LEDBETTER, Ky. -- Just east of Paducah lies the sleepy town of Ledbetter. Unless you're looking for it, or trying to find Drake Creek Golf Club, you might not give it a second thought.
Golfers who are heading to Drake Creek, though, are in for a treat.
The course, which hosts the Western Kentucky Open and the Ohio Valley Conference Championship, also has one of the best and largest junior programs in the nation. Each week, more than 100 junior golfers aged 5-16 descend on Drake Creek to learn the game. This family atmosphere -- combined with the reasonable rates and the quality of the design -- draws players from a wide, four-state area.
Playing Drake Creek Golf Club
Drake Creek is a 6,714-yard Rich Osborne design that debuted in 1999. The layout rolls serenely over the hill country landscape, threading between and around 20 acres of water and 38 sand bunkers.
The course won't overmatch players with its length, but it requires extreme precision on some holes, including a very difficult stretch from 12-14, including the 532-yard 13th, which is dead on the right and a pinball machine of hardwood on the left. Hit your drive anywhere but in the fairway, and you're in a jam.
Along with precision, course knowledge is a necessity at Drake Creek. There are several spots where trouble lurks out of view. This is even true even on the shortest hole on the course, the 152-yard, par-3 seventh, where a pond short and right of the green -- and totally blind from the tee -- swallows up the balls of players who try to get too close to front-right pins.
Another tricky hole that would benefit from repeated play is the 387-yard 11th. Here, the fairway stretches about 200 yards straight out from the tees. If you drive your ball any further, you run out of fairway. If you lose it left, you find a downhill lie in thick fescue with some 200 yards left for your second shot. If you go right, you end up wet or in a terrible spot to try to go for the green, which lies across 100 yards of water.
The ideal drive leaves you between 150 and 170 yards from the green, which is nestled into a hillside across said H2O. There is nothing more deflating than following a perfectly placed drive by chunking a mid-iron into the pond -- you almost want to drive your cart off the long, narrow wooden bridge into the depths and just end it all.
The true highlights of Drake Creek are the 414-yard ninth and 437-yard 18th holes. The ninth runs uphill from tee to green, requiring extra club and extra oomph, all the way. The green is tucked into the trees on the left end of the fairway, and the putting surface is mostly blind from the approach. The 18th is a beautiful driving hole downhill to water. The long second shot heads back uphill to an amphitheater green.
Drake Creek Golf Club: The verdict
During the extreme flooding of 2010, most of Drake Creek ended up under water. The grounds crew had to take a boat to the clubhouse, which stayed dry, so that they could go out with hand mowers to tend to the few greens and fairways that were not flooded.
The resurrection of Drake Creek has been exemplary. There are a few lingering conditioning issues, especially on the fringes and collars of some of the greens. (Balls landing on the fringes can go literally anywhere, or nowhere at all.) And if you happen to visit on a rainy day, there are some low areas that turn quickly into small ponds that swallow balls (and golf carts!) in the fairways and along the cart paths. The zoysia fairways provide excellent lies, though, almost teeing each shot up for you, and the bentgrass greens remain true and drain well, even in wet conditions.
Nevertheless, Drake Creek's design is fun and interesting, rewarding precision, control and temperance. It's a thinking-man's course, whose quirks will peel away layer by layer during each additional round played.
The nice collection of short par 4s epitomizes the variety and cleverness of the design, challenging both power-hitters and shorter hitters in very different ways. This is one of the reasons it is a great course for juniors, and why it is so popular with players from such a large region.