6501 Kenwood Road,
Ohio (OH) 45243,
- +1 513 561 7482
10 miles NE of downtown Cincinnati
Members and their guests only
William Diddel, Jason Straka
Kenwood Country Club was founded in 1930 by members of Cincinnati Country Club. Donald Ross was called in to help choose an appropriate property on the outskirts of Cincinnati but it was Bill Diddel who was then selected to set out two championship-sized courses (No. 1 and No. 2) on the 500-acre tract that was acquired.
No. 1 was the 18-hole layout where the US Amateur (1933) and US Women’s Open (1963) were held. In more recent times, the extension of the Interstate 71 highway resulted in a number of holes being removed and relocated, though the Kendale is still a composite of all the original holes.
For the national championships, existing holes 10 to 18 on the Kendale were played as #1 and #9 on the No.1 course and current holes 3, 4 and 5 were played as #16 to #18 on that layout. Four of the existing Kenview holes were also used so only holes #10 and #13 of the No.1 have been totally lost.
Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design was chosen to upgrade the Kenview and Kendale courses in 2019, with work starting on the latter layout first. Fairways were widened, trees removed, cart paths relocated and bunker placement altered, along with the installation of new irrigation and the introduction of bentgrass green surrounds on reconstructed putting surfaces.
It was great fun to play the recently renovated/restored Kindale course at Kenwood country club. The course was originally designed by Bill Diddle, a name not too familiar to many golf course aficionados, in 1930. Diddle designed over 250 courses in the Midwest and it appears that his work reflects many of the ideals of "golden age architecture." This was the first Diddle course I have had the opportunity to play, and I certainly enjoyed the design.
The club undertook a massive renovation project that involved removing over 1000 trees, including several large hardwoods. According to architect Jason Stryka, the trees and grown in and encroached on the playing lines and preventing adequate growth of the rough. In addition, the bunkers had become somewhat homogenous in design and basically outlined rather than framed the holes. In a wonderful collaborative effort with the members and course superintendent Kent Turner, Stryka was able to work some magic here. First off was the before mentioned removal of over 1000 trees. Next was the widening of the fairways to allow the restoration of many of the original playing angles. The widened fairways were supplemented with repositioning of numerous bunkers so that they began to encroach on the playing lines and influence shot decisions. The tree removal also allowed the rough to grow, and even in early June, the fescue rough was beginning to get thick enough to influence play into the greens markedly. The greens were also given a thorough going over. With painstaking care, the original bent/poa grass was removed along with the topsoil. Then, to accommodate modern green speeds, many original contours were softened by recontouring the underlying clay. This allowed an opening up of multiple pin locations on many greens while maintaining their original design and playability.
This is a course of two nines, but they are not the back and the front. Holes 1 through 5 and 15 through 18 run on the north side of the entrance road, while holes 6 through 14 run on the south side. I thought the north side holes were stronger and more interesting. All of the holes are framed by bunkers off the tee and carefully guarding the green complexes. My favorite bunker was the shared greenside bunker of holes 2 and 16. There was a thought to make this a double green, but it was simply too large an area, so the bunker was placed instead. The bunker worked to perfection. Initially, I actually hit my approach to the 2nd green to the 16th by mistake. I was allowed a mid-course mulligan aimed at the correct green and placed it in the right half of the bunker, leaving an awkward 40-yard bunker shot to a sloped green. The par 5 fourth was probably the most dramatically changed hole. A combination of tee elevation, fairway lowering, and strategic bunker placement transformed a semi-blind hole into an amazing true 3-shot par 5. Of the south side holes, I loved both six and seven. Six had three angled fairway bunkers that progressively pinched in the fairway. Trees had hidden these bunkers. However, the bunker outlines were clearly visible and what had been a narrow, somewhat boring hole became a much more strategically interesting challenge. An angled bunker dominates seven to the left, and the green was beautifully contoured with sharp dropoffs left and back, demanding a precise approach shot. The downhill par4 tenth was driveable ( and indeed, my best drive of the day found the green), and it was great fun.
On the downside, the holes on the north side all tend to run in the same direction, and there are water hazards at twelve and fourteen, which feel contrived. In addition, it appears that the pond on twelve, which guards the approach to the right side of this par 5, was not original to the 1930 design but was added sometime in the 1950s. I think it would be an improvement to fill in the pond and add several deep bunkers if possible.
The club did so many things right here. First, the course was lengthened out to 7100 yards, which is about all the land would allow. Then, however, they also built a set of shorter tees out about 4500 yards. My wife, like me, is a senior golfer, and many standard women's tees are really too long for her—a big thumbs up for having the foresight to consider juniors and older female golfers in their design.
Obviously, I enjoyed the course very much. I love traditional golf design, and I believe Kenwood hit a home run here. In the beginning, I said renovation/restoration, and I would really categorize this as a restoration. Architect Styka was able to go back and restore the original playing characteristics of the course while allowing subtle changes to be made to accommodate the modern game. The club was able to accomplish this on a reasonable budget that took into account the economic reality that most golf clubs exist in. My rating reflects reality because I drove 4 hours from my home in Knoxville and spent the night in Cincinnati before returning home. If I were an advertising man, my slogan would be: Kenwood Golf Club. Restoration done right.
That's Jason Straka. My apologies.
“As we were driving in, Dad mentioned that they had a lot fewer trees than we do.” I present this quote from my mother — not to draw attention to the fact that the parents of this thirtysomething dropped his wife and child off at Kenwood rather than he go back to the west side of the city to get them — but to indicate the scale of the work done by Jason Straka as part of the club’s restoration project. These parents are only social members at their own club (thanks for nothing guys) because they have little interest in golf (outside of their favorite child occasionally contributing to various golf publications) but even they could recognize what had happened here.
Those actually playing the course that day, and those who had taken the time to examine the outdated aerials currently available via Google Maps, spent more time focused on what Straka did with the bunkering. Lord knows the members of my party did...both admiring their aesthetics from outside the sand and accepting their challenge from within. The case in point — sure to be the main attraction when Kenwood rolls out new promotional materials — is No. 4, a par five and the number one handicap hole. A series of hurdle-like bunkers cut in along the left, deepening the closer they get to the green. Players will eventually approach from the left, at least if they want to avoid the deepest hazard yet. The trouble is obvious across all 580 yards of the hole...any player can map their strategy from the onset, but committing to the lines required of the second and third shots to secure a precious GIR...that requires backbone simply not demanded from the previous iteration of the Kendale.
Although this early hole is a beefy specimen, Kendale doesn’t excel in brawn. Playing right about 7,000 yards, only four par fours crack 400 yards from the “Championship” tees, and only the closer (465 yards) merits the “long” descriptor. The restoration of William Diddel’s original bunkers are all the more important for deferending to the short holes, visually and otherwise. No. 7 caught my eye, a mere 320 but with fairway bunkers and a blinded landing area to make driver seem dangerous from the tee, green-front bunkers to spook a long approach, and a steep drop-off behind the green to punish those spooked.
Similarly, I found the most wee of the threes to be the trickiest. No. 14 (147 yards) allows missing right rather than messing with the fronting pond. That leaves a chip or putt slightly uphill to a green that runs downhill to a lower plateau, leaving me with a second putt longer than the first. No easy way to par here, which is fine by me (in retrospect...would have preferred an easy par in the moment). Such execution would not have been possible under the previous slopes, which Straka eased for modern green speeds. The aforementioned parents live near Neumann Golf Course, one of several Diddel municipal designs in the Cincinnati area, where the original old-world green slopes are on full display...usually with comical results.
The few ponds scattered about the property seem a tad tacked on...I’m curious if Diddel indeed tacked them on during his second visit to the property (the original design opened during 1930...he returned during 1966). They generally serve strategic purpose but certainly don’t fit the landscape as the course’s sand hazards do. Playing my third from ahead of No. 12’s pond, it seemed as if the water was at surface level with the rough...looking more like the aforementioned three-year-old left the hose running on the shallow spot on the lawn (again), rather than a planned pond. Perhaps Straka can prettify those as well across the next few years?
Indeed, his next project will be Kenwood’s Kenview course, the shorter and much more vertiginous 18 located along the property’s backside. It will be interesting to see how the club approaches the project...there certainly seems to be potential for some “cult classic” appeal to complement the “Championship” qualifications of the Kendale.
In terms of overall terrain, there are more dramatic pieces of land in the area, which I prefer, but some will favor this level of movement. That said, the forthcoming work at Kenview promises to make Kenwood a regional highlight in terms of “members’ clubs.” Aside from the day-to-day variety in golfing opportunities, the pool also looked nice.
Or at least that’s what my parents told me.