hole ever.”
This poor gem is a valley hole mimicking holes 14 thru 18, except that it plays from 160 to 130 yards. Elevated tee, valley, elevated green that is sloped sharply from back to front, but is incredibly shallow, measuring no more than 50 feet front to back.
If a tee shot goes long, or a pitch over shoots the green, there is no way to stop the ball on the green coming back. Back and Forth.
So there you have it, the non-comprehensive, inexhaustibly incomplete list of awful golf holes around the Lexington golfing scene. I’m sure there are others stinkers abound, as this list is just one man and some of his friends’ opinions.
None of these flaws are necessarily fatal to the courses where they may be found. As a matter of fact, I’ll be playing two of the courses cited in the next 48 hours. But if there are any aspiring golf architects out there reading this, please don’t make any of these same mistakes. For the good of the game, just don’t do it.