By Tonya Abeln | Photography by Steve Squall
Valhalla Golf Club
“Valhalla’s quality is unparalleled in the Bluegrass State. We wanted to make sure the redesign and renovation felt modern but was still steeped in the great tradition of this club. For a lot of people, playing at Valhalla is a bucket list experience. The golf course has always been spectacular and now the clubhouse really reflects that this is a championship venue.”
— Keith Reece,
In Norse mythology, Valhalla was a place where Viking souls feasted with the gods. Now, the world-class golf course in Louisville has a renovated clubhouse that not only lives up to the legend for which is was named, but to the status it has achieved since 1986 as “a modern paradise for championship golf,” and the legends who have played on it since that time.
It was the dream of prominent Louisville business leader Dwight Gahm to build a facility worthy of hosting a major golf championship. He and his three sons, Walt, Gordy and Phil, commissioned Jack Nicklaus to design the private facility on 486 acres of rolling Kentucky land. At the genesis of the project, Nicklaus described it as a “golf designer’s dream” due to the variety of terrain, vegetation and water to work with. It remains the No. 1-ranked course in Kentucky and is the culmination of a history-making partnership bringing championship golf to Louisville on a recurring basis. Valhalla is also The PGA of America’s first owned championship site.
Valhalla hosted the first of three PGA Championships in 1996 and has since played host to two Senior PGA Championships and the Ryder Cup in 2008, where the United States unforgettably prevailed to reclaim the Cup. The course has become widely regarded for its challenging layout and climactic finishes during championship events, and among spectators, is heralded for the spectacular viewing areas of the natural amphitheaters.
In May, following a six-month closure during the course’s off-season, the 15,000-square-foot reconfigured clubhouse was revealed to an impressed membership. Upon entry, the “Championship Gallery” is what General Manager Keith Reece describes as the most popular place. Reece, who has been with Valhalla for 25 years, first as the assistant golf professional in 1989 and then the head golf professional in 1997, can personally recall some of the magical championship moments that are reflected in the photos and trophies of the gallery — images including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy — but says he’s proud to be able to share those memories with those who come to Valhalla as one of their bucket-list items. “The Ryder cup,” he shares, “is hard to compare to anything else that we’ve done. That’s definitely the highlight of my tenure.” Championships are a busy time for those, like Reece, at Valhalla, but he explains that even during the high-profile moments, member service is still the priority.
An impressive Championship Grill, with stunning floor-to-ceiling views of the course, is now a popular and comfortable place to grab lunch or a drink. A new “Golf Experience” now assumes what was previously an unfinished basement and boasts a putting green and two golf simulators. Reece says that with the club’s Trackman technology, also used today by many professionals, “you can take your shot and it will tell you how hard and how high it goes. It can be used for fun but it also provides a lot of useful data that will really help you improve your game.”
Updated men’s and women’s locker rooms and lounges round out the interior upgrades, while the improved exterior stonework and landscaping fit seamlessly within the notable context of this distinguished atmosphere. The remarkably renovated clubhouse can be considered another trophy for the champion Valhalla Golf Course. It will be only a matter of time before the next major brings a spectacular finish.
Hurstbourne Country Club
“Louisville is such a strong town for restaurants, but when we were planning the renovation we decdecided that we wanted to be the place that members come to eat after the ball game or to host out-of-town guests. Besides being one of the best places for golf in Kentucky, we also want to be a place where great family memories are made.”
— Steve Shafer, Club Manager/ Director of Golf
The nearly century-old mansion that is the heart of Hurstbourne Country Club recently completed an update that honors the regal history of the grounds while establishing the club as more than just a great place for golf.
“We needed to make sure our club is relevant for the next generation of membership,” said Steve Shafer, club manager and director of golf at Hurstbourne Country Club, who has been with the club for over 20 years. “The wants and needs of the membership changed so we wanted to modernize the space but also to repurpose the layout entirely in an effort to attract more usage.”
Hurstbourne Country Club has long been renowned for its golf course, ranked among the top three in the state (number one member-owned golf course), but Shafer says what is actually the most important attraction of the club is the welcoming and vibrant family atmosphere. “We strive to be welcoming here,” he shares, “and we have really managed to create spaces for all segments of our membership. The interior spaces are really a microcosm of the club now.”
Updates include an adult-only cocktail lounge, a formal dining room where dress code is enforced and a bar and grill known as Thoroughbred Grill. “The Grill is very relaxed and casual. This is where our members can come and watch the games during the off season when they wouldn’t normally be here using the pool or golfing. ” With Chef Troy Schuster at the helm in the kitchen (formerly of 211 Clover Lane), the dining experience easily competes with public options throughout the city and Shafer says they’ve seen a 50 percent increase in dining room member use since the renovation.
Up next is the the Club’s member guest tournament which is one of the strongest in the state June 8 through 10. With a long waiting list of members hoping to get in the 3-day tournament, over 300 people will be able to enjoy the modern facelift at Hurstbourne Country Club.
Since 1966, Hurstbourne Country Club has been creating lasting memories for Louisville families and the renovation promises to add to that legacy. With increased opportunity for families to spend time together and stay connected within a community, Hurstbourne Country Club now offers the perfect way for families to get active together.
Audubon Country Club
“Believe it or not there are still many Private Country Clubs throughout the United States that have not accepted women as equal members to men. Audubon has always been a very progressive Club, and over the past several years has taken steps to be totally gender neutral. I applaud the past and current Board Members for moving this great Club in the right direction.
— Mike Misheck,
General Manager/ COO
Hosting major events, producing high profile tournament champions, and setting the standard for golf excellence in Louisville has long been the Audubon Country Club tradition. The oldest golf club in the city, the grand opening was
in March 1909 with 300 initial members paying $50 each within what was widely considered the most beautiful suburb in Louisville. Besides the history of the club, a notable allegiance separates Audubon from other clubs — their commitment to gender equality and advanding the status of women as primary members. The distinction has roots as Audubon hosted the first tournament in the history of the Women’s Kentucky State Golf Association. General Manager and COO Mike Misheck says, “Audubon Country Club has amended their by-laws and policies to provide women members the same golf privileges like playing on weekend mornings which were typically reserved for men. A single woman can apply for full privilege membership to Audubon. Each family has one vote and a single woman member has full voting rights. Women are elected to the Board of Directors and other heading committees. Women are an integral part of the Club and equally concerned about how the Club oprates.”
Audubon has also helped generate a recent addition to the ranks of women professional golfers. LPGA member Leah Wigger was a product of Audubon’s junior golf program, where she started playing at age five.
Historic Audubon should be commended for turning what was previously considered a “boys’ club” into a club for everyone.