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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Running Boone's Trace is a true family affair

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Nos. 10 (left) and 18 at Booone's Trace National Golf Club. Photo courtesy of Chris Rutherford

Some people upon retirement are content to kick back and wile away their golden years playing golf or fishing. Others are hard wired to do more; to take up a second profession or Plan B, or to undertake something they are passionate about as an occupational pursuit rather than a mere hobby.

Before "retiring" a decade ago, Chris Rutherford and wife Kelly had been working for Tower Communications Group, the Lexington, Kentucky, technology company started by Chris's father, Lee. Tower Comm was known for, among other things, providing retail vendors with point-of-sale credit card processing systems.

When the family cashed out of the business in 2014, Rutherford took a year off to play golf. Not content with just playing golf every day, Rutherford had another itch to scratch. 

The Rutherford clan, to a man, or woman as it were, share a common passion — golf. Multiple generations of the family are lifelong players. Chris and Kelly's son, Cameron, was a four-year player at Lexington Christian Academy and a multiple high school state champion before playing collegiately at Indiana Wesleyan. 

When the course now known as Boone's Trace National Golf Club near Lexington went up for sale in 2018, Chris and Kelly, with golf coursing through their veins, decided to buy it.

We've just always been glass-half-full kind of people. We're that way with everything.

"I was 47 and retired. I wasn't ready for doing nothing," Chris said. "I have to have a purpose, and I felt like I was just blowing in the wind. My wife and I thought this was a good opportunity."

The operation truly is a family affair. Cameron, a graduate of the Golf Academy of America in Florida, serves as director of golf, and Kelly acts as general manager. As business owners, all do whatever needs to be done, from riding a mower for superintendent Vince Amonett, to helping in the restaurant and everything in between.

Kelly said operating a business in something everyone in the family is passionate about felt like a higher calling.

"We've just always been glass-half-full kind of people," Kelly said. "We're that way with everything.

"I think if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it."

Under the Rutherfords' leadership, Boone's Trace has made the transformation from a struggling and neglected daily fee to a vibrant and successful club.

That has been no simple undertaking.

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No. 11 at Boone's Trace. Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

Kentucky is not the first place that comes to mind when someone mentions high level, private golf. In some ways, Boone's Trace defines life in Central Kentucky. 

Located 20 miles south of downtown Lexington in the middle of Kentucky's horse and bourbon country, Boone's Trace is accessible from the north only by a one-lane bridge spanning the Kentucky River, and it is just a few miles downriver from the site of Fort Boonesborough, the settlement founded in 1775 by a 20-year-old frontiersman and pioneer named Daniel Boone.

It does not get much more Kentucky than horses, bourbon, backroads and Boone (the man).

But Boone's Trace the golf course is more than just 18 holes of golf tucked into an area that is not known much for golf.

Boone's Trace sits high on a bluff above the river surrounded by a few hundred high-end homes and breathtaking views in all directions. 

When the Rutherfords bought the course, it was a daily fee with only a handful of memberships. If the dog days of summer were especially hot and play was slow, it could be hard to make ends meet.

I can tell you, we've never worked harder. . . . We've put a lot of personal funds into this. When you take on something like this, you have to be vested in its success.

The Rutherfords realized the facility's future was not in daily fee golf. Since going private in January 2023, Boone's Trace has grown from 67 memberships to more than 350 and counting.

Going private and undergoing a successful membership drive alleviated the challenges associated with cash flow. 

"If you have three months of drought in summer, the public is not here and there is no revenue," Chris said. "You don't have that problem when you are private."

The transition has not been an easy one. 

Covid struck shortly after they bought the facility, and restrictions in place throughout Kentucky forced the Rutherfords to innovate just to survive. Cameron took check-ins for the golf course through a half-open office window from golfers waiting outside to tee off.

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No. 12 at Boone's Trace.

The food and beverage operation survived by offering meals for curbside pick-up and even home deliveries to members living in the community.

"I can tell you, we've never worked harder," Chris said. 

"We've put a lot of personal funds into this. When you take on something like this, you have to be vested in its success."

The Rutherfords hardly are satisfied with the status quo, and are committed to making Boone's Trace even better.

The club has outdoor event space, a renovated restaurant and lounge and future plans include a coffee bar adjacent to the golf shop.

"What do we have to do to take it up a notch?" Kelly asked, referring to the club's future. 

"You just do whatever it takes. We didn't have a whole lot handed to us. We've worked hard for everything we have."

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