The Club at Olde Stone Opens in Kentucky

The Club at Olde Stone, conceived to boldly go where no development had gone before, officially got there on June 1, when it opened for member play in Alvaton in south-central Kentucky.

"It will take time for all the course-raters and pundits to see what's been created here, but we're confident they'll be blown away by what they find," said Club at Olde Stone owner Jim Scott, who estimates that $13 million was spent on the golf course alone. "The layout Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates have designed here is second to none not just in Kentucky but this entire region. What we've done is take that quality foundation and built on it, by daring to do what others had not."

The Club at Old Stone does indeed show what's possible when spectacular terrain is exposed to expert course architecture, cutting-edge agronomics and innovative land-planning tenets.

Designed by Toledo, Ohio-based Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates, Olde Stone's 7,372-yard layout is distinguished immediately by its playing conditions: bentgrass greens, tees and fairways in a southerly region the infamous Transition Zone where wall-to-wall bentgrass wasn't thought possible. Working closely with Hills/Forrest and Olde Stone superintendent Wyatt Warfel, Oliphant Golf Construction built each fairway in the fashion of a putting surface: creating extensive subsurface drainage, then capping each fairway with an 8- to 10-inch layer of sand. This extraordinary measure added six weeks and $1 million to the construction process, but it enabled the wicking away of moisture that normally dooms bentgrass during steamy summer months in the Transition Zone.

"Anytime you can get the moisture out of that plant through these hot spells, you're better off," said Drew Rogers, the Hills/Forrest partner who directed the Olde Stone project. "To this point, it's been nothing short of amazing. Wyatt has had no disease. No pythium on tees and fairways because they drain so well. And little to no poa annua infestation."

Bentgrass fairways in particular also allowed Rogers to design a firm-and-fast course that emphasizes the ground game. The 15th, a 472-yard par-4 called "Symphony," illustrates the dynamic: A cross-bunker sits 20 yards short of the green, daring players to simply clear the hazard and roll the ball onto a narrow, undulating putting surface that would repel most aerial approaches. "Without the bounce and firmness provided by the bentgrass and subsurface conditions, you would not tend to arrange a green complex like that," Rogers explained. "Those types of greens are more apt to be found on some of our older, classic courses from the 1920s, or in the British Isles where the ground is inherently firm and well-drained."

The Club at Olde Stone is also unique for its overall master plan, a New Urbanist approach that called for the development of an actual village center amenitized with public space and light retail. This village is stocked with an array of smaller housing units (cottages, duplexes, even lofts located upstairs of shops) and surrounded by solely residential neighborhoods where, in transect planning fashion, lot sizes tend to get larger the farther from the village green, which spreads out before an opulent stone clubhouse. Automotive use within the community is discouraged in favor of foot and bicycle paths.

This novel development tactic allowed more lots than a traditional scheme would have (to date, 69 of the 384 lots have been sold; less than 100 of a targeted 350 golf memberships remain available). Just as important, this concentrated, New Urbanist approach allowed Rogers and Hills/Forrest to create a core golf course unimpeded by home sites and road crossings.

"The strongest element of this project was the land itself it features a stunning diversity of terrain," Rogers explained. "The land-planning methodology here allowed us to maximize use of that terrain without having to account for excessive housing lots and other trappings of traditional subdivisions, which is very rare these days."

Holes 2 through 7 at Olde Stone are located in the expansive floodplain of Drake's Creek, allowing holes like the double-fairwayed, par-5 7th ("Wishbone"). The remaining holes sit higher on the property, where dramatic elevation change, accents of golden fescue and vintage design strategies provide a wholly different feel and challenge.

While most premium course designs today feature a driveable par-4, Olde Stone has one on each side and they couldn't be more different. With its super-wide fairway snaking around a gaping cross-bunker at right, the level 6th, called "Oxbow," invites a half-dozen options off the tee; only when standing on the riverside green an elegant, almost triangular plateau with a brontosaurus tail slithering back toward the fairway does the player realize it can be driven. At "Vesuvius," the steeply downhill 14th, a question-mark fairway fairly well begs players to eschew the lay-up and drive the volcano putting surface, over a pond.

"I think Jim Scott and his team are to be congratulated for really seizing the opportunity at Olde Stone," Rogers said. "They knew they had a spectacular piece of land and, for someone else, maybe it would have been enough to build a first-rate golf course and some nice housing. But this place breaks the mold."

Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest & Associates is one of golf's most prolific and respected course architects, with more than 40 projects underway in Mexico, Canada, the United States, Europe and the Middle East. The Wolfdancer Golf Club at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort also opened for play June 1, near Austin, Texas; Hills Golf Club in Sweden, named by Travel+Leisure Golf magazine among the top 10 courses to open worldwide during 2005, will celebrate its grand opening this fall, just north of Gothenburg; and ground was just broken on the new Garden River Golf Club near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.