Kentucky State Parks Look to Golf

Under the leadership of George Ward, the Kentucky parks system are looking to golf courses as a means for generating revenues and getting away from state subsidizing of its losses. “We’re trying to get the state parks into being self-sufficient, as far as finances,” said Ward.

Among the attractions are new golf courses at Grayson Lake and Yatesville Lake state parks. Hidden Cove at Grayson Lake Golf Course is a regulation-length 18 designed by Ault, Clark & Associates. Eagle Ridge Golf Course in Louisa within the confines of Yatesville Lake State Park, is a par-71, 6,630-yard track designed by Arthur Hills & Associates. Both courses were unveiled last summer.

Ward, a veteran hotelier, was appointed Parks Commissioner by Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Gov. Fletcher recently outlined his plans for Kentucky’s parks. He vowed to eliminate the system’s $29 million-a-year loss by boosting revenues $21.5 million a year and finding savings of about $8 million. With these lofty goals in mind, Ward will treat the parks and resorts like businesses, while still preserving their primary mission.

“First of all, and this is something that’s not usually printed,” Ward told The (Ashland) Independent’s Allen Blair, “first and foremost we’re trying to protect 57,000 acres and preserve the historic significance of many of our sites, as well as be environmentally concerned about their proper handling.”

Perhaps the best way to upgrade the parks system’s bottom line is to utilize existing facilities – golf courses, lodges and pools, for example – to their full potential. Occupancy is currently 55 percent, compared to the low 60 percent national average in the hotel industry, Ward said. Among the commissioner’s strategies is to attract more retreats and association meetings on park properties, and to encourage Kentuckians to use the facilities in off-peak or “shoulder” seasons.

“One thing, we’re going to take an existing central office employee [in the state capitol of Frankfort] and appoint them as a sales manager, have them work the state government market, the association market,” said Ward. Inroads have already been made in this area, with another state agency scheduling regional meetings in 10 park locations. In an effort to lure new business within the state, the department has established a government rate of $55 a night, whether employees are on business or leisure.

The Bluegrass State has also begun cross-promoting its parks with common links or close proximity. For example, the department is now trying to link the Kentucky Horse Park and the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea, facilities only 42 miles apart via Interstate 75.

In addition, the state has launched its Kentucky Signature Series, a “trail” of six golf courses (there are 13 golf courses all told in state parks). Besides the courses in Grayson and Yatesville lakes, the Series’ includes Kentucky Dam Village Golf Course in Gilbertsville, Mineral Mound in Eddyville, Dale Hollow Lake Golf Course in Burkesville, and Wasioto Winds Golf Course in Pine Mountain State Park in Pineville.

In addition to these championship-caliber layouts, new nines opened last summer in Kincaid Lake State Park (a Lowell George design) in Falmouth, and in Pennyrile State Park (a $3.5-million expansion project involving a Tim Liddy-designed nine).

George Ward is uniquely qualified to shepherd the effort to make Kentucky’s parks system solvent. The native of East Syracuse, N.Y. and long-time Lexington resident was co-founder of H&W Management Co., a regional hotel development and management firm that started in 1985 and has built, owned and operated more than 30 hotels, mostly in smaller Kentucky communities. Ward’s no longer involved in H&W, but that business experience will be important in developing marketing and promotional plans.

Ward’s connection with Kentucky’s small towns will also be crucial to his plan to boost revenues in the parks system. “Most of our parks are in rural areas and we really need to partner with local attractions and the tourism they promote,” he told reporter Blair. “What’s amazed me is the talented people in those communities.”

For more information on the Kentucky Signature Series golf trail and the other courses in Kentucky’s state parks system, call toll-free 800/255-PARK (7275) or visit