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.
Date: June 21, 2021