A higher proportion of Pete Dye’s golf courses are open to the general public than with many top-shelf architects, however that does always mean that they’re cheap (quite the opposite, often). Kearney Hill, a municipal course in Lexington, is one the best values in the Dye oeuvre, costing less than $50 on the weekend if you choose to carry your own clubs.
Granted, such a value may mean less bells and whistles than, say, Whistling Straits, but those looking for a challenging route will not be left short. Playing from the tips, scratch players will be looking at a 7,100-yard round, and the bunkers come heavy during the opening portion. Nos. 5 and 6 are short par fours — a combined 735 yards — but come armed to the teeth: No. 6 features a dozen bunkers, penalizing anyone who drifts off of this short fairway.
The course offers discounts to students at the nearby University of Kentucky, but Dye — a fan of Indiana University, a basketball rival to UK — left a sassy hazard on No. 14. Players who fail to get around the dogleg may end up in a large bunker shaped like the Hoosiers’ “IU” logo. The design fee may have been affordable, but Dye’s humor was an additional cost.
The layout is spectacular with holes going in every direction. Greens were fair with some tough pin locations possible. Some short par 4s and 5s are definitely scoring chances, last three holes some of the best
For Kearney Hill the design was a Dye family affair. This is not a long course, from the tips it is 6605 yards and a par 72. The first hole is welcoming but stay left of center off the tee. There is fenced in area with mature trees right. I believe it may be an old cemetery and it may block out right approaches. The green is tucked right with front and left bunker. The 2nd is the shortest hole with a large green with bunker front left and right. The first par five is real short, thus real reachable. It leans right with a water hazard down the right side and the green sits right on top of the hazard. Good risk reward hole. There is absolutely now way this hole should be the number three handicap hole. The 4th is a straight away, slightly uphill par four with fairway bunkers where you would expect to find them. The 5th and 6th are straightaway short par fours. If you are going to score, you need to make some hay here. Lots of fairway and greenside bunkers, however a decent drive in the fairway will give you an attack or flip wedge. The 7th is the longest par five at 555 yards and it is the number one handicap hole. It is straightaway, more fairway bunkers where you would think they would be. However, on the right side there is a gully starting about 190 yards out and ends about 150. The 8th is a mid-length par three. However, it is slightly uphill and everyone in our group was short. So, I suggest taking an extra club. The front ends with a long dogleg right and slightly uphill. There is a greenside bunker front right.
The back starts with some scoring holes. The 10th and 11th are the exact same yardage 360 yards. The good news is they are at least perpendicular. The 12th is a mid-length par three with a water carry and a bunker between the hazard and the green. The 13th is a long dogleg right, slightly uphill with several bunkers on the inside elbow. I really mucked it up so I don’t want to dwell on it, but the green is flanked by bunkers. The 14th is a short par five that is reachable and unfathomably it is the number two handicap hole. It is a valley par five with the green plopped on a ledger, but from the tips it is only 480. The 15th is a Florida par three, all carry. The 16th has a water hazard all the way down the left side and two trees guarding the green on the right side. It is visually more intimidating than it plays. The 17th has a slight water carry and water down the right. Favor left of center as the topography rolls right. This green did not seem to hold, as both our approaches landed on the front and barely held on. The 18th is an uphill straightaway par five. The last half of the hole has bunkers each side. Three average shots and you are putting for birdie.
This course had been talked up to me, so overall I was disappointed. Good not great, but it is an exceptional value.
Finding a day to play this course on a day where there aren't at least 20MPH winds is a rare feat. Pete Dye knew this going in, and routed this course in a fashion that usually has the longer holes playing downwind, and the shorter holes playing into the wind. Kearney is fun in that you get a good variety of golf from links, to parkland, to tree-lined at a different stretch somewhere along the way. Some holes are classic Pete Dye in that they're sadistic, namely #16 to me, which is a Par 4 with water all along the left side and 2 trees that guard the green for anyone who bails out right. 3 times I've played it and never once avoided the water. It's the best course in Lexington for sure, and a Top 5 public course in Kentucky. It's not the strongest state for boasting excellent golf courses, but Kearney Hill is a good highlight for Kentucky golf.