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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Kentucky muni honors the past while moving into the future


Devou Golf and Event Center has a history that dates nearly 100 years as well as a focus on matters that are important to golf moving into the future. 

For nearly 100 years, the daily fee course in Covington, Kentucky has served golfers in from the northern tier of Kentucky and throughout the greater Cincinnati area.

080919devou4.jpgThe golf course at Devou is nestled in an 800-acre park that sits atop a hill overlooking downtown Cincinnati and offers a host of other recreational alternatives. And the folks who manage it understand their commitment to golfers and non-golfers alike.

Ron Freking has seen a lot of change at Devou Park since he arrived at this humble facility in the 1980s to work as a mechanic for his father, Jim, who was superintendent. Changes have included expanding from nine to 18 holes almost 25 years ago and implementing a unique fairway-renovation project that, although it took nearly a decade to complete, was done at virtually no cost. Most recently, it also has included the addition of native areas that, along with this hilly terrain, have helped transform Devou into a monarch waystation and haven for wildlife despite its urban location. A native of nearby Ludlow, Freking's story is one of hometown boy makes good.

"We serve a lot of people, and it's a good feeling to get compliments on the golf course," Freking said. "To help the environment along the way is a feather in the cap. We get a lot of comments about wildlife and plantings. It might not register with you immediately what is going on here, but when you see a deer on No. 6, or a redtail hawk, people like that."

Through the years, he has put up a host of bluebird boxes and over the past two decades has hung dozens of gourds that house purple martins, and all are full.

"I need to expand and put out more gourds," Freking said. "Those birds weren't here before we put those out. We saw an occasional hawk or deer, but until 20 years ago there was no wildlife here. Now, it's everywhere. I've seen just about every kind of wildlife that is found in Kentucky."


Of late, those efforts have included converting the course to a stopping-off point for an endangered species.

Freking worked closely with Crystal Courtney, a certified arborist with the city, a few years ago to identify areas to convert to native plantings and where to plant a variety of milkweed species to attract monarch butterflies during their migratory commute.

"That was very important to the park and the city," Freking said. "It was more than just PR. The park's advisory board wanted to do what would be beneficial to the habitat, the golf course and the park.

"We planted swamp, butterfly and common milkweeds; we grew them from plugs. Some took off, some we had to plant a second time."

Devou Park is home to more than just a golf course, half of which is nearly a century old. Miles of trails for hiking, jogging and walking wind through the park. Concertgoers have been attending events in the park's bandshell since 1939, and a new clubhouse in 2017 brought with it another new venture.

The park has partnered with nearby Devou Cycle to start a bicycle-rental program that has been a hit with non-golfers, and probably some golfers, too. A system of mountain bike trails measure up to more than 3 miles in length with an overall elevation change of more than 300 feet.

"The golf course and park are unique in that non-golfers can touch our golf course all around the perimeter on several holes with jogging trails and picnic areas," Freking said. "It's not like we have to go find people, they are coming to us, and it is important to show we are not out there spraying chemicals with no concern. We are taking care of our environment."

080919devou3.jpgThe addition of the new clubhouse brought more stewardship opportunities for Freking.

Prior to that project, stormwater traveled downhill off the course to the adjacent town of Park Hills. So much dirt was moved during construction of the clubhouse that the area captures a lot of runoff that today is piped to a retention pond by the first fairway.

None of these efforts have deterred city-owned Devou from delivering conditions the defy its municipal status, and that is an accomplishment has been no small feat.

When the course was in need of a fairway renovation, but neither the city nor the management company that held the maintenance contract at the time, were about to pay for doing that in the traditional manner. A strip-sodding program in which Freking laid out sod squares in a checkerboard pattern converted the fairways from annual bluegrass to Meyer zoysiagrass, which is suited for the area's climate that includes hot, humid summers and cold winters. This method was cheap, costing virtually nothing, but took eight years to complete. While it was friendly to the bottom line, the improved playing conditions have been met with approval by Devou Park's loyal customers.

"The accolades have kind of snuck up on me," Freking said. "I didn't plan for that. With the things we've done in house, plus the new clubhouse, the number of people coming here to the park find out that the golf course is pretty decent too, and that has been really rewarding."

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