When the PGA Tour began conversation three years ago about a return of professional golf to Huntsville, it had several priorities. It wanted a course that would be challenging, memorable and elite.
The Ledges, more than 1,500 feet above the valley at the highest point in the city, plays host this week to the inaugural Huntsville Championship PGA Korn Ferry Tournament. Call it inaugural with an asterisk. The tournament was to debut in April 2020, only to have the Tour suspended because of COVID-19.
It may have never looked better. The Ledges has long been under the meticulous care of COO Jim Ausley: director of golf Rob Clark; and director of golf course operations, Jim Howell. Joined this month by a team from the PGA, it has been set up to be more than 7,100 demanding yards of landscape, while subtly incorporating fan-friendly spectator zones and hospitality areas.
The Ledges is ranked the No. 3 course in Alabama, a lofty ranking considering the prevalence of excellent courses throughout the state. Shoal Creek, twice the host of the PGA Championship and for years the site of a PGA Champions Tour event, is No. 1.
Its designer, Mike Hurdzan, was named Designer of the Year in 2003, and the reputation and majesty of the course was still resonating a decade later when the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America presented him the 2013 Old Tom Morris Award.
Five years later, discussion began about the return of professional golf to the city, which last hosted a Nike Tour (a former title sponsor of this same tour) event at Hampton Cove in 1998. The Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau presented the idea for a tournament to the City of Huntsville, which pledged its support for a five-year contract. Meanwhile, Knight Eady, a Birmingham-based sports management firm, was laying the groundwork to host the tournament at The Ledges.
“For almost two decades, The Ledges co-owner Dr. Bill Salter and I have held true to a commitment we made to our families, our community and the game of golf: to cultivate and sustain one of the finest golf courses in the southeast United States and to develop the game of golf through providing education and training to all levels of golfers,” said Steve Denney, co-owner of The Ledges.
“The Ledges partnership with Knight Eady, the City of Huntsville and the (Korn Ferry) Tour is a result of our relentless passion to develop the game of golf and to serve our community in a way this region has never experienced.”
The Ledges development encompasses some 900 acres atop Huntsville Mountain, overlooking Jones Valley to the west, Hampton Cove to the east, and 450 acres were pledged to use as greenspace. Work began on the course in 1998, and the first homes were built in 1999.
Crowning the course and the development is the 36,000-square foot Tudor-style clubhouse, from which expansive views of the valley may be enjoyed.
The Korn Ferry pros, who are just one step away from the PGA Tour, will recognize what amateurs and members already well know about The Ledges. It’s not a pushover. It’s a challenge. It’s a true test of all facets of a golfer’s game.
That hearkens back to what Hurzdan told developers years ago as he transformed the raw beauty of the mountain into the gem of a course:
“Nobody ever talks about an easy course.”
Photos Credited to Knight Eady