Last weekend Joel and I took a trip down to Kirkwood National Golf Course and Cottages in Holly Springs, MS. The course opened in 1995 and was ranked #5 on Golf Digest Best New Courses in its first year. After that it has received the following accolades.
- America’s Best Places You Can Play #2 in Mississippi – 1996
- America’s Best Golf Courses Everyone Can Play Top 75 Affordable Courses Ranked 42nd – 1996
- 4-Star Ranking “Places to Play” – 1998 – 1999; 2000 – 2001; 2004 – 2005; 2006 – 2007
- Best in State (Mississippi) Ranked #9 – 2005
- 3 ½ Star Ranking Best Places to Play – 2008 – 2009
As you can see, the course has lost a few steps over the years which is expected from a place caught in no mans land between Memphis and Tupelo. The originally plan was to build another course, develop the cottages, and create a public golf destination in the greater Memphis area that truly lacks in this department. Like everyone in the mid 2000’s money had to be an issue and thus pushed renovations to the club house, parking lot, etc to the back burner. The one thing that has held strong over the years is the golf course.
I met Joel at his house and hopped in his loaner Buick since his new Jeep is stuck somewhere on an assembly line. The trek down to Holly Springs only takes us about 30 minutes but only seems like 10 as much as we are talking. As you turn off Highway 7 you catch your first glimpse of the course. The stair-stepped tee box of the Par 3, 4th hole jumps out at you. We turn into the parking lot and head into the clubhouse. The pro asks us, “Are you guys ready?”, still knocking a few cobwebs off I give him a puzzled look and he elaborates a little. “There is a big group staying in the cottages that got their tee times mixed up, if you go off now, you can get out ahead of them.”. Without hesitation we say absolutely and head straight to the tee box. Thankfully Joel keeps an old Momentus driver with him, which comes in handy to loosen up. The course plays 7,129 yards from the back tees and 6,254 from the blues for myself and Joel respectfully. It’s tight, long, has a lot of elevation changes and is very similar to what you would find on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Joel warns me of the test ahead, but I think both of us underestimated how tough it really would be.
The 1st, a 383 yard Par 4, moves left to right around fairway bunkers and a pond on the right and a strange diamond of rough right in the middle of the fairway. I’ve never seen this before, it’s about 60 yards long and 40 yards wide. Luckily I have enough length to carry it and leave myself with about 100 yards into the elevated green. I hit a gap wedge dead at it but come up a yard short and in the rough to the right of the front bunker. Joel hits his approach to a similar location. We both pitch up to a green that is maybe 8 yards deep where the pin is that day. I three putt from the fringe en route to an opening double, while Joel two putts for his bogey. On the way to the 2nd tee, you will pass the cottages where it looks about 12-16 people are staying. There are golf carts, trucks and bags all over the place. You can tell the group was moving a little slow when one of the guys looked right at me and said, “Dan did you already play number 1?”. I look around and then respond, ” Hey man, I’m not Dan.”. Poor guy looked befuddled until the real Dan walked around the corner of the cottage. The 2nd hole is a dog leg left with woods and OB tight on both sides of the fairway. The hole slopes down the hill, forming a gully, before turning back up to the green.
I hit my first drive OB left, and then barely keep my second ball in bounds right. Gotta love a 2 way miss to hit you on the second hole. Joel hits his standard 220 down the middle drive and heads back to the cart. I’m standing at the edge of my tee box watching and out of no where he jumps in the air, and says “Oh S***, there is a snake!”. With a pretty clear view of the situation, I don’t see a snake but I move in for a better look. To my surprise there is a foot long snake coiled up and ready to strike. I can’t help myself and start messing with it with my driver. After recovering from his traumatic experience we go find my ball in the right rough. I fly the green with my approach that once again looks to be right on-line. Joel comes up just short and pitches up about 20′ from the pin. The green is severely tiered leaving me about 50′ downhill from me to the hole. I play way out wide and let the chip die at the top of the hill, executing the shot perfectly, my ball rolls by about 3 feet and I clean up for a clinical double bogey (Par with my second ball, needed the small victories on this day). Joel two putts for his bogey after a chip that’s not up to his standards. He makes up for it with a par on the par 4 3rd and I get off the number 6, with a bogey 5.
The 4th hole I mentioned earlier is the 5th hardest hole on the course and for good reason. From the black tee’s it is listed at 188 yards on the card. Factor in about 25 feet of drop, a multi tiered green that is shaped like South Carolina, bunkers short, OB right and a pond over the back, I’d say it’s earned the handicap. I set up for a cut and it doesn’t cut. I’m pin high, for whatever that’s worth, in a lipped grass bunker and have to chip to a hole 90 degrees to the right. The ball is severely below my feet and have a terrible lie. I hit my pitch just over the green on the other side, miss my par putt of the fringe and settle for a bogey 4. Joel didn’t fare any better after hitting the green on the left side on the upper tier, he had an impossible putt from the fringe which he ended up rolling off the green past the hole. So if you are looking for bright spots, he technically had a 2-putt 5 on a par 3. That’s pretty cool. Stranger things happened on the Par 5, 5th. I got quick and snap hooked my drive into the left woods. It looked to be deep in there, like there was no chance to find it.
I re-tee and stripe one right down the middle and it’s hammered. The hole is over 600 yards so there was no way it could have been in any trouble. Joel hits a good drive in the fairway so we head toward it and there is are two balls sitting right next to each other which doesn’t make much sense. One of them is Joel’s Callaway Super Long 70 and the other is one of my Vice Pro +. We start looking about 50 yards in front where my should be and it’s nowhere to be found. It’s not in the rough, not in the fairway bunker, and not in the hole around the sprinkler head. Not mad that I found my first ball but still, it’s like it vanished into thin air. Still confused, I hit a 3 wood about 240 yards up the fairway leaving me about 100 into the green. Joel scoots a 3 hybrid up the fairway about 170 yards leaving him mid iron into the green. I hit the green right at the top of the ridge the flag is one but zip it back all the way off the front of the green. Joel hits the green and stays on the putting surface. Both of us 3 putt the tricky green leaving with bogeys. The long par 3 6th is a bear, and after a short 4 iron it was all down hill from there, resulting in a double for me and a bogey for Joel. Joel and I finish the front 9 with 6’s and 5’s respectively, giving us both poor 47’s on the front. I lipped out a birdie putt on 7, and par putts on 8 and 9. I could have used those 3 strokes and the confidence boost. It was a mix of poor distance control/club selection and piss poor driving. Sadly, the back nine was only better for one of us.
We make the turn after snagging a pimento cheese and turkey sandwiches for some fuel. There are a couple of carts from the group behind us sitting around the corner when we pull up to the tee box and they look awful, so I get up and stripe a drive over the fairway bunker about 325 down the pipe. Carts flew out of no where like ants running out of a hill that had just been kicked. They let us play thru after Joel hit another great drive. Playing thru is a tough dynamic, even though you deserved to play thru, you feel like you should play quickly and get out of that group’s way. It’s counter intuitive to mess up a hole for the group that was holding you up. I digress, Joel dribbled a couple of shots toward the green and ended up with 7. I hit a nice 3 wood from 300 out that nearly ran onto the green, pitched up and 2 putted for par after another lip out for birdie. The flag was in a stupid spot, 3 paces left and 5 from the back on a mini hump. You couldn’t stop the ball anywhere but the hole. The 6th is a 435 yard par 4 with a creek leading into a lake about 275 from the tee. The tee’s are extremely elevated and I needed a chair lift to get to mine. No kidding, I had to stop and catch my breath before hitting a wipey, weak semi blocked 3 wood about 210 yards. So now leaving myself 225 into the green I leave a hybrid short and end up lipping out another putt for 5 and settle for 6. The vanishing ball epidemic continues. Joel hit a half lay up half chunk 7 iron which looked to clear the ditch easily. We are both watching the ball and it disappears. No splash, no hop, nothing. We walk the edge of the bank don’t see anything, we look in the woods, nothing. We look all over and can’t find it. Joel drops and winds up with a 7 after the golf gods absorbed another ball. 2 shanks from JT, and a bad tee shot from myself make for a par 3 to forget, starting a string of 5’s for me and some big numbers for Joel. With little to write home about in the middle of the back nine, I’ll skip to my favorite stretch on the course.
All 15-18 are missing is a Par 5 and it could be one of my favorite 4 hole stretches I’ve ever played.
The 15th is a downhill par 3 over water that plays 132 from the back tees. Guarded by wood planked bunkers and one of the narrowest greens i’ve ever hit into. It reminds me of some of the par 3’s at Dancing Rabbit. I hit a weak fade that wound up short, almost putting me into the creek that feeds the lake. I don’t get up and down but walk away with a 4. Joel hit a great tee shot and two putted for his brightest spot of the day. 16 is a wild hole and perfectly placed toward the end of the 9. It’s a 316 yard drivable par 4 from the tips, that looks wide all the way to the green, however about 50 yards from the green, it slopes off on both sides taking a 30 yard fairway down to about a 15 yard fairway. Joel coaxed me into driver considering I truly had nothing to lose. I hit my first ball in the woods left and hit a better ball short of the right green side bunker with my 2nd. Joel hit a great drive but flubbed his approach shot, his chip and then 3 putted for a 6. I took a 6 as well, but wasn’t mad because that hole did exactly what it was designed to do. I think the 17th hole today made for my greatest par of all time. Struggling to find the fairway with any club, I thought what would Big Cat do? I took a 4 iron, tried to hit a stinger, ended up hitting the same weak, wipey fade I did on 11 leaving me 235 into the green, which sat perched on a hill about 15 feet above fairway level.
My Ol’ trusty G5 19 degree hybrid was the play and I hit an absolute gem to about 18 feet. Joel hit a good drive but hit his 7 iron, he was trying to lay up, dove straight into the lake. This led to a 7, and at this point, though I was playing poorly, felt bad for my man Joel here. It just wasn’t working for him. We head to the final battle of the war we had partaken in this hot saturday morning. The blind tee shot on 18 was not welcoming but we both hit good drives, Joel being in the fairway and me just thru the fairway. Like many finishing holes, the green is guarded by a lake, has green side bunkers surrounding it and is watched over by the club house behind the green. As we were cresting the hill to go to our balls, the cart starts slowing on its own and before we can get to the summit, she dies. We can’t even get a sound when we flip it in reverse. Talk about icing on the cake, we packed up everything and carried our bags for the last half hole. We should have tied a towel to our drivers and waved the white flag, but we had to finish. I mashed a 7 iron over the green bouncing off a mogul and finishing 10 yards behind the green. Joel barely clears the water and ends up in the thick grass the mower can’t reach at the water’s edge. This forces him to hack out away from the hole, resulting in a 3 putt. I hit a bad chip which rolls off the green and I have to chip it again. I two putt to close out the back nine with a 46, a one shot improvement from the front. Joel on the other hand finished with a 57. The damage 93 for myself, the highest score I have recorded since the 6th grade and Joel a 104 which I don’t think he has ever shot. Needless to say, we had a few wounds to lick.
Despite the bludgeoning we took, it was a great round at a course that definitely should get more attention. It is as interesting as any public course within 35 miles of Memphis. It truly forces you to be on point with every aspect of your game. There are not many course in the area that have that kind of elevation change as well. Joel has played the entire RTJ multiple times and repeatedly stated on numerous holes, that this could be on the trail. Also for $55 dollars and only a 30 minute drive, you can’t beat that. I’d love to see them renovate the facilities and build another course. They would do some serious business with another course. The thing that made me the most upset with my round, was the fact that I left my homemade yardage book of the course in my truck in Memphis. I blame Jeep for not getting Joel his new car on time, therefore making him drive a loaner and in turn making it the logical choice for our transportation to Holly Springs. If that didn’t happen, I would have had my book and certainly shot 76. All joking aside, the course was great and I’ll give it a 7.7/10 with my only knock being the upkeep of the facilities and their charging of golf carts.
For more information about Kirkwood National, check out their website.
Watch out for the Tight Lies, and all the trouble out there this weekend.