The Bright Leaf Golf Resort in Harrodsburg, KY is a family-owned golf resort where the emphasis isn’t as much on golf as it is on having fun. Helen King, better known around Bright Leaf as Ree, is 93 years old. She can be found working in the pro shop in the mornings and then driving around the grounds on her lawnmower in the afternoon, helping keep things neat and tidy. Ree’s father, C.R. “Buck” Blankenship, bought the land where the resort is located and originally intended to farm it. After a few years, he decided that there was no money in farming and built the golf course. He had worked on a golf course while living in Los Angeles and building a course had always been a dream.
The entire King family lives on the property around the golf course. Tia King Taylor – the granddaughter of Ree – does a little bit of everything at the resort, but for the most part, you’ll find her behind the front desk when you check in. Tia’s mother and father live right next door and in the event you see an airplane taking off or landing near the golf course during your round, don’t be alarmed. That’s just her dad, Cary. In all. 8 of King families live on or around the golf course and on any given day you can find four generations of Kings at the golf course.
Bright Leaf originally opened as a 9-hole golf course and driving range on Memorial Day, 1963 and the tee sheet was totally filled. Currently, there are 27 holes of championship golf as well as a lighted par 3. Although the driving range is gone, many players will arrive early and play the 9-hole par 3 course. At a total distance of 649 yards, it’s a great way to hone your iron skills before playing the big course. The short course is lit and can be enjoyed when the sun goes down.
The original 9-hole course is still there. The first tee is directly behind the restaurant and you can bet there will be several people watching your tee shot! Although it plays less than 3,000 yards to a par of 36, don’t let the short distance lull you into a false sense of security. The holes are much tighter, there’s a lot more slope, and the greens a lot smaller, putting a premium on shot placement and accuracy.
The championship 18-hole golf course at Bright Leaf is unique. The entire layout is pretty wide open with gently rolling terrain providing the dreaded uneven lie. The fairways and rough are sewn in beautiful Kentucky Bluegrass and the greens are Bentgrass and large for the most part. Water comes into play on at least 5 holes – more if you spray it – and the pace of play is good. At slightly over 6,400 yards from the back tees, Bright Leaf isn’t going to overwhelm many players, but then again, you’re not here to set course records, you’re here for fun and fellowship.
On the front side, you get the par 3 and par 5 holes out of the way fairly quickly. Number 1 and Number 2 are both par 3s, something you don’t see every day. While I would much rather start the round off with a couple of par 4s or a par 4 and a par 5, Bright Leaf tests your mettle right off the bat! The 3rd hole is a challenging par 4 that is handicapped the toughest hole on the front side. It is long, playing 390 yards. That is followed by two par 5s that play 446 yards and 450 yards. The good news is that both par 5s are reachable with a good drive. Number 5 is a pretty par 5 with a white fence down the left side as well as trees. The fairway slopes left to right with a small lake at the bottom of the fairway that is reachable off the tee. The slope in the fairway isn’t steep enough to carry the ball down to the water.
Number 9 is a good par 4 that plays 362 yards with a lake to carry off the tee. The hole plays uphill the entire way and the fairway has a fair amount of slope in it. The back nine also starts you off with a par 3 that plays 162 yards from an elevated tee box over water to an elevated green. There is a deep bunker on the left which can be tough to hit.
Number 11 is another reachable par 5 at 419 yards from the White tees. This hole is all about your approach shot. The green is elevated and runs away on either side. If you don’t hit it and hold it, an up and down from below the green can be a tough ask!
The stretch of holes from 12 thru 14 has the 3 toughest holes on the back nine in succession. The 12th hole at Bright Leaf has a couple of distinctions. First of all, it is the #1 handicapped hole on the golf course. It plays 371 yards from the White tees with a barbed wire fence and out of bounds running all down the left side. The green is well-elevated and usually requires an extra club. Hitting your ball over the barbed wire fence doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get it back. Every 100 feet or so along the fence are ladders over the fence. Be advised, the grass is long and there are a lot of cows in the pasture. Your ball may not be the only thing hiding in the grass!
Number 13 is a legitimate par 5 that plays 533 yards from the White tees and is a three-shot hole for most players. Number 14 is a short, 319-yard par 4 with a blind tee shot and then an approach into one of the course’s smallest greens. Number 15 is the only dogleg on the golf course, a dogleg left into a green that sits below the fairway. It happens to run parallel to the prettiest hole on the 9-hole course, Number 5, a 395-yard dogleg left par 5 with a green that sits even further below the fairway. Standing in the fairway on Number 15 and looking back and down the adjoining fairway is one of the prettiest views on the golf course. Number 16 is a 150-yard par 3 over water to an elevated green and can be fairly intimidating if you don’t like the water!
As far as hazards go, there is only a handful of bunkers on the entire course that you will need to avoid and two of them are on the first hole. You are more likely to be impeded by water than sand.
Bright Leaf Resort sells a lot of golf packages, in fact on my visit I didn’t speak with anyone that wasn’t there as part of a group. What I found was that most of the clientele is there for a good time, there just happens to be a golf course there and oh, by the way, golf and drinking just naturally go together. Bright Leaf Resort doesn’t have a liquor license and the majority of golfers know this; they simply BTOB (Bring Their Own Booze). I will say that for as much drinking and partying that was going on, the hotel was incredibly quiet after 9 pm. The people staying there are just plain friendly and courteous.
You’ll find that most of the golfers at Bright Leaf are there on some sort of golf package. Bright Leaf offers full on-site accommodations, consisting of 95 hotel rooms and 10 villa suites each equipped with 51″ flat-panel televisions and full kitchens. Amenities include a full-service dining room, snack bar, fully equipped health club, and swimming pool. The goal at Bright Leaf is to show their warm, southern hospitality!
Start your morning off at Bright Leaf with their breakfast buffet at the 19th Hole Restaurant, featuring all of your breakfast favorites including made from scratch biscuits and gravy. After your round, there’s a southern-style dinner buffet with special themed nights. Friday night is Seafood Night with Fried Catfish while the Saturday Night Buffet features fried chicken and ribs. The 19th Hole also offers a complete menu.
For more information on Bright Leaf Resort’s Stay and Play Packages, visit them online at www.brightleafresort.com.