Review for Kenwood (Kendale)

Reviewer Score:


“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Those actually playing the course that day, and those who had taken the time to examine the outdated aerials currently available via Google Maps, spent more time focused on what Straka did with the bunkering.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.

Date: June 15, 2021

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