Valhalla Golf Course Guide | Ryder Cup 2008

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All you need to know about the thoroughbred Kentucky course where America and Europe battle it out this month including a US viewpoint from journalist Mike Bernos who recently teed it up at Valhalla Golf Course…

According to Norse mythology, Valhalla was the Great Hall of Odin, where brave warriors who died in battle lived on forever. They went out to do battle every morning and returned in the evening to have their wounds tended, drink, feast and tell of their epic round of golf…

OK, we admit we made the last bit up, but Europe - having won of four of the last five Ryder Cups -  certainly need no course bias, no helping hand at Valhalla. Yet, by his own admission, Jack Nicklaus has built a course with a distinct Scottish influence, particularly the outward nine.

While there is not a large body of water within a day’s drive of Valhalla, which means the winds are quite tame, the rolling and winding fairways are lined with mounds and bordered by the lush blue grass which will do its best to imitate the tangling gorse of St Andrews. The grass with its rich blue-green hue, gives Valhalla and this region of the US its distinct natural beauty, as well as producing some of the most prodigious thoroughbreds (race horses) in the world.

My recent round revealed Valhalla to be a demanding course that will require accuracy and shows no prejudice to this generation’s power hitters.

Among Valhalla’s visual gems is the challenging par 4 6th hole.  Previously, it was an intriguing hole at best which required a tee shot with a 3 wood or long iron to lay up to Floyd’s Fork, a creek separating the fairways and green. The second shot often required nothing more than a wedge shot to the green. Nicklaus has retreated the green 80 yards into an enclave of trees, which now requires an approach shot of 200-220 yards.
 
Nicklaus shows a wee bit of mercy towards Valhalla as he has softened the greens. Previously, the greens had more humps than a herd of camels. In preparation for the Ryder Cup, the greens were softened in a trade off for the additional yardage.
In a twist of irony, this year’s Ryder Cup will not have Woods, the man who Nicklaus was probably thinking of more than anyone else when he lengthened the course. Still, he has served notice that Valhalla will be no cakewalk for the golfing pride of America and Europe…

Valhalla Golf Course

HOLE-BY-HOLE GUIDE

Hole 1: 450 Yards, Par 4
A gentle opener and most players will hit, with either driver or 3-wood, to the right centre of  the dogleg enabling them to follow-up with a mid to short iron to a slightly elevated green.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 1

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Hole 2: 530 Yards, Par 4
The tee shot is critical with players looking to thread their drive into a small landing area between the f airway bunker on the right and water on the left. Then it’s a case of striking a solid mid-long iron to a tricky green sloping to the left.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 2

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Hole 3: 210 Yards, Par 3
This par 3 is one of the most demanding holes on the course. Hole placement and wind direction will determine the degree of difficulty of this hole. Players will hit a mid to long iron to this narrow elevated green. Any shot missing to the right could come to rest perilously close to Floyd's Fork if not in the winding hazard.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 3

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Hole 4: 375 Yards, Par 4
Safe play on this tricky short dogleg par 4 will see most players aim for the left side of the fairway, leaving a short iron approach to Valhalla’s most undulating green which also happens to be protected by three bunkers.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 4

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Hole 5: 460 Yards, Par 4
This will prove a tough nut to crack and with a trio of new fairway traps to avoid on the left, players will be looking to find the right side of the fairway which will allow a mid-iron shot into a slightly elevated green guarded by a huge bunker on the right.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 5

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Hole 6: 495 Yards, Par 4
A sharp right dogleg capable of causing plenty of grief though most players will be aiming for the left centre of the sloping fairway – protected by rough on both sides – with a 3-wood or long iron. That achieved, players still need to hit a deadly accurate mid-short iron approach to another well guarded green.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 6

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Hole 7: 600 yards par 5 - KEY HOLE
This scenic par 5 with its split fairway offers a risk-reward approach. The more expedient and tempting route to the left fairway shortens the hole by more than 50 yards. The landing area is a stingy 24-yards wide and lined on the left by the striking but entangled bluegrass rough as well as a water hazard. The approach from this fairway requires a carry of 210 to 230 yards, entirely over water. The fairway to the right is the longer but prudent route, although the devilish Nicklaus has made this path more challenging by narrowing the fairway by 15-20 yards and moving the enhanced bunkers on the right side closer the fairway. Also, the water hazard now encroaches to the edge of the green to drown any approach shot missing to the left. A classic match play hole…

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 7

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Hole 8: 190 yards par 3
This little un will be treated with the utmost respect, specially as two deep bunkers and severe rough will gobble up wayward strikes to the right. Basically a sweet, precise strike is a must..go too far left and the steep slope left of the green will see some shots toppling into the water of Floyd’s Fork.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 8

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Hole 9: 415 yards par 4
Most players will hit their drive to carry the right hand f airway bunker which will shorter the hole, allowing for a short iron in. But even then it’s far from over – the green is lightning quick and slopes from back to front so keeping the ball below the hole is crucial.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 9

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Hole 10: 595 yards par 5
A double dogleg where the tee shot is one of Valhalla’s most demanding – you’ve got to land the ball on the right side of the fairway, avoiding the sandy trap around the landing zone, to stand any chance of having a go at the green.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 10

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Hole 11: 210 yards par 3
Looks relatively straightforward but is far from it. Make no mistake, players will be relieved to walk off this elevated two-tier green well guarded by two massive bunkers - they virtually surround the dancefloor – with par.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 11

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Hole 12: 470 yards par 4
No respite here either. In fact this was rated the toughest hole during the two PGA Championships played at Valhalla. A spot-on tee shot is required to get into position for a mid-long iron shot into a green protected by one of the deepest bunkers on the course and penal rough.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 12

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Hole 13: 355 yards par 4 - KEY HOLE
It may be the shortest par 4 on the course but it’s fraught with danger as it proved in the Valhalla’s two PGA Championships. After hitting a long iron to the centre of the fairway 70ft below the tee – no easy task considering it’s flanked by five bunkers on the left and a large one on the right – players are then faced with the mother of all approach shots to an island green perched atop huge boulders seemingly rising from the water. There’s bound to be plenty of drama here, specially with front pin placements.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 13

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Hole 14: 220 yards par 3
Players will be firing into a two-tiered green from an elevated tee sloping from left to right. It’s the longest par 3 on the course and a wayward shot left virtually rules out making par though players will also be well aware of the deep bunker on the right.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 14

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Hole 15: 435 yards par 4
The start of the homeward stretch involves a par 4 demanding the most accurate approach shot of them all – the slender undulating green severely slopes from left to right and is closely guarded by a creek down the right side and a big dip on the left.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 15

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Hole 16: 510 yards par 4
There should be plenty of fun and games here too, the narrow fairway on this marathon par 4 being guarded by a creek on the right and timber on the left. The elevated green is pretty treacherous too and could well see many players having to hit nervy high soft pitch shots to the pin.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 16

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Hole 17: 475 yards par 4
An uphill par 4 requiring a solid tee shot to leave a mid-short iron into a slightly elevated green protected by two bunkers on the left. Players should also be acutely aware of troublesome tightly mown ‘gathering’  areas encircling the rest of the green.

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 17

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Hole 18: 545 yards par 5 - KEY HOLE
The big finale is reachable in two and players will feel they need to birdie it to secure victory. However, the drive has been made tougher thanks to the left fairway bunker being doubled in size, meaning players will need to find a smaller landing area to have a go at the horseshoe-shaped green in two. They’ll also need to smash an uphill second shot over a large greenside bunker which under intense pressure and with the eyes of the golfing world firmly fixed on them, is no easy task…

Valhalla Golf Course - Hole 18

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What did Nicklaus change?

The course went through something of an overhaul in 2006 in preparation for this year’s Ryder Cup. Here are some of Jack’s main changes:
Hole 2: Changed to a par-4 for championship golf. The green was softened to make it more receptive to long-iron shots, but it was also made smaller. Deeper bunkers too.
Hole 4: New tee added, making this hole an exercise in distance control.
Hole 5: Tee shot of 290 yards required to clear the new right-hand bunker.
Hole 6: Green moved back 80 yards to make this a 500-yard par-4. Green re-shaped to pose all sorts of trouble.
Hole 8: New tee adds 25 yards, while the green and its surrounds have been completely re-worked to make it ‘extremely challenging’.
Hole 10: New championship tee adds 35 yards.
Hole 11: Green moved back and to the left 30 yards, making it an extremely difficult par.
Hole 14: Green recontoured and two bunkers added.
Hole 16: New green complex and different approach achieved by lowering the tee on 17.
Hole 17: New, lower teeing area adds 50 yards and opens up a spectacular viewing area for the 16th green. Right-hand fairway bunker added to complement the left-hand one in the landing zone.

 

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