This post is the fifth in a series that will dive deep into the design and outstanding features of the individual holes of Kearney Hill Golf Links, one of my two home courses in Lexington, Kentucky. This course, built by Pete & P.B. Dye, represents some of the most interesting, most challenging, and most fun golf architecture in central Kentucky. It is a public golf course, owned and operated by the City of Lexington, and it’s worth getting to know a little better. I hope you enjoy it.
One might think that the medium length, par four fifth hole is a psychological breather, a mental break, after the soul-crushing difficulty found on the fourth hole. It plays downhill from tee to green, with the predominant wind at a player’s back and slightly right to left. It shouldn’t be unreasonable to expect to birdie the hole occasionally, and usually record a score of par, at worst, depending on where the pin is on a given day.
However, trouble awaits nearly everywhere on this hole, which appears much tougher to the human eye than a scorecard or yardage book could ever convey. The hole includes subtle trouble, such as blind shots from the front of the fairway or horrendously inconvenient ground contours lying-in-wait behind or to the right of the green.
Obvious trouble also abounds on the fifth hole, such as the penalty area left of the fairway, or the gigantic greenside sand and grass bunkers guarding the entire left side of the green. Make no mistake, the fifth hole can derail a beautiful scorecard if execution or aggression wanes.
The view from the elevated tee boxes reveals the entirety of the fifth hole, fairway to green, with challenges highlighted along the way. One’s eyes are first drawn to the fairway bunkers on the left side, which help slow a wayward drive on its way to the drainage field and penalty area adorned with waist-high grasses and butterfly-friendly weeds and wildflowers.
Just as prominent to the eyes are the bunkers on the right, a little further down the fairway, where they create a bottleneck as the fairway begins to narrow moving toward the greens. Further out to the right lays the adjacent fourth hole, with its stingy rough and hidden fairway bunker.* The bunkers are flat, without high faces that would alter a shot that to the green with a short iron or wedge.
(*As mentioned in the earlier post detailing the 4th hole, the fairway bunker nearest to the 4th tee is actually more in play on the 5th hole than on the 4th hole, a phenomenon I discovered in earnest on the courses at St. Andrews in Scotland.)
Importantly, these fairway bunkers are strategically placed to encourage hitting driver to fly past them. Laying back with hybrid or wood likely brings them into play as much as driver would, so it’s likely a false choice unless playing one of the furthest back tees, so long as driver doesn’t result in bringing the left side of the hole into play.
The fairway includes giant false front, in practical terms, where the first 30 yards of fairway is steeply pitched facing the tee box, meaning that a ball landing anywhere on that slope likely rolls back to the rough at bottom of valley or plugs on the upward slope. In either event, the player faces a blind second shot from that position of at least 150 yards.
The widest, flattest landing area begins about 110 yards from the middle of the green, which is 260 yards or so from the back tees, around 235 from the next tee up, and so on. From the point, the fairway way narrows in from the left fairly steadily, leaving a chute as narrow as 15 yards for the final approach to the front of the green.
In attacking the fifth hole, the first practical objective is to eliminate the left side of the hole from consideration or even accidental dalliance, or else risk losing a ball in the tall grasses for almost no improvement in angle to or view of the green itself. The ball simply must be played from the fairway or points to its right to take advantage of the hole’s lack of length. This center, right, or bust strategy often brings the rough and low-lying area between the fourth and fifth fairways into play.
As one might expect on a short par four hole from the minds of Pete & P.B. Dye, there is an incredible penalty to be paid in terms of shot difficulty if one misses the green, or even the correct portion of the green, on the approach shot.
Miss the green left and long, and one finds themselves in a bunker far below the elevated green’s surface. That’s the good miss on that side of the hole.
If one misses the green shorter and left, the ball will find a grassed hollow, built slightly deeper into ground beneath the green that formerly was a sand bunker. There’s a Pit of Despair quality to this particular hazard, as golf balls and the good rounds sometimes never return from its grasp.
The green has a peculiar shape and orientation. It’s shaped like a softly-rounded “L” that has been rotated 180-degrees. The unencumbered front of the green slopes dramatically from the middle of the green down to fairway, meaning that a shot can be bounced onto the green, but distance control is more of a guess than skill with such a sharp tilt, with little room to miss laterally at only 17 yards wide.
The wider rear shelf of the green, spanning up to 32 yards, is relatively flat by comparison. The interior contours of the green include areas that qualify as kicker slopes and collection areas, as well as several areas where a ball will not come to rest on the putting surface regardless of spin or prayer.
Perhaps the hole’s toughest challenge is the knowledge that at a relatively short distance and with a tailwind as the prevailing breeze, one should expect no worse than par. Any expectation, however powerful, may prove folly, with so many varied challenges along the way.
It is a hole that I look forward to playing each round, perhaps primarily because it’s not the fourth hole. However, that fun feeling of hopeful anticipation usually does not convert into pride of accomplishment as I’m walking off of the green, often supplanted by a “How in the Hell did that happen?” befuddlement that typifies so many Dye-designed holes.