Sweetbrier Farm and Rick.com Entertainer and Owner
How did you find Sweetbrier Farm?
For years and years, my wife, Julie (McWhirter), and I had a dream of owning a farm. Julie started looking at historic houses. As a hobby, we went to different states to see if any were available.
Julie grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, and I grew up in North Carolina. Our friend, Linda Bruckheimer, who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, said “Why don’t you look in Kentucky? I bet you’ll love it as much as Jerry and I love this beautiful part of America.”
We’ve been friends with Jerry and Linda for years, and we had seen a few farms together. One of them was called Happy Valley Farm. We heard that it may be for sale, and we eventually purchased this lovely and historic farm. Our project was to bring the farm back to its original state.
How did you come up with the name Sweetbrier Farm?
Happy Valley is a good name, but we wanted to create a feeling of beautiful Kentucky. There’s a little rose called the Sweetbrier Rose that grows wild in the woods of Kentucky, and we thought the name had a wonderful fresh sound – therefore, Sweetbrier Farm.
#2 tee, looking across the pond at a 245 yard par 3
When did you decide to build a golf course on the property?
Whenever I looked at this one area - it was about 100 acres - it just looked like a golf course and just had the natural flow. I was in Las Vegas launching a marketing campaign for a hotel and a friend of mine named Randy Morton said to talk to the man who built the Royal Links Golf Club. His name: Matt Dye, Pete Dye’s extremely gifted nephew, and one of the nicest guys ever.
I called Matt and he told me that he had some business in the East and offered to come to the farm. We met here in March 1997.
It was “instant chemistry” when Matt and I shook hands. As he gazed out over the rolling green hills of central Kentucky, Matt enthused, “Rick, this is a golf course already. All you have to do is move just a little bit of dirt.” I asked him about the cost. He said, “I love to design golf courses,” as he proposed the financial deal. “Let my family and I move into this guest cottage,” Matt said, “...and I’ll build golf holes for you until it rains and I have to move to the next course.”
When Matt and I met up again three weeks later in Los Angeles at Lakeside Golf Club, he brought a computer printout of nine championship holes that were basically inspired by some of the classic holes of our time. I said, “Oh, my gosh, this is amazing. Do you really think we can pull this off?” In typical Dye fashion, Matt laughed and said, “Just rent that bulldozer and turn me loose!”
Matt started building. We had one of the worst droughts ever that year starting in May, but Matt and his tiny staff fashioned the most amazing inland links course I have ever seen. Then we sought the advice of the famous agronomist and friend, Dick Psola, who recommended the fairways be seeded with Midnight Kentucky Bluegrass. When this beautiful grass matures, it looks like a deep dark green carpet with a slight bluish reflection. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
Matt Dye over-delivered on his pledge to me. It’s the finest championship 9-hole course one could imagine. While he was seeding and contouring with the hardest working team, managed by Luke Chillick, his family lived here with him and they enjoyed the lifestyle of Danville, Kentucky. Karen and Matt Dye fell in love with the people of Kentucky, just like Julie and I did, and we loved watching his golf design and artistry in action. Matt Dye - truly an amazing architect.
I often wish that I could go back in time to the first time Matt and I met and looked out together over the gently rolling hills of Kentucky.
I was also able to see, as I shook his hand, that he had the beginnings of a health problem. I dream of saying, “‘Matt, go over to the University of Kentucky Medical Center and have a colonoscopy.’ And he’d say, ‘What?’ And I’d say, ‘Yes, go,’ and the doctors will find your colon cancer early.’”
Matthew Dye passed away of colon cancer in 2008 at age 48. But through that experience, from 1997 until his death, he became one of my best friends ever. He had a great sense of humor and was always in a good mood. Matt was a wonderful father and husband, and a very loyal friend. He just loved designing golf courses and paying attention to the little nuances that matter. And he loved life.
How many years did it take to build the course?
It took 18 months, but the maturation progress of a golf course is just like wine. It has to mature, and I would rate this particular vintage golf course right up there with the best. I always say that the greatest golf courses are the ones where you remember every hole, and this is the golf course where you remember every golf hole that Matt Dye designed.
Matt designed a second nine, but God called him to build the back nine in heaven.
The Matt Dye Oak Tree on the right side of the #1 fairway