People from miles away heard Jack Nicklaus rubbing his hands together when he was approached to design Valhalla back in the 1980s. This 500-acre parcel of Kentucky land was an architect’s dream, with varied terrain, water and plenty of space. So much space that 40 possible course routings were considered before construction eventually began.
Valhalla finally opened for play in 1986 to a rapturous standing ovation but Valhalla is an old Viking word, which roughly translated means “Hall of the slain”, a mythical heaven for Norse warriors slain gloriously in battle. Hold on a minute, we know this is a tough course but surely it’s not that tough? Well, we do know that it took a Tiger to tame Valhalla in the 2000 US PGA Championship, which was the second time the club had played host to the US PGA (previously in 1996 won by Mark Brooks). The US PGA Championship returned to Valhalla in 2014, which Rory McIlroy won in the evening twilight to secure his fourth Major title.
We’re great fans of the US reciprocal guest policy which is similar to the system that is prevalent in Europe. We’re delighted that Valhalla embraces this policy, allowing members of other golf clubs to play the course providing they are introduced beforehand.
The front nine at Valhalla is fashioned in a links-style with fairways that pitch and roll through a fairly flat, low-lying and open valley. Jack needed to do a bit of earth moving to create the outward half, not only to make a visually attractive sequence of holes, but also to protect the fairways from possible storm damage. The back nine, on the other hand, is a much more traditional tree-lined layout.
A number of minor tweaks were made by Nicklaus ahead of the two majors mentioned earlier and Big Jack was selected again to modify the course prior to the eagerly awaited 2008 Ryder Cup which put Valhalla Golf Club under the world’s spotlight once more. Team USA emphatically won the 37th Ryder Cup with an impressive 16½-11½ victory over Europe, heralding their first win since 1999 at The Country Club in Brookline.
Wonderful course, but over rated. I was fortunate to play with our pro, Chad. The highlight was on the par where Sergio kept dumping balls in the H2O at the Ryder Cup, Chad reached in two. Alas, he did not make eagle but impressive nonetheless. In my opinion the back is much tougher than the front. Using your imagination walking up 18 must be impressive, overwhelming, humbling...pick your adjective at a major tournament with a large crowd.
Valhalla is an outstanding place. The clubhouse is magnificent. Probably the most beautiful I've ever come across. As for the course itself, it's a real treat. Lots of different ways to approach how you navigate holes here, and Jack makes you examine all your options with every shot. I'd definitely agree with previous reviews that the back is stronger than the front, but the outward half is certainly nothing to knock. Numbers 2 and 7, the front's Par 5's, are fantastic risk-reward holes. Both can be reached in 2, but water and sand around each green make it a tall order to make an eagle. Laying up on each of those holes, as I did, secured easy pars with makable birdie putts that didn't require much stress, as going for the greens would have. The 4th is a good short Par 4, and the 6th is a beast of a hole. My friend, an assistant pro at Valhalla, says it's the hardest hole in Kentucky. It's believable, and it hasn't always been like that, as Nicklaus moved the green 100 yards back from its original location next to a creek, to an area surrounded by trees. Yet, even with the difficulty of #6, #12 makes its own argument for being a beast. Missing the fairway here almost guarantees the best score you can make is a 5. Even if you do hit the fairway, par is a tall order. After (likely) getting your rear end kicked in there, you move onto #13, the signature hole with the island green. It's a fairway wood or long iron off the tee, and a wedge into the green. Assuming you don't psych yourself out because of the water, it's not a hard hole to make birdie on. #15 is another great Par 4, with the meandering creek along the right side providing a strong challenge, with a very quaint, relaxing view. After more challenges on the 16th and 17th, you get one last chance to bite back on the short Par 5 18th. Avoid the water, put the ball on the correct side of the green, and birdie is a very realistic option so that you can end your round in happy fashion. This is a very fair course, as a whole. Keep it in the short grass and on most holes, you'll have a green light to attack the flag. Once you're in the rough, you are forced to play defensively and limit the damage. Nothing but good things to say about Valhalla though. I would love to come back here, and in part to the exciting tournaments it's hosted in the past, is worthy of many more big tournaments going forward.