Course Name: Kearney Hill Golf Links
Designer: Pete Dye/P.B. Dye (1989)
Location: Lexington, Kentucky
History: In 1989, Pete Dye and his son P.B. were invited by Lexington golfing legend Johnny Owens to create a championship course in an area relatively devoid of strong golf courses. The resulting municipal course, Kearney Hill, immediately became the crowned jewel of Central Kentucky, hosting the Senior PGA Tour from 1990 to 1997. In 1997, it also hosted the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship won by future PGA Tour star Tim Clark. Ten years later, the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship was held at Kearney Hill. It was ranked #5 public course in Kentucky by Golfweek in 2017 and #3 public course (#10 overall with private courses) in Kentucky by Golf Digest in 2016.
Conditions: 8/10, Kentucky’s nickname is the “Bluegrass State” for good reason, as the course was extremely lush with bluegrass. The teeboxes and fairways were well-manicured, and the greens were firm and rolled true. The biggest takeway I had about the conditioning was the rough, which was arguably the thickest of any course I’ve played – public or private. It often took several minutes to find your ball in this beastly rough and sometimes your lie made you wish you never found it in the first place.
Value: 10/10, As impressive as the course was overall, the price might be the most impressive part. At peak times, you can play 18 with a cart for $45, and there are plenty of discounts available for weekdays, military, students, and twilight. It’s hard to imagine a better deal than Kearney Hill.
Tee Par Yardage Rating Slope
Black 72 7129 73.5 129
Blue 72 6633 70.8 125
White 72 6383 68.4 121
Red 72 5367 70.9 130
Best Score: 90 (Blue Tees), 4/21/2017 with Uncle Brendan and Dad
Front 9 Best: 44 (Blue Tees), 4/21/2017 with Uncle Brendan and Dad
Back 9 Best: 46 (Blue Tees), 4/21/2017 with Uncle Brendan and Dad
Hole Descriptions: Billed as a links course, Kearney Hill features enough water hazards, trees, and elevation changes to better describe it as a combination of a parkland and links. With that being said, the course is fairly open and I lost no balls the entire round. The true defenses at Kearney Hill are the lies you’ll get when you hit a poor shot. Thick rough and fescue lined these tight fairways and mounding near almost every green made some up-and-downs nearly impossible. What I loved about the course design here is that everything’s right in front of you and no two holes are the same. There’s a good mix of scoring holes and tough holes you’ll be scrambling for par on. The opening hole is an uphill 394 yard par 4 with trees on the right and a road far left. The green here is to the right guarded short by three bunkers and several mounds. The 2nd hole was my least favorite on the course as a short 150 yard par 3. Playing slightly downhill, hitting this green is a must, as three large bunkers surround this green. Playing only 477 yards, the short par 5 is the first of several fantastic three-shotters at Kearney Hill. While fairly open on the drive, water begins about 225 yards on the right side and continues all the way to the green. The real fun on this hole comes on the second shot, which you have to carry the entire way to the green to avoid the water. I bailed out left of the green on my second shot but found a strategically placed bunker just left of this green.
Playing straight uphill, the intimidating 423 yard 4th hole is open off the tee but is notable for a long bunker that runs 80 yards short left of the green all the way to the green. At only 333 yards, the downhill 5th hole is a fantastically bunkered hole with two pairs of deep bunkers lining this narrow fairway. These bunkers appear very intimidating off the tee but its important to emphasize that you can hit mid-iron short of them and still only have wedge in. This short hole features a challenging kidney-shaped green that slopes hard and is guarded by a deep grass bunker on the left. I imagine there are some very frustrated golfers that leave this short hole with bogey or worse due to this green. A perfect complement to the 5th, the 336 yard 6th runs straight uphill and features ten bunkers lining this fairway. This green is also incredibly difficult and runs hard back-to-front. The number 1 handicap 551 yard 7th is a beastly par 5 that requires three good shots to reach this green in regulation. Two pairs of bunkers line this fairway about 230 yards off the tee. About 380 yards off the tee, the right fairway slopes off into a deep grass bunker. This undulating green is tucked behind three small deep bunkers. The 179 yard 8th hole would be the best par three on most courses, but not at Kearney Hill. Playing uphill to a plateaued green, this long hole requires a poke for most players to carry a steep embankment short right. Two deep bunkers guard this green left. The 436 yard 9th hole is a wide open dogleg right that borders the driving range. The approach here plays uphill, with the clubhouse in the background.
The opener on the back 9 is a quirky 340 yard par 4 that plays slightly uphill. The fairway is generous up until about 260 yards, where it narrows to virtually nothing in lieu of mounds on the left. This tree covered green slopes front-to-back. Playing 372 yards downhill, the 11th is a pure parkland hole that is open except for a tree on the far left fairway about 270 yards from the tee. The 198 yard 12th hole is a picturesque par 3 with water on the short right of the green. A small beach separates the green and the water and deep fescue guards long left. Playing very similarly to the 9th, the 435 yard 13th is a dogleg right that plays uphill on the approach. Two long bunkers guard the side of this green and an extremely strange bunker protects the right fairway. Unless otherwise told, this skinny double-anchor shaped bunker is a satanic symbol but I may be biased because my drive found it. Playing downhill at 524 yards, the 14th is probably the most claustrophobic driving hole on the course as dense scrub guards both sides of this fairway. This green is extremely elevated, with the fairway being a full 30 feet below the hole just 15 yards short of this cliff. Trees jutting out on the left side of the fairway might hinder some golfer’s chance to go for this green in two.
Playing 175 yards, the final par 3 is a memorable one as water and Pete Dye railroad ties guard the entire left side of the green. A terrifying bunker guards the right side of the green for those who bail out right. Reminiscent of 18 at Dye’s Sawgrass, the 368 yard 16th is the signature hole at Kearney Hill as water lines the entire left hand side of the hole. Trees about 60 yards short of the green on the right side of the fairway might block any approaches from players who go right. The 422 yard 17th is one of my favorite holes on the course as a slight dogleg right. After carrying the ball over 200 yards to this fairway, the entire righthand side of the fairway is lined by water. Two bunkers short of this green prevent any runners from reaching this green. The finishing hole at Kearney Hill is a strong 520 yard par 5 featuring a blind downhill teeshot. This hole is fairly open, but thick rough on both sides of the fairway will prevent you from reaching this green in two. From the fairway, the entire hole runs uphill to an elevated green framed by the clubhouse.
Best Par 3: 12th hole, 198 yards, 16th handicap. This fantastic par 3 reminded me vaguely of Kittansett’s famous 3rd hole with a beach guarding the front of the green. Water on the right side forces many players to bail out left, but bunkers and mounds on this side make for a difficult up-and-down.
Best Par 4: 17th hole, 422 yards, 8th handicap. Many people will probably choose the water-lined 16th, but this hole was under construction when I played so I may not have gotten the full experience there. Regardless the penultimate hole at Kearney Hill is a marvelous par 4 with water all-along the right side guarded by a rock wall. This is a dogleg right, but water and trees on the right undoubtedly force players to bailout right into thick rough. Multiple mounds and bunkers surround the left side of this skinny green further adding to the complexity.
Best Par 5: 14th hole, 524 yards, 2nd handicap. The par fives at Kearney Hill are an extremely impressive set with two risk/reward short holes and two long three-shotters. The 14th is a great risk/reward par 5 that features of the more claustrophobic teeshots on the course, as thick dunes line both sides of this narrow fairway. While the drive here is downhill, the approach shot plays uphill to a severely elevated green. After a good drive, I was left with around 215 yards to this green, which I foolishly went for, and promptly hooked it into the left trees. For those who miss this shallow green, the up-and-down is often times much worse than an approach from the lay-up area.
General Comments: The practice facilities here are top-notch, with a full range, and two large putting and chipping greens. It’s clear that this course was built to accommodate big tournaments. The only disappointment of the day was the pace of play; a five-some was let off in front of us and the round took over 5 hours – both of which are unacceptable and kind of took the steam out of our rounds…The grill offered good views of the course along with cheap drinks and food options. Although this wasn’t Augusta, the pimiento cheese sandwiches were very tasty.
Verdict: Offering tremendous value, lush conditioning, and a good variety in hole design, Kearney Hill far exceeded my expectations. I recommend this course highly.