It was just past 9am and it was a little cold to be fair, but they wouldn’t let us on the course. Not even just to hit a few practice balls. They are so protective of the grass here that even the hint of a little frost is enough to bring the shutters firmly down.
Valhalla is a very special place, like Augusta it is very selective with its membership and visitors can only play through a member introduction. I was lucky and greedily accepted the invitation to play at the 2009 Ryder Cup venue and I wasn’t disappointed.
Well, the sun finally came out and we were allowed to tread the hallowed turf. At Valhalla you are appointed a ‘marker’ who is shared between two players and acts as your ball spotter and course manager. Billy was our man, and took us down to our allotted 15 minutes on the practice tees, already set up with pyramids of brand new V1’s.
From a gentle dog leg opening hole, Valhalla’s front nine is deceptively long and has the added threat of Floyds Fork, the waterway that surrounds the course meandering through it almost on every hole. Fortunately for us, Billy’s laser guided sight made the finding the yardage a formality, so we could just concentrate on hitting through the ball. Of course, navigating to the green is only one part of the equation, because Valhalla’s greens are like glass with deep borrows all over, so forget any notion of single putting here unless you are inches away from the hole. The course has been changed by Jack Nicklaus for the Ryder Cup and made even more difficult than it was before. Things were going great until the 6th, The Bear. This is a monster par 4, after having hit a glorious drive left of centre, you are then faced with an uphill 200 yard shot over the 40 yards of Floyd’s Fork to a two tier green. The 620 yard par 5 seventh leaves you two options, either cutting the hole by 50 yards by going over blue grass rough and a lake to an island fairway only 24 yards wide, or taking the safer route still over water to a wider fairway but looking like taking four to the green.
The back 9 opens with a par 5 double dog leg and then a 210 yard par 3. But coming up is the signature hole on the course, the 13th. Only 355 yards, it is by far the most difficult because of the island green. Similar to the tenth at The Belfry, you need to manage your drive to get in shape to pitch to a tiny green surrounded by water.
Finally, the uphill par 5 finishing hole has it all; water, deep bunkers, punishing rough and you’ll need all five shots just to get on the green.
What an experience that was, and places Valhalla in Kentucky very firmly in my top three courses of the World.
Par 72 7,540 yards