Valhalla, the great hall described in Norse mythology where the souls of Vikings feasted and celebrated with the gods, is now the namesake of a modern paradise for championship golf. Valhalla Golf Club is the culmination of Dwight Gahm's dream to build a world-class course capable of hosting a major golf championship. It is also the culmination of a history-making partnership bringing championship golf to Louisville on a recurring schedule and resulted in The PGA of America's first owned championship site.
For Dwight Gahm (pronounced "Game"), a prominent Louisville business leader and golf enthusiast, that dream - the creation of a traditional "golf-only" facility with an outstanding championship course that would host a world-class championship event - began in 1981.
Gahm and his three sons - Walt, Gordy and Phil - commissioned Jack Nicklaus to build a private golf facility on 486 acres of rolling Kentucky terrain that would provide its members with the highest level of service. It also would be the caliber of facility that could host a major championship comfortably. Valhalla Golf Club, located approximately 20 miles east of Louisville, opened its doors in 1986. Named one of the top three new private golf courses in the U.S. in 1987, the first year it was eligible, Valhalla Golf Club remains the No. 1-ranked course in Kentucky and one of "America's 100 Greatest Courses", according to Golf Digest (2005).
After Valhalla Golf Club opened, Gahm and his sons weren't content to merely enjoy the personal golf paradise they had created. Their next challenge was to become the host site of a PGA Championship. The PGA of America subsequently conducted research on Louisville as a potential host city for The PGA Championship and made several site visits to the club.
In 1992, Valhalla Golf Club was announced as the site for the 1996 PGA Championship. Valhalla Golf Club has all the ingredients necessary for a successful PGA Championship - a world-class golf course to challenge the best players in the world, a supportive community, a top-ranked convention destination with excellent transportation, housing and entertainment services, and a central location reaching several major metropolitan cities within a 150-mile radius.
Later that year PGA of America Chief Executive Officer Jim Awtrey paid another visit to Valhalla Golf Club and walked the course with Gahm. Gahm shared his long-held desire to see Valhalla Golf Club grow and establish its own outstanding tradition of excellence in major championship golf. Awtrey told Gahm of The PGA's dream of owning and operating a limited number of high-quality golf facilities that could host golf's major championships. It was a time when shared visions became one.
In November 1993, an agreement was negotiated whereby The PGA agreed to purchase 25 percent of Valhalla Golf Club. After the successful conclusion of the 1996 PGA Championship, The PGA assumed 50 percent ownership in the club and announced it would return to Valhalla Golf Club in 2000 to play the 82nd PGA Championship. At the conclusion of the 2000 PGA Championship, The PGA exercised the right to purchase the remaining interest in Valhalla.
Gahm has established his legacy to the game and has left an indelible mark in the 90-year history of The PGA of America.
Valhalla Golf Club also made its mark on championship golf in 1996. Spectators found some of golf's most spectacular viewing areas in Valhalla Golf Club's natural amphitheaters. The scenic par-5, 542-yard 18th handled 20,000 spectators. The area surrounding the green on the par-4, 422-yard 17th accommodated a gallery of more than 8,000.
Valhalla Golf Club's front nine traverses a low-lying parkland setting where 650,000 cubic yards of earth were moved to build up tees, greens and fairways to a level that would protect the course from major storm damage. Valhalla's greens, tees and fairways are a combination of T1 and Penway bent grass strains. Overall, there are 62 sand bunkers strategically positioned throughout the course. Valhalla Golf Club's slick greens feature distinct tiers and sections that provide a variety of challenging hole locations. The primary rough is Kentucky bluegrass with fescue making up the secondary rough. The incoming nine holes were carved out of higher, tree-covered terrain with a shallow creek that would come into play on four holes.
The 17,500-square foot clubhouse, featuring a 45-foot Omega clock tower and a veranda overlooking the 18th green, opened in February 1996. The clubhouse, in the traditional Louisville design, blends both Midwestern and Southern accents. The Valhalla Golf Club course record of 6-under-par was shared by Nicklaus and Larry Mize - each posting their impressive round weeks after winning respective Masters championships in 1986 and 1987. This was beaten in the 2000 PGA Championship when Jose Maria Olazabal shot a 63.
Over the years Valhalla has undergone some minor course alterations to keep up with ever changing landscape of Championship golf. However, in the fall of 2011 Valhalla and the PGA of America embarked on a project to modernize the course, which opened in spring of 1986, by overhauling the drainage and irrigation infrastructure throughout the course. The major focus will be on the green complexes, rebuilding them from the ground up enhancing surface drainage and softening contours. For this project the PGA of America enlisted Valhalla’s course designer Jack Nicklaus to handle the work of modernizing the golf course for both member and championship play.
|72nd Senior PGA Championship||May 24-29, 2011||Tom Watson||70-70-68-70||278*|
|*Defeated David Eger in one hole playoff|
|78th PGA Championship||August 8-11, 1996||Mark Brooks||68-70-69-70||277*|
|*Defeated Kenny Perry in one hole playoff|
|82nd PGA Championship||August 17-20, 2000||Tiger Woods||66-67-70-67||270*|
|*Defeated Bob May in a three hole playoff.|
|35th Club Prof. Championship||June 20-23, 2002||Barry Evans||70-70-66-75||281|
|65th SR PGA Championship||May 27-30, 2004||Hale Irwin||67-69-69-71||276|
|*Course played par 71|
|37th Ryder Cup||Sept. 16-21, 2008||USA 16 1/2||Europe 11 1/2|