2004: Resort Report - Bluegrass state of mind

Pineville, Ky.

Kentucky is famed for bluegrass, bourbon, beautiful mountains and thoroughbreds. And, spurred by a renewed focus from the State Park system, golf now is becoming a larger part of Kentucky’s recreational reputation.

Courses are situated in some of the most scenic areas of the state, and they can be played comfortably 10 months of the year. The 27-course Kentucky State Park Golf Trail provides a variety of excellent places to play. Two of the Trail’s biggest highlights are Wasioto Winds Golf Course and Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park Golf Course, which offer high-quality golf and peaceful on-site lodges.

The Southern and Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association makes it easy to enjoy golf, lodging and many other activities in the area, and its Web site offers a point of reference and “one-stop shopping” spot when it comes to the state’s southern and eastern regions.

Wasioto Winds is as scenic and challenging a course as there is in Kentucky, situated on the lower edge of Pine Mountain near Cumberland Gap on the state’s eastern border, where Daniel Boone led early settlers across the Appalachian Mountains.

“This is a wonderful area for golf,” said Donnie Caldwell, assistant professional at Wasioto Winds. “There are mountains everywhere you look, the course is completely bentgrass – tees, fairways and greens – and the maintenance is as good as you’re going to find.”

Caldwell might be a bit biased when talking of course maintenance. His older brother Ronnie Caldwell is the superintendent at Wasioto Winds.

The course is part of Pine Mountain State Resort Park, Kentucky’s oldest state park, near Pineville. The park offers areas for fishing, camping, hiking and other outdoor activities. It also features a rustic lodge built in 1963 that includes a restaurant and several on-site family activities.

The $10 million golf course, designed by Michael Hurdzan and opened in 2002, got its name from the Shawnee word “wasioto,” which means “valley of the deer.” Wasioto Winds, which includes five par 5s and five par 3s, rolls gently and features three lakes and several streams, along with six country-style bridges that crisscross the waterways. The course is demanding from the back tees at 7,037 yards, but it can be shortened to just more than 4,000 from the front tees so players of any skill level can find a comfort zone.

Some consider No. 12 Wasioto Winds’ signature hole, and the stern, 455-yard par 4 indeed is a challenging gem. But the 258-yard, par-3 13th is a brilliant hole as well, with a tee box elevated some 80 feet.

“The course eases you in a little with a short par 4 to start, and then a par 5 on No. 2,” Donnie Caldwell said. “But by the time you get into the meat of it, you know you’ve got a test on your hands.”

Wasioto Winds is the home of Kentucky’s only active First Tee program, and 450 local youngsters participate regularly. There is a four-hole short course for First Tee participants, which was designed by course personnel.

“The kids get mad when the adults sneak over to hit a few on their course and leave divots on their tee boxes,” Caldwell said. “They like their course to be looking good.”

Golf course designers who work in Kentucky have plenty of nature’s gifts with which to ply their craft, and the same mountains, rivers and streams make the drives between courses an enjoyable experience. As you travel the Kentucky Golf Trail, nature’s beauty, along with farmland, open spaces, wrap-around porches and homeowners waving from rocking chairs make it a comforting country drive.

Another nice stop along the Trail is Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park Golf Course, designed by Brian Ault and opened in July 2003 in Burkesville – in the state’s southern portion. As you make your way to the Lodge at Dale Hollow, you pass by the course and get a tantalizing view of a couple holes from the two-lane road.

“You can’t see this course without wanting to play it,” said Ted Beckmann, head golf professional at Dale Hollow.

Beckmann is right; it takes just one look to appreciate Dale Hollow’s 7,273-yard layout. It recently hosted the Kentucky Section Pro-Pro Championship and “the pros loved it,” according to Beckmann. No one enjoyed the course more than Beckmann and partner Greg Basham, who walked away with the Pro-Pro title.

The lush zoysia fairways and bentgrass tees and greens traverse through thickly wooded mountains, providing hole after hole of scenic challenge. Beckmann is hesitant to name a “signature” hole at Dale Hollow, preferring instead to let individual players decide. When pressed, however, he did admit that the 470-yard, uphill, par-4 13th was his personal favorite – with a nod toward Nos. 5 and 15, as well.

Kentucky takes pride in its state park system, and has one of the most extensive collections of state resort parks in the country – the state park motto, in fact, is “The Nation’s Finest.” The parks have quality lodging and dining in beautiful settings at reasonable prices. Many of the facilities offer catering, conference space, pools and marinas.

The parks can serve as an anchor for a relaxing vacation. Boating, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, cycling and swimming are only some of the activities to enjoy.

Increasingly and importantly, quality golf also abounds.

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