Kentucky course was inspird by Sweetens Cove
PARK CITY, Ky. – Who doesn’t love a road trip to a relatively unknown golf course that blows away your expectations?
What if the trip is not very far from north Alabama, straight up I-65 to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and then a little east?
And, know that Park Mammoth Golf Club in Cave City, Kentucky, the first Brian Ross-designed 18-hole course, won’t be a secret much longer and has a touch of a Sweetens Cove vibe?
To find Park Mammoth, take Exit 36 off I-65 north of Bowling Green. Cornfields and hay fields line the roads from there. You’ll pass the Icy Sink Missionary Baptist Church on the left. Eventually, your GPS tells you to make a left turn onto Bald Knob Road. The first glimpse of anything golf-related is the practice area on the left. Just beyond that, top a hill, and the course is off to the right, sitting on 120 acres in a valley.
David Chandler and Mike Simpson bought the property formerly known as Cave Valley Golf Club at a bankruptcy auction in 2019. They enlisted industry newcomer Brian Ross to revamp the course in 2020. It was quite the leap of faith to hire Ross, who had only been in business for himself for nine months and hadn’t done any major design work.
Making a golf course memorable
The original plan was for Ross to upgrade the irrigation system and build a few bunkers. That changed quickly, though.
“We weren’t planning to change the greens or anything really,” Ross recalled recently. “We got into things and were moving along and one day, Mr. Chandler came up to me and said that we’re spending all this money on an irrigation system and not doing anything to the greens.”
Ross said he told Chandler that “if it were me, I would do the greens and not the bunkers if we were only going to do one thing.”
Ross paraphrased a CB McDonald quote that greens are to a golf course what a face is to a portrait, and a short time later, Chandler changed the scope of the project and probably the arc of Ross’s career.
“Once that became a reality, we had a lot more freedom to do things, to move things around,” Ross said. “We didn’t have to stick to that exact routing. We were able to fix a couple of trouble areas and this whole thing kind of evolved within about three or four weeks into a much bigger project. He trusted us to be able to pull it off and stuck with us. And I’ll always be appreciative of that.”
Since opening in 2022, Park Mammoth was designated as the No. 3 best new public course in the country by Golf Digest and was ranked as the No. 5 best course in Kentucky.
One of the only requirements that Ross said Chandler wanted was that the course “had to be fun.”
Even though Ross had been given the OK to expand the project, he said the original routing of the course that opened in 1964 “wasn’t that bad.” In that regard, he didn’t just bulldoze the course and start with a blank canvas. Instead, he reversed the nines, rerouted some of the holes, changed some of the trouble spots and concentrated on creating imaginative greens complexes. Because of space constraints, Ross was only able to add about 250 extra yards to the par-70 course. From the tips, the new design only stretches to 6,215 yards. From the middle tees; it’s 5,426 and from the front tees it is 4,664 yards.
A variety of hole lengths
There is plenty of variety in terms of length to keep golfers interested. From the tips, there are five par 4s that are 351 yards or less. To balance that, there are three par 4s over 410 yards, including the 452-yard fourth hole.
Ross’ team also didn’t feel a need to overthink what they wanted to do in terms of major changes to the property.
“We knew it was going to be fairly short,” Ross admitted. “And we also didn’t want to over-bunker it because we thought the land was really good as it was.”
Ross isn’t overstating how good the terrain is. He describes it as “kind of heaving and rolling, almost glacial, almost cut into the landscape.”
“We wanted to honor that and not over-bunker and take away some of those features,” he said. “And we didn’t want to create a whole lot of eye candy because we felt like the valley itself kind of already did that. We knew our best place for defending the golf course, because we wanted it to be wide and playable, was at the greens complex. So, we put a lot of time and energy into those things and try to make them unique and interesting; something that the average golfer in that part of the country doesn’t see very often.”
Ross delivered a variety in the par 3s – changing three of them from playing at middling distance to four distinct distances. Two of the par 3s measure over 200 yards – one that plays uphill and the other playing downhill. There’s also the new No. 11, a quaint 109-yard par 3.
“When we first started out, we had three par 3s that were between 160 and 170 yards,” he said. “We intentionally wanted to make those holes memorable, so now we have one that is 110 yards, one that is 240, one that is 160 and another that is 200.”
The shining example of Ross’s imaginative greens complexes is prevalent on No. 11, which features the largest green on the property.
Park Mammoth and ‘the 7 deadly sins’
“That was my nod to the seven deadly sins,” Ross said. “It’s basically a bunch of smaller greens within a large green. I had thought about it before – it’s something unique.”
“Sloth is if you come up short; Pride is if you hit it into the middle of the green,” he explained.
Gluttony is taking on a seldom-used pin position is just over a ridge in the green, while a small punchbowl portion on the back left of the green is Envy – framed by two large trees. Lust is the portion of the green that features two small mounds. Greed is the back middle pin position where an aggressive shot “will get zapped off the back of the green.”
The final sin is Wrath, which according to Ross, is any shot that ends up over the green because it will result in a “bogey or worse.”
Other greens features include the unique design of the second and fourth greens that sit adjacent separated by a large bunker. There’s also a double green that serves No. 10 and No. 13.
Ross admits he used Sweetens Cove, the magnificent 9-hole gem built by Rob Collins and Tad Smith in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, for some partial inspiration for what he envisioned for Park Mammoth.
“We thought a lot about how the land moves and where just being able to watch balls move along the ground – whether it is tee balls like on No. 9 with that crazy rolling fairway or being able to watch them land and move on greens, too,” he said. “We didn’t want to push the boundaries quite as much as they did, and I don’t think we did. But there certainly was some inspiration from Sweetens Cove in what we wanted to do.”
Like Collins at Sweetens Cove, Ross realized that revamping Park Mammoth might be his only shot at creating something memorable to launch his career.
“Even before it became a bigger project, we knew this was the biggest thing I had done to date,” he said.
Because the project began shortly before Covid-19 shut down most of the country, Ross and his team were able to immerse themselves in turning Park Mammoth into something special. He estimates he stayed on-site for 220 days – often working 12-hour days.
Replicating the Park Mammoth vibe in Georgia
Given the reception the course has gotten, Ross need not worry about being a one-and-done designer. He currently has two projects underway in Texas and another on Jekyll Island, Georgia, restoring a Walter Travis nine-hole course that opened in 1924 oGn the way.
“I’m really excited about that one,” he said. “They mentioned Park Mammoth multiple times during the interview and trying to replicate the vibe and positive energy that place is generating.”
For now, the operations center at Park Mammoth is a trailer, but a clubhouse that will feature a restaurant and bar in addition to the golf shop is under construction. It will sit high on a hill overlooking the property.
The course uses dynamic pricing for its rates, but a recent check revealed $82 for a prime Saturday morning tee time.
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News
Featured image of Park Mammoth No. 7 by Gregg Dewalt