Barney’s Course: A Naturalist Dream True
Ever wonder how we like to attach nicknames to everything we do in the world? In sports there are the “Final Four”, the “Green Monster” and “Amen Corner” to name a few. In the weather biz, we use terms like “Tornado Alley”, “Bermuda High” and one of my all time favorite’s a “Kiss of Frost”. I guess sociologists would call this “nicknaming” craze as a form of colloquial expression. In effect, the art of nicknaming people, places and events is a form of personalization and that makes them more memorable.
I use this as a backdrop for a local golf course called Eagle Ridge at beautiful Yatesville State Park in Lawrence County Kentucky. I know it as “Barney’s Course” for the head pro Barney Thompson who toured professionally for many years back in the 1960s and 70s. If you DO the course, ask Barney about playing with the likes of the Golden Bear and Arnie!
A few times a year, I like to travel to Eagle Ridge to test my golf skills. But as I age, my talent for the sport fades year by year. That makes a test like Barney’s Course all the more difficult. But that’s where my mindset has changed. I no longer go Barney’s Course to play well. Instead, I go for the nature show and the lure of the hills in hopes of hitting a few good shots. So do natives like Fran Yates, whom I met on Monday at Eagle Ridge. “The mountains are beautiful. We come for the scenery. The views are incredible”, Fran and sister Donna recounted. I am including a series of pictures taken at the course by the folks who promote the Kentucky Golf Trail and State Parks. Just use your imagination to wonder how Eagle Ridge looks when the flaming colors of fall replace the stunning greenery of spring! WOW!
I promised a naturalist show in my title and so let me relate how many encounters with wildlife and nature we had. Playing along side sportscasters Keith Morehouse and Jimmy Treacy, we teed it up on a warm sun splashed spring day. Sure we were in Wildcat country, but on this day the sky was Tar Heel blue! A heavy early morning dew sweetly caressed the fairways. Instinctively, we looked to the tall trees that surrounded the first tee to see if the native eagles that nest at the park would give us a thrill. “We normally see the eagles in late winter”, Barney told me, “they will swoop around the course and sometimes dive to catch a small animal or rodent then disappear toward the lake.”
By the second fairway, Jimmy and Keith were calling me to the woods. We had disturbed a family of wild turkeys playing in the meadow when we drove down to our tee shots. In a span of a few minutes, the turkeys re-emerged on the fairway behind Jimmy T. As I parked my cart from a distance, I could see the turkeys watching passively as Jimmy T struck his iron shot to the smartly tucked green. It was as if they were Jimmy’s own army! Could this be Jimmy’s day to win a major I thought?
For the average golfer, there are 5 tee boxes to match your skill level at Eagle Ridge. Jimmy and Keith’s games are best suited to the #2’s, so I play along, though a 3 or even a 4 probably best matches my abilities. The trick at Eagle Ridge is to forget about score and just relish the setting. As Keith said, “I don’t know of a more beautiful and at the same time tougher set of opening holes in our area”.
Naturally, my scorecard after 6 holes did not have a par on it, but there was the turkey gallery and yes a box turtle sighting. Turned out that after one of my wayward tee shots found the gorse, I came upon a lonely freckle faced box turtle. Far from any water hazard, this little guy was enjoying the shade of the woods on what was now a hot spring day. My company was not appreciated, so I went on my merry way.
By the turn, I had managed to find enough game to win a skin and now on the par 4 tenth, after splitting the fairway, I was sitting inside 10 feet for a birdie. When my putt found the bottom of the hole I relished in the thought that at least for one hole, I had bettered the sports guys.
Of course if you play Barney’s course, your heart starts pounding by the 12th as you know what awaits you on the 13th. The par four 13th plays only 300 yards and that’s all downhill. But the setting is like few you will ever see on a golf course. Sitting atop a steep hill, you are asked to hit a long iron (Tony) or wood (Keith and Jimmy) into a yawning chasm. I have come to recognize a single clump of tall grass at the front of the tee as my aim. I suspect the vertical drop of the hole is a few hundred feet!
From the tee box, one wonders if Tiger could drive the green (he could) and what fate awaits you if your tee shot is not pinpoint perfect (the rat-a-tat-tat of a golf ball playing ping pong with the tall oaks and maples). After hitting your tee shot, the drive down the winding road reminds one of Robert Frost’s famous line how “taking the road less traveled by made all the difference”! Sure your second shot is less than 100 yards to a slender, sharply breaking green, but that first glimpse at the emerald waters of Yatesville Lake smack you squarely in the kisser as you hit your approach.
As you putt out, you have a magnificent look at a small part of the lake. I like to walk quietly down to the shoreline behind the green to see if there are any bluegills or bass working in the shallows. On this day, the fish are visible as as they soak in the warm May sun. I asked Barney if I could bring a rod and reel next time for a little break from golf. “Sure, Tony, but you will need a Kentucky license and make sure you are not slowing play up behind you”.
By the 14th tee, my chances of bettering Keith or Jimmy are gone. So as they battle it out for the year’s first major (Jimmy shots 83 to Keith’s 85), I relish in the thought that I may have been the high scorer of the day (a loose 96), but “I can do this in retirement some day”.
At the 19th hole in a makeshift clubhouse (the modern one is almost complete), an encounter with Dolly makes the day complete. A friendly Cocker Spaniel, Dolly’s fur is sleek and her appetite for barbecue voracious! She is Barney’s sidekick (she follows Barney when he wakes up the echoes with a round of his own) and serves as the unofficial course mascot.
P.S. If you would like to play Yatesville for the first time, here's a suggestion. The 2007 "Dawgs Hoop Scramble" to benefit the Lawrence County High Bulldog Basketball team is on June 2nd. There will be a shotgun start and plenty to eat and drink. This is a great way to enjoy this tough course and shoot a low round. Call the course for details at 866-906-7888.