Lexington CC: Spicing up a Kentucky classic

  • Lexington Kentucky Hargave NMP Golf
    Kevin Hargrave

    The sixteenth green was rebuilt to make it more visible from the fairway. Its slopes were also softened to add more pin positions

  • Lexington Kentucky Golf Hargrave NMP
    Kevin Hargrave

    Hargrave’s masterplan included tree removal, fairway expansions, rebuilding five greens, reshaping and repositioning bunkers, new and better aligned tees, and a creek renovation

  • Lexington Kentucky Golf Hargrave NMP
    Kevin Hargrave

    New greenside bunkering at the fourteenth. Throughout the course hazards are now more visible, dramatic and playable

  • Lexington Kentucky Golf Hargrave NMP
    Kevin Hargrave

    The eleventh and twelfth holes have been transformed, with the creek a key part of the work

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

The golf course at Lexington Country Club was originally designed in 1912 by Tom Bendelow, but was being tinkered with before a shovel even hit the ground.

The club feared Bendelow’s design may be too difficult for average players so made minor modifications before construction began.

Several more designers have reworked the design since then, including Pete Dye in 1961 and Benjamin Wihry in 1975. “Hardly anything remains of Bendelow’s routing,” says Kevin Hargrave, the latest architect to make his mark on the Kentucky course. “Our aim has been to make Lexington more interesting and to set it apart from the other golf courses in the area. The changes we’ve made give the course bigger scale, make it more appealing to the eye and gives it some much needed oomph!”

Hargrave, who has worked alongside Keith Foster for 28 years as his lead design associate and has also built a portfolio of his own, revamped the masterplan in 2022 with the intention of completing work in phases. But contractor NMP Golf Construction was hired in 2023, and the club elected to complete all 18 holes in a single season.

Green complexes were to be a major focus. “We weren’t able to relocate greens,” says Hargrave. Their feel and look has, however, been changed significantly. He softened surface slopes on the eighth, tenth, twelfth, fifteenth and sixteenth, which were in areas considered unplayable.

The eleventh hole was completely rebuilt. “That hole was one of the worst on the course, but our changes have made it, in my view, one of the best,” says Hargrave.

The par-five twelfth required a different solution. “A previous contractor had built a stone wall around the pond, flanking the left side of the green,” says Hargrave. “The elevation of the wall as well as the water elevation were improperly set higher than the existing green surface. Due to cost limitations, the rebuilding of the wall was out of the question. Working within the parameters we had and to give the green complex more appeal and improve playability, we raised the front-right side of the green surface up 18 to 24 inches, expanded the front of the green and softened slopes throughout.”

Darryl Bartlett, senior project manager for NMP Golf Construction, adds: “The elevation of this hole now feels vastly different. It feels like you’re playing uphill, even though you’re almost below water – it is a much better hole with a completely different visual.”

The transformation of the twelfth didn’t end there, with work completed on a creek too. “It looked like a ditch and bit of a mistake,” says Bartlett. NMP installed liner and rocks transforming its appearance. “It looks like it belongs there now,” adds Bartlett. “There are waterfalls and pools of water, which is much more pleasing than a dry ditch. The water now runs down to a pond and then at the head of the stream, we put in an irrigation line so we could turn the water on and recirculate it to make it look like it is an active creek.”

Hargrave’s plan also included work to make the course more appealing for players of all abilities. Tee work has added almost 200 yards to the overall length of the layout, while new forward tees have also been introduced. “Around 40 per cent of tees were redone, mainly for better alignment and to change the line of play,” says Hargrave.

Around 90,000 square feet of bunkers have been renovated, which all now feature Better Billy Bunker liner and Best Sand. “Instead of an ocean of green, Lexington now has these big flashes of white with the new sand,” says Bartlett. “It is a tremendous difference from a visual point of view, ease of walking into them and their playability.”

Hargrave worked at Lexington in 2014 when the club regrassed the fairways to bentgrass but were prevented from widening them because of the existing head spacing of the irrigation. For the 2023 project, with entirely new irrigation going in, installed by an irrigation contractor, Hargrave was finally able to widen fairways to how he envisioned.

The removal of at least 300 trees further widens the playing corridors. Unhealthy trees were removed – including one on the eighteenth that was held in place with concrete – and selected others were taken out to open up vistas.

NMP completed construction in December 2023, and the club reopened on 2 April. The contractor had a crew of 28 to 30 on site during the project, including shapers Ricky Mendoza and Mario Gutierrez. NMP completed work on time, even including a short-game area within the original budget.

“The overall experience at Lexington is much better,” says Bartlett. “Aesthetics, maintenance and playability are all vastly improved. This is the best club in Lexington, Kentucky, right now. They are the measuring stick, no question.”

Hargrave adds: “The playing experience has improved dramatically. Bunkers are much easier to get in and out of and they look so much more dramatic in comparison to what the club had – you couldn’t see half the sand in them before, everything looked too small. Now you can see everything.”

This article first appeared in the April 2024 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page.