Our short-yet-storied history.
You can’t tell Kentucky golf history without mentioning Persimmon Ridge.
As golf courses go, Persimmon Ridge is not old. Yet we have a rich tradition and history, intrinsically linked to Kentucky golf, thanks to our founder, Elmore Just.
In 1983, Elmore Just had a dream to build a championship golf course in the Louisville area. But he didn’t want it to be just another golf course; it had to have certain qualities, it had to be natural and fit into the lay of the land. He searched for just the right piece of property until he came upon it and purchased 765 acres in western Shelby County, Kentucky in December, 1986.
Elmore and his wife, Lawren, along with their original partner Jack Ridge, began studying the land, its maps and topography and aerial photos. In the spring of ’87, Elmore decided the land was so good that a golf course architect should be hired to lay out the course. Several were interviewed before meeting with Arthur Hills out of Toledo, Ohio. Elmore and Art were the perfect match, both being quiet gentlemen and sharing the same thoughts on golf course design. Art was hired in April, 1987 and began his work of finding the best 36 holes of golf the land offered. He commented that he had never been given such a large and beautiful tract of ground on which to design a course without being restricted because of a residential development, a landfill, or a waste area. After he completed a first draft of 36 holes, a golf course community land planner, Randy Heckenkemper out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, came to Louisville and met with the group to discuss pockets of residential development in and around the designed golf holes.
The master plan was completed in the fall of 1987, comprising of 36 holes of golf, 23 acres of practice facility, 350 single family residential home sites, 20 acres of patio homes and 20 acres of estate properties. Construction began on the first 18 holes of golf in January, 1988 and was completed that same fall. As the grass was growing in through the fall and spring, a ten thousand square foot clubhouse went under construction to house the pro shop, locker rooms, dining room and bar, and offices.
During the winter, Elmore and Lawren bought Jack Ridge’s shares of Persimmon Ridge, enabling him to pursue other interests. Jack and his family have ownership in several golf ventures throughout Kentucky.
The golf course opened for play on June 16th, 1989. It was described by its members to be the most challenging test of golf they had ever experienced. In 1990, Persimmon Ridge was a candidate for Golf Digest’s Best New Private Course, where it finished 6th in the nation out of 51 new courses. Also in its first full year of operation, it hosted the Kentucky Open Championship, where the state’s top players did not break par for the 3 day event. The residential development got underway in the spring of 1990, when the first 23 home sites were introduced and developed.
In the winter of 1990, the Just’s lender was purchased by a national chain and refused to work with them on renewing the golf course debt. Since Elmore had purchased the land for the purpose of building a golf course, the bank suggested he sell the development land surrounding the course. After visiting with two local developers and hearing the changes they would make to the master plan, Elmore and Lawren made the difficult decision to sell the course and keep the 550 acres surrounding it. They felt a real estate developer could ruin the quality of the design of the course if they bought the land and changed the residential design, but if the course was sold, the Justs would be able to control what was built around it. March 2, 1991 was a very sad day for them, as they signed over controlling interest of Persimmon Ridge Golf Course to a company out of Connecticut.
The next seven years would prove to be a challenging time for the course, its members and the Justs, as the out of town management company did not maintain the quality of the course nor the quality of the private membership. Litigation ensued and lasted five years, until in 1998, the Connecticut company sold to a Real Estate Investment Trust, Golf Trust of America.
The course and the situation between ownership and members improved immediately, but as it turned out, the REIT purchased more courses than the portfolio could manage and began losing money. In the fall of 2000, the manager of Golf Trust called the Justs and told them the REIT would be liquidating its assets, and asked the Justs if they would like to re-purchase their golf course. Over the ten years, the residential development had been doing very well, and its success allowed Elmore and Lawren the opportunity to repurchase their course.
On February 15, 2001, at a party for all the members, homeowners and staff of Persimmon Ridge, Elmore and Lawren were introduced as the “new, old” owners of Persimmon Ridge Golf Course. The announcement received a standing ovation accompanied by lots of tears. It was one of the happiest moments the Justs had had in ten years. Plans were discussed for a million dollars’ worth of necessary improvements to the course, including renovation of the bunkers and improvements to the cart paths. It was a joyous occasion.
Two months later, on Sunday, April 22, Elmore was playing a round of golf with some of his employees from Louisville Golf. They noticed he was laboring as he walked the last two holes. As he walked off the 18th green to the clubhouse, it was obvious he was struggling. He went to his house and called for Lawren. She drove him to the hospital where they announced he was suffering from a massive heart attack. Despite their efforts, including quadruple by-pass surgery, Elmore passed away at 1:15 p.m. on April 23. He was 53.
Elmore’s love of the course is visible still today. Trees that he guarded during construction of the course in order to protect their roots still stand strong. The lakes and ponds that he stocked with fish still provide enjoyment to those who toss in a line. And he will forever watch over the course he loved so much, as he is buried adjacent to the 7th green, where Lawren created a family cemetery at his death. Members place a golf ball on his grave when they birdie the 7th hole. Today, there are more than 1,000 golf balls at the site.
More than four million dollars of improvements have gone into Persimmon Ridge since the re-purchase in 2001. These include renovations of the bunkers, new cart paths, fairway distance markers, new golf carts, new maintenance barn, new cart barn, new pavilion, plantings of over 200 trees, new residential pool, tennis courts and playground and a new 8,000 square foot addition to the clubhouse.
Lawren and their five children have vowed that the course will maintain its natural beauty, just as Elmore always dreamed it should be.
Events Hosted at Persimmon Ridge
- AJGA Midwestern Amateur Championship
- Kentucky Open
- Kentucky State Amateur
- Kentucky PGA Section Championship
- Kentucky Open
- Legends of the LPGA Classic
- Kentucky Women’s Open
- United States Senior Challenge
- Nike Golf Junior Championship
- Women’s Trans National
- Kentucky Open
- NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championship