ALVATON, Ken. — In September 2008, the golfing world descends on Kentucky as Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville hosts The Ryder Cup Matches and the Jr. Ryder Cup visits The Club at Olde Stone outside Bowling Green.
It could be argued the youngsters are getting the better end of this deal.
The Club at Olde Stone, laid out here in Alvaton by Toledo, Ohio-based Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates (AHSF), has taken the golf world by storm since opening for member play in the spring of 2006. Just 18 months old, Olde Stone has landed golf’s premier junior event, been named among the top courses to open nationwide in the last three years, and been ranked among the country’s top 35 real estate courses, old or new.
At Olde Stone, AHSF partners Arthur Hills and Drew Rogers were charged with creating the best course in Kentucky. They may have outdone themselves, but stay tuned: Golfweek’s state-by-state rankings will be published in February.
"To have an event of this magnitude coming to Bowling Green says a lot about Olde Stone and the potential for hosting major events in the future," said Steve Newman, Head Golf Professional at Olde Stone, who noted the Jr. Ryder Cup is set for Sept. 14-16, 2008. "The course is getting rave reviews from the various raters who have played the course, and they’ve arrived here by the dozen. The word is clearly out. They have specifically commented on the variety of the holes, the greens and surrounds. And many of them have said this is the toughest rough they have ever played."
The raters have been to Alvaton in force. This fall, Golfweek ranked The Club at Olde Stone 14th on its list of the top 50 courses to open since 2004.
In late October, The Wall Street Journal, in partnership with Golfweek, saw fit to rank The Club at Olde Stone 33rd on its published list of America’s Top 100 Real Estate Golf Courses. Olde Stone’s quick ascension in this extremely competitive ranking can be attributed to its superb golf course, but also for its unique master plan: a New Urbanist approach that called for development of an actual village center amenitized with public space, light retail, and a range of housing spiraling out from this center in a radial fashion. This concentrated, New Urbanist approach allowed Rogers and Hills create a "core" golf course unimpeded by home sites and road crossings.
"As a firm, we don’t really design golf courses with rankings or ‘best new’ awards in mind — but in the case Olde Stone, it was a stated directive from our client. So this sort of attention, inside and outside of Kentucky, is extremely gratifying," said Rogers, himself a University of Kentucky graduate. "I think it’s important to remember that the Club at Olde Stone is only 18 months old. The golf course is only going to get better with time because of all Olde Stone has going for it, the strongest element of this project was the land itself — it features a stunning diversity of terrain."
Holes 2 through 7 at Olde Stone are located in the expansive floodplain of Drake’s Creek. The remaining holes sit higher on the property, where dramatic elevation change, bold feature-shaping, accents of golden fescue and vintage design strategies provide a wholly different feel and challenge. Clearly course raters and the PGA of America, which administers both Ryder Cup events, have affirmed these qualities.
Olde Stone’s most significant and lasting achievement, however, may well be something far more mundane: its turfgrass. The Club at Old Stone boasts bentgrass greens, tees and fairways in a southerly region where wall-to-wall bent — a turf that normally thrives only in cooler climates — wasn’t thought possible. Rogers worked closely with Olde Stone superintendent Wyatt Warfel and Oliphant Golf Construction to build 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 infamous Transition Zone.
"I think owner 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. The bentgrass sets it apart from every golf course in the South, and 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."
This sort of creativity and innovation, along with national and international design laurels, routinely distinguish the recent work of Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates. Olde Stone’s growing reputation is complemented by those of Sand Golf Club, just more than year old but already ranked by Golf Digest among the world’s Top 100 courses outside the United States (#82), and Hills Golf Club, named by Travel+Leisure Golf magazine among the top 10 courses to open worldwide in 2005. Both were designed by AHSF partner Steve Forrest, sitting president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. Closer to home, Wolfdancer Golf Club at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort in Austin, Texas — designed by Hills/Forrest partner Chris Wilczynski — was named to GOLF Magazine’s coveted "Top 10 New Courses You Can Play" for 2006.
"These course honors show that our partners are among the finest architects working today," said Arthur Hills, 77, founder and principal of AHSF. "I also feel strongly that each time a course of ours is praised, it vouches for the collaborative approach we bring to all our projects."
Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest & Associates is also one of golf’s most prolific and respected course architects, with more than 40 projects underway in Mexico, Canada, the United States and Europe. It boasts nearly 200 original designs worldwide, to go with more than 130 major renovations.
"We have built Hills/Forrest into one of the top four or five course architecture firms in the world by working to together to design outstanding golf courses that amateurs and professionals alike love to play. My name has been out on the shingle — for 40 years now — but I didn’t design 190 golf courses around the world by myself! We’ve always relied on the talent we’ve worked hard to assemble here. We’ve made a point of giving our partners the sort of responsibility and artistic autonomy that inspires them and keeps them here."
[For more information on Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates, visit www.arthurhills.com, or call 419-841-8553.]
Phillips Golf Media/Mandarin Media
Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest & Associates