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West Kentucky road trip offers good golf, honest deals

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

PADUCAH, Kent. - Kentucky and Illinois both want a piece ofHonest Abe.

While Illinois and Wisconsin do some friendly ribbing over cheese, the Packers and the Bears, Kentucky and Illinois battle over America's 16thpresident. And neither state wants to give up the fight.

It's a 150-year old argument, a long-running tit-for-tat over which state can stake its claim on Abraham Lincoln.

For the record, Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Kentucky, but Illinois is where he sparked his political life and began to make history. In both states you'll find his name all over the tourism brochures, on road signs,and in the names of dozens of schools.

But when the off-season weather in Northern Illinois gets nasty and the weather in most of Kentucky remains reasonably temperate, the battle over Lincoln is forgotten, at least among golfers.

The roads that run across the state line from Southern Illinois to WestKentucky lead to good golf and honest deals. If Abe had been a hacker, hewould have been proud to promote what West Kentucky gives the golfer.

The Road to the Bluegrass State

Even though Chicagoans believe downstate Illinois is far less the Midwestand much more the South, when you take the drive over the border into West Kentucky on Interstate-24 there is a distinct difference between the states.

It's almost palpable. The hills roll to a different rhythm than they do in Illinois and you can almost smell the bluegrass. Kentucky is just plain prettier and through the eyes of a golfer the land looks luscious. Plus, if you travel to Kentucky in the off-season you will notice a far more comfortable weather pattern than the one that settles into Chicago in the winter. Hey, it's not Arizona, but West Kentucky seldom gets snow and if it does, it melts quickly. A 55-degree day in January is not out of the question.

If you are looking for big-city temptations, Western Kentucky is not yourspot. Get ready for roadside mom and pop diners and quiet, peaceful even serene nights. If you're from Chicago, you will feel your heart rate drop anotch or two. But that may not last. The golf is likely to excite you enoughto get the old ticker back up to that familiar rhythm.

The Kentucky Golf Trail

Daniel Boone may have blazed a few trails in Kentucky in the late 1700s,but none was quite as inviting as Kentucky's Golf Trail.

Borrowing from Alabama and others, Kentucky recently opened 12 18-holecourses and five nine-hole courses scattered throughout the state's park system. In West Kentucky there are four 18-holers worth checking out and all are within 40-minutes of each other. Perfect road trip golf.

Mineral Mound Golf Course

This par-72 Michael Hurdzan layout opened in the summer of 2003 and sits on the banks of Lake Barkley in Eddyville. It's a visually stunning setting with the front nine working its way through the Kentucky woods and the back filled with views of the lake. The 11th hole plays over an inlet. While you're there book a night's stay in the stately Barkley Lodge in the state park.

Boots Randolph Golf Course

Saxophone legend, Boots Randolph was born in Paducah, Kentucky just over the Illinois border just a few miles from the golf course that carries his name. The course is also part of the Lake Barkley State Resort Park, one of the most popular parks in Kentucky. Boots Randolph's best hole is the par-5 second. It lumbers out at 571 yards with a slight dogleg left and a tight tree-lined fairway.

Pennyrile Forest Golf Course

The state park and the golf course sit near Dawson Springs among the rolling hills of a pine forest. Pennyrile is a long course measuring out at 7,129 yards. It includes wide fairways and a 573-yard par-5 that double-doglegs its way to a undulating green. The 15th hole is clearly one of the most memorable.

Kentucky Dam Village Golf Course

Gilbertsville is on the west side of West Kentucky's lake region and that's where you'll find the Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park. There are wonderful cottages to stay in and a full-out resort if that's what you're looking for. The golf course sits among the trees and hills of the area and features one of the longest of the par-3s on the golf trail. The 16th is 226-yards from the back tees.

Off-season green fees at all trail course - $20-$25 including cart.

Off the Beaten Trail

The Kentucky Golf Trail is a great place to get started on your WestKentucky golf trip, but there are several scrumptious courses outside theboundaries of the golf trail that are just waiting for you to come andtaste. And if you plan with plenty of time for driving, (no need for snowtires) you can hit everyone of them.

Arrowhead Golf Course

Motoring through Kentucky is a delight. Much of the landscape is unspoiled and memorable. And that is clearly the case in and around Cadiz, Kentucky and Arrowhead Golf Course. The Gary Roger Baird designed course is cut through the forested hills and the rock formations that are a significant part of the topography in this part of the state.

Kerry Landing Golf Course

There are plenty of real estate communities that include golf courses. Many of these planned developments are all about real estate first, golf second. That's not the case at Kerry Landing in Benton, Kentucky. The fairways wrapped around streams, creeks and lakes at Kerry Landing were obviously far more than an after thought. The opening three holes are a great taste of the diversity in this layout. You start with a brute - a 542-yard par five. From here you move to a wonderfully designed strategic par-4 measuring at just 367 yards. Then it's time to tackle a 195-yard par-3 that includes a wandering creek flirting with the front and sides of the green.

Drake Creek Golf Course

This is what some refer to as a Florida-style golf course. In Kentucky that's not an easy thing to do, and some might consider the approach out of place for a state rich in natural resources. However, Drake Creek, which sits next to the Ohio River, would fit nicely into any state. There are over 20 acres of water on this course. Ah, so that's where the Florida-style thing comes in.

Miller Memorial Golf Course

This course is considered one of West Kentucky's best and it truly is a memorial course in every sense of the word. It's carved out of land donated to the Murray State University Foundation in 1979 by L.D. Miller, a 1937 MSU Alumnus and local businessman. The course bears the name of his late wife, Francis. Miller later donated a clubhouse modeled after his own home.

Eating Out

When the awards are given out for dining excellence, the state of Kentucky rarely has a restaurant recognized. But everything changes eventually. One of Kentucky's first three-star restaurants is in the western part of the state. The Brass Lantern is in the lake region in Aurora, Kent., and includes prime rib, chicken and ribs. But if you're more inclined to the less fancy, go for Echo Charlies at the Eddy Creek Marina for a great lakeside view or the Kuttawa Harbor Restaurant for their famous "Rudyburger." Obviously created by someone named Rudy.

Stay and Play

Kentucky's state park system is fantastic and there is no better place to rest after 18, 36 or 54 than in the scenic Kentucky wilderness. In West Kentucky several of the state parks offer woodland cottage, lodges and rustic resorts right inside the park limits, and they are just minutes from the golf. The Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park and the Lake Barkley State Resort Park have everything you need - comfortable rooms, good food, swimming, boating, fishing, horse stables and trap shooting facilities. The lodge at Lake Barkley is especially striking. Constructed of Western Cedar, Douglas Fir, and three-and one-half acres of glass, it gives guests a lake view from the private balconies of most of the 120 rooms and four suites.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • western Kentucky golf courses

    Steve Johnson wrote on: Feb 16, 2009

    As a native of western KY, it is nice to read such appreciation for the good golf and warm hospitality offered in my old stomping grounds. KY Dam and Boots Randolph courses have offered good good and great values for years. Pennyrile's 9-hole addition has just added to the best-kept secret only 30 mintues from The Lake. The KY State Parks are the best in the country and great values.
    Steve Johnson, Member PGA Quarter Century Club
    General Manager & Dir. of Club Ops
    The Corales Club
    Punta Cana Resort & Club
    Punta Cana, Dominican Republic