To serious golfers, a three-hour drive is no problem, if the course at the end of that journey is a good one. They are all searching for the perfect golf equipment – such as the best golf clubs for beginners, the excellent course, the perfect weather, the perfect golf experience. It might be 40 miles north of Oxford. It might be 70 miles south of Lexington, Ky. It might be two hours west in Columbus, Ind. And for golfers with a serious addiction and a thick wallet, that nirvana could be 355 miles away in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Those might seem like remote destinations, but each of those towns is the home of a highly ranked public golf course. As Tri-State courses become more crowded and “hackers” flood local public courses, serious golfers are flocking to those select general courses out of town.
“People who are serious golfers don’t mind driving a couple of hours to get on a good golf course,” said Larry Smith, golf director at Kearney Hill Golf Links in Lexington. “Two hours is nothing.”
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Which is the Good Golf Course?
Kearney Hill features 18 holes, with a course rating of 73.5 from the back tees. The course was designed by the famous Pete Dye, and it costs $20 to walk the course and $28 with a cart.
With its location just off the intersection of Interstate 75 and Interstate 64 on the northern side of Lexington, Kearney Hill has drawn more and more golfers from out of town, and the Cincinnati area, in particular, Smith said.
“There just aren’t enough good golf course,” he said.
It isn’t quite as far to Oxford, the home of Hueston Woods Golf Resort. Founded in 1968 and designed by Jack Kidwell, the 18-hole course boasts a course rating of 73.1 It costs $15 during the week and $20 on the weekends to play, with a $21 charge for a cart.
The course is in the same town as Miami University, but one of its primary draws is the 96-room lodge in Hueston Woods State Park, said course pro-Brad Rollinson. The course offers package deals, including a room at the lodge and 18 holes of golf. Those bags help make summer weekends a busy time at Hueston Woods. The course is open from the last week of March to the end of October, Rollinson said.
The Tri-State is the largest metropolitan area sending a steady stream of golfers to Hueston Woods, Rollinson added. The course also draws from Dayton and Middletown.
Middletown golfers have easy access to another highly ranked public golf course, Shaker Run Golf Club in Lebanon. Golf packages with area motels should be a big part of the success there, said Tim McLaughlin, director of sales and marketing. Cincinnati-based BriLyn Inc. bought Shaker Run from Middletown’s Armco Steel Co. BriLyn also operates hotels so that Shaker Run will be designing combination packages with local hotels this year, he said.
Shaker Run’s 18-holes course boasts a course rating of 71.8 from the blue tees. Golfers pay $48.50 during the week and $57.50 on weekends to play. Those charges include a golf cart.
The course draws golfers from Michigan and Canada, but relies on a steady stream of customers from the Tri-State during the summer, he said. The operators of Shaker Run will be busy, installing a new pro shop and a new irrigation system. They also remodeled the eating areas.
Last year, Shaker Run got a boost when it earned a rating from Golf Digest magazine as one of the top 100 golf courses in the country, public or private. Kearney Hill and Otter Creek Golf Course in Columbus, Ind., earned the same ranking.
Get out of Town
Most quality courses try to draw golfers from metropolitan areas, to appeal to players who want to “get out of town” for a day or a weekend, said Mike Hatten, general manager of Otter Creek. The course is less than two hours from Downtown Cincinnati, he said, and the drive is even shorter from Louisville, Ky., or Indianapolis.
Its original 18 holes were designed by Robert Trent Jones. The course has nine holes under construction for completion. Those holes are being designed by Rees Jones, son of the famed designer.
Golf at Otter Creek costs $58 during the week and $68 on weekends with a golf cart. The course has a rating of 73.7 from the U.S. Golf Association. During the week before May 1, golfers can get an $18 discount, Hatten said.
At a quality public course, the key to drawing golfers is to make them feel like they’re playing a private course, Hatten said.
“We maintain this like a private country club,” he said. “Certainly, they (golfers) will pay extra and come a little farther to get this experience.”
The Tri-State market has been important for Otter Creek, said Hatten, who plans to start advertising in the Cincinnati-area yellow pages this year.
That kind of publicity might not work for the three golf courses at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. But the resort, which has garnered an international reputation because of its five-star rating, has no problem drawing customers to the greens.
Two of its three courses, the Old White Course and the Greenbrier course, were listed in Golf Digest magazine’s Top 100 courses. Those two courses have ratings of 72.7 and 73.7, respectively. The third course, Lakeside, boasts a course rating of 70.4.
Each of the three classes costs $80 to play if you are a guest in the hotel, not including a $34 charge for cart rental. If you are not a guest in the hotel, greens fees are $175 without a golf cart.
All three courses are older, with Old White opening in 1913 and Greenbrier starting operation in 1924. That course was redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 1977, said Hill.
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