Managed by Marriott Golf, the course at Griffin Gate Golf Club in Lexington was one of the first design projects completed by architect Rees Jones back in 1981.
The same architect returned to Griffin Gate in 2005 to complete a bunker renovation project, refurbishing the sand hazards using the Better Billy Bunker method.
Half a dozen bunkers were eliminated and the remaining seventy-five were rebuilt and reshaped for better drainage, reducing the overall course coverage from 133,000 to 80,000 square feet.
The course is routed across 250 acres of rolling bluegrass, featuring bentgrass tees and greens. Measuring 6,784 yards from the championship tees, the par 72 layout unusually boasts five par fives and five par threes.
Typically, a review opening with comparisons to Bethpage Black and Torrey Pines would be a promising one. Unfortunately for Rees Jones, your cynical correspondent managed to turn this into a bad thing.
Jones has taken some flak within his role of “The Open Doctor” at the aforementioned municipals, for both fairway and bunker renovation. At Torrey, bunkers popped up that didn’t border fairways at all, requiring a very targeted miss to challenge great golfers. At Bethpage, the thinning of fairways meant some of Tillinghast’s monstrosities stood less chance of collecting shots that rolled too far. The original standing of the offending bunkers at Griffin Gate is unknown—this was one of Jones’s first designs, circa 1981—but the “Open Doctor” symptoms are clear. Three separate greens are fronted at the center by a bunker, to promote an aerial attack. Not wildly imaginative by the third time, but not a serious concern. More humorous is the layer of second-cut that surrounds each. I chuckled as I appreciated the fronting bunker at No. 18, finding that my poorly-struck approach had gotten stuck in the grass, rather than rolling into the sand. Good thing that rough was there...otherwise I may have been in real trouble! The lie allowed for a relatively simple up-and-down, and a putt for par. I doubt the bunker would have been forgiving...had I been allowed to enter it. This phenomenon occurs consistently, both greenside and fairway-side, across the course. The hole that reminded me most of classic “Heroic” Rees was the Par 5 No. 10, which wrapped around a lake for some good risk/reward action. Although my eyes should have been stuck on the lake, I couldn’t help but notice a huge bunker sitting well outside of the cart path on the outside of the dogleg. Why? For whom? Even Whitechapel Jack would struggle to slice that thoroughly.
A second issue pertains more the second half, where a housing development encroaches dramatically. Such courses in your correspondent’s native Columbus give ample leeway to protect homes, often with wide ponds to push players away. Griffin Gate pushes home insurance rates up. No. 12 best advertises the problem, as a tight line of homes wraps around the INSIDE of a dogleg, coming within 15 feet of the cart path, which itself was just a few feet off the fairway. As the father of a toddler, I shuddered when I saw a collection of toys in a backyard. If this is a deterrent to psychologically push players to the left, it is a perverse one (but effective...I certainly took the left-most route to protect both windows and children. Not everyone is as sympathetic as I, however).
The housing is certainly not Jones’s fault, and possibly neither is the lack of shaving on bunkers. What is Jones’s fault (in a rare “good way”) is a number of fun greens, such as the Hog’s Back Par 3 at No. 2 and the undulating putting area No. 6. Perhaps because of its surrounds, Griffin Gate has a municipal vibe, and for the price, these greens provide a more exciting round for casual weekenders than the common muni, as do a number of comically short Par 5s (three are less than 500 from the tips, and the opener is 468...get your scorecard off with a friendly number!). Locals can enjoy, but travelers should take it from your course snob cynic and pass.