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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 Pencross and Penway bent grass strains. Overall, there are 42 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 Rolex 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.
Valhalla Golf Club underwent minimal facelifts in its preparation for its first major championship. The primary work centered on the course's par-3 holes. The tees were enlarged on the 3rd and 8th holes, and the green at the 168-yard 11th was extended 15 yards. The tee at the 210-yard 14th was elevated 25 feet and a bridge was built over Brush Run Creek. In addition, three fairway bunkers were installed on the par-5, 597-yard seventh hole to provide more definition to the longest hole on the course. For the 78th PGA Championship, the left-hand "chute" option was closed which made this hole a true three-shot par-5. Finally, a new tee was built on the 422-yard par-4 17th and a portion of the green was leveled to allow for an additional hole placements.
For the 82nd PGA Championship a number of minor changes were made to the golf course. The reason for the changes was not to lengthen the course but rather to encourage players to use their drivers or longer clubs from the tee to reach the primary landing areas. To this end, new tees were built on the 1st, 2nd and 6th holes while existing tees were extended on holes Nos. 5 and 12. In addition the "island" fairway on hole No. 7 was available for players wanting to take and risk the more direct route on the 597-yard par-5. The back right of No. 8 green was extended to allow for another hole location and a bunker was added on the left side of No. 9 fairway to tighten the tee shot landing area.
On December 8, 2000, The PGA announced that the 37th Ryder Cup in 2008 would be played at Valhalla Golf Club. The Senior PGA Championship was played at Valhalla in May of 2004. The PGA Club Professional Championship was played in June of 2002.