I’ve always loved Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve visited Louisville about a dozen times in my life for a multitude of reasons. When I was in college my roommate’s parents lived there and we would sometimes make the 4 hour drive from Virginia Tech just for a weekend of some nice home cooked meals. We also stopped in with his folks many times over the years while we were on our way out west to ski and while traveling around the country chasing our favorite bands. Oddly, out of all those times that I went to Louisville, I never made it to the Kentucky Derby. I had the opportunity to go every year but for some reason or the other I never made it. I’ll have to change that one of these days.
Well, I’m in Louisville again and this time it’s for golf at Valhalla Golf Club which is currently on the Top 100 list. In the morning I started out the day at Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Indiana and once I finished the game there I hightailed it down the road to Louisville and made it to Valhalla with literally 10 minutes to spare before my start time.
Valhalla Golf Club was the vision of Dwight Gahm a local businessman who had made a fortune in kitchen cabinets. His dream, like many of of his golf club founder peers, was was to build a course capable of hosting a major championship. Without any kind of agreement or promise from the USGA or the PGA he set about building his major championship golf course and he hired Jack Nicklaus to do it. The course opened in 1986 and in 1992 Mr. Gahm’s dream was fulfilled when it was announced that the 1996 PGA Championship would be contested at Valhalla. After the success of the 1996 event Valhalla was named as the host of the 2000 PGA Championship which was followed by the 2002 PGA Club Professional Championship, the 2004 Senior PGA Championship and the 2008 Ryder Cup. Since 1993 the PGA slowly began purchasing an ownership stake in Valhalla until they owned the entire club in 2000 making the course unoffical home to many of the Associations championships. The 2011 Senior PGA Championship and the 2014 PGA Championship are the next major championships scheduled to return to Valhalla.
When it came to playing Valhalla, I wasn’t expecting to have too difficult of a time finding a host. Although my friends parents have since moved away they still know many people in the area so I though it would be a relative snap. It wasn’t. I was literally 48 hours away from my flight and I still didn’t have a game lined up. Fortunately, a golf friend of mine in Omaha, Nebraska had a business associate with a corporate membership who was able to arrange a game for me. A guy in Nebraska helps arrange a golf game in Kentucky for a guy who lives in Virginia. I love it. I was originally scheduled to play the day before on July 8 but got rained out after three and a half holes, but the proshop easily rescheduled me for the next day. Now after a breakneck drive from Indiana and having arrived 10 minutes before my start time, the skies are blue and I’m ready.
I’m playing by myself today with my trusty caddie, who’s name I’m embarrassed to say has escaped me. He carried my bag yesterday and after seeing me play for a few holes actually agreed to come back the next day and carry for me again. Some people are gluttons for punishment.
After my poor play in the morning at Victoria National I knew my game was living on a prayer so I opted for the green tees which played 6,515 yards with a rating and slope of 72.4 and 139. Still not an easy challenge.
The 1st hole is a dogleg left par 4 that plays 390 yards from the green tees. The photo below is of the green and was taken from the right rough.
The 2nd hole, pictured below, is a short par 5 of 475 yards from the green tees. A bold drive that hugs the left side of the fairway will offer the best chance to get home in two here.
Below is a photo of the first par 3 on the course. It is the 3rd hole and played 170 yards from the greens. The creek bed does not really come into play, but with a hole location at the back right like in the photo below the bunkers most certainly do.
The 4th hole, pictured below, is a nice little 325 yard par 4. Not quite reachable on the drive, but still a major birdie opportunity.
The 6th hole requires a bit of strategy and thought on the tee. The hole doglegs severely to the right and requires a carry over a creek on the second shot. The further right the drive is played the shorter the approach to the green will be, but also the more likely it becomes that the ball will end up in the hazard. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
Below is what the approach shot looks like for players who hit their drives down the left side of the fairway. It is a long way home from here. I had to hit a 3 wood into the green.
The photo below was taken from about as far right in the fairway as you can go without actually being in the hazard. Still a long ways to go from here, but much better. In case you hadn’t guessed it, this is the number one handicap hole.
The 7th hole is a reasonably short par 5 from the green tees which play 490 yards. From the tips is a healthy 600 yards. Its a little tough to see in the photo below, but there are two fairway options here. On the left side of the photo you can see a little bit of fairway. My caddie suggested that I play to the right, so thats what I did. Because the hole is wide open you can hit a draw or a fade if playing the right fairway. For me a draw fits my mindset better . . . doesn’t mean I can actually execute, but that’s the shot that I attempted to play here.
Below is the approach into the 7th green. Note the water along the left side of the fairway leading up to the hole. That water is not much in play from the right side fairway option, but for players going down the left side off the tee, its all carry to get to the green.
The 8th hole is a nifty little par 3 that plays 150 yards. The green has some contour to it and I ended up left of the flag and had to negotiate a pretty difficult putt.
The 12th hole was probably my favorite on the course. This is a 420 yard par 4 and driver is not really an option here. In the photo below the fairway runs out before the hole heads down a hill. What you don’t know is that the fairway literally stops at the top of the hill and it is thick rough all the way down to the bottom. You absolutely don’t want to hit your drive beyond the top of the hill. I hit a 3 wood here.
The photo below was taken from where the fairway runs out. You can see the green in the distance and the rough that runs down the hill to the point where the fairway resumes at the bottom of the hill.
Here is a closer look at the green. Note that the area between the fairway and the green is all thick rough as well. Definitely need the aerial game here.
The 13th hole is a par 4 that I played from 325 yards. I went with the 3 wood off the tee here again. There’s just no real value in hitting driver. There is plenty of bunker trouble on the left and right so the best thing to do is just hit something nice and easy down the middle. You will want to be hitting your second shot from the fairway.
Below is a photo of the green at the 13th hole. As you can see it is basically an island green which is why its a good idea to make sure your approach shot is hit from the fairway.
The 14th hole is one of the more famous ones here at Valhalla. This is a par 3 that played 165 from the green tees. Rather than play from there I went up to the tips and hit my tee shot from the full 220 yards which is exactly where Vijay Singh was when he aced the hole. Unfortunately, I did not get a hole in one. Pretty good shot there Vijay.
Here is a little closer look at the 14th green.
Below is the 15th hole which is a par 4 that plays 380 yards from the green tees. Its a pretty straight forward hole with a somewhat narrow fairway. A draw is probably the favorable shot from the tee box.
The green at the 15th, pictured below, is another green protected by a water hazard.
The 17th hole is a 390 yard par 4, but plays a bit longer than the card indicates. As shown in the photo below the hole is all uphill which really stretches it out.
Below is a photo of the 17th green. There is a lot of interesting mounding around this one which can make for some interesting bump and run shots when the green is missed on the approach.
The 18th hole is a 490 yard par 5 from the green tees and a mere 545 yards from the back tees. This one is definitely an opportunity to get home in two. The tee box is elevated so some extra distance on the drive is picked up there. I had just about 200 yards left after my drive. The photo below was taken from where I waited to hit my second shot from. I hit it in the bunker, but still managed to get it up and down to end the game with a par.
Valhalla was a good time and enjoyable walk. I had the course mostly to myself and a great caddie who added to my enjoyment of the day. After a couple of holes my caddie was convinced that I hit my clubs further than I thought so we decided do a little experiment. I let him pick all my par 3 tee shot and second shot clubs and I never even looked to see what he gave me. By about the 8th hole we determined that he was right! That was a fun little experiment.
Unfortunately, my play was as bad as it had been in the morning at Victoria National so there was no joy on the scorecard, but I still had a great time playing Valhalla. It’s always fun to play where a major has been, so it was nice to see the course first hand after watching it on television. I definitely didn’t play it like the pros, but I bet I had more fun than they did!