By Graylyn Loomis
What are the most underrated golf cities in the United States? Your mind may jump to the Northeast or the West Coast, but you should set your sights southward, and more specifically, to Chattanooga, Tenn.
Not only is Chattanooga filled with underappreciated golf, but the city itself has been booming in past years with a cool and artsy vibe. My long-weekend tour of the area’s golf couldn’t have been better. Here is how it went:
The Course at Sewanee
When I took a college visit to The University of the South (Sewanee) in 2008, I was told that their nine-hole course wasn’t worth my time. Since then, a group of donors and alumni hired Gil Hanse to completely redesign the golf course and create something worthy of one of the oldest universities in the South. The result is a drastically improved course that serves as a draw for students and alumni. Hanse used template holes from Scotland, striking vistas of nearby mountains, and a creative new routing to transform the course. Eighteen holes at Sewanee reach just under 7,000 yards due to a multi-tee system that changes multiple holes depending on whether it’s your first or second loop of the course.
The Sewanee Inn was also recently built overlooking the course to provide golfers, parents, and alumni a place to stay when visiting “The Domain,” as the 13,000-acre campus is called.
Sweetens Cove Golf Club
This was one of the most anticipated rounds for me on the trip to Tennessee. Sweetens Cove is a nine-hole course with an interesting history and a cult following. The course is located outside of Chattanooga in South Pittsburgh, Tenn., and after a few holes, I fell in love with the place.
Rob Collins was the course architect at Sweetens Cove, and his team transformed a featureless and flat existing nine-hole course on the property into a fun and challenging golf experience that harkens back to the quirky links play at the likes of North Berwick and Cruden Bay. “Strategy and unlimited shotmaking interest were at the core of my design philosophy for Sweetens Cove,” explains Collins. “The greens at Sweetens, which total over 100,000 square feet and are surrounded with tightly mown short grass, offer a multitude of pin placements and provide for unlimited playing scenarios. All approach and recovery shots into the greens have at least four ways to get the ball close to the hole, and in many cases, the shotmaking options are even more diverse.”
The course was in perfect condition during our rounds and scoring required every ounce of creativity you could muster. Sweetens embodies my favorite type of golf, and I can’t wait to see the next courses Rob Collins and his partner Tad King create.
The Honors Course
Pete Dye designed The Honors Course in the early 1980s. The founder was Jack Lupton, and his goal was to create an exclusive course to honor—hence the name—amateur players from Tennessee and beyond. Lupton followed the benevolent dictator model of club presidents, and his attention to detail and presence is still evident at the club even after his passing. The off-course experience at Honors is as much a part of the day as the golf course itself. Valets greet you upon arrival, PGA Tour players are on the range, and five-star service only scratches the surface.
The layout was in pristine condition and the greens were some of the fastest that I have ever seen. I’m not proud of it, but I even putted a ball into a lake. It was a first for me. The highlights of the round are the lakeside holes, where mountain views, photo opps, and strategic shots abound. Honors is one of the more enjoyable Dye designs that I have played.
Black Creek Club
This course was the vision of Doug Stein and Brian Silva. The duo created a living tribute to Seth Raynor, and when you ask Doug who designed the course, he says, “Seth Raynor, as channeled through Brian Silva and myself.” If you played the layout with no prior knowledge of the design, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a Raynor design that had developed over time. Homes surrounding the course detract in places, but the course is one of my favorite planned-community layouts that I’ve seen in years. It’s only natural that Doug Stein is the founder of the Seth Raynor Society.
Lookout Mountain Golf Club
Lookout Mountain is split down the middle by the state line between Tennessee and Georgia. The mountain—more a plateau—features expansive views over Chattanooga, and the charm of the community and proximity to the city have made it a draw for generations. Lookout Mountain Golf Club is located on prime land at the peak, and the views of the surrounding Cumberland Plateau add greatly to the experience.
Seth Raynor designed the course in 1925, but he tragically died before construction was completed. The course itself is a mix of classic golden age architecture, mountain golf, and some of the trickiest greens you will ever see. Many putts that appear uphill are actually “down mountain,” so they play downhill. I have never seen so many well-struck putts leave golfers totally befuddled. Note to all readers: Never bet money with a member at Lookout Mountain Golf Club!
Which of these courses do you most want to see? Also, do you have another underrated golf city in the United States to suggest? Let us know in the comments below!
This series follows LINKS Assistant Editor Graylyn Loomis as he travels to the best golf destinations around the world. Look for more about this trip and others in future issues of LINKS and LINKSdigital.