Word is starting to spread on Tennessee golf scene

By Chris Dortch, Contributor

PIKEVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee is known the world over for its scenic beauty and for its music, from blues in Memphis to country in Nashville. Golf is a different story. Though the state has an abundance of quality courses, it's not generally considered a golf destination.

"In perception, no, Tennessee isn't considered a golf destination state," said Ron Bargatze, vice president of operations for the five Bear Trace courses spread across Tennessee. "But it reality, yes it is. Tennessee has fantastic golf courses across the state."

You might think Bargatze would shy away from a comment like that, considering the courses he runs are trying to compete for players. Quite the contrary. When the Tennessee Golf Association needed a sponsor so it could produce the Tennessee Golf Map, Bear Trace stepped up as a major corporate sponsor.

"The best thing we can do is get the word out just how good Tennessee is as a destination for golf," Bargatze said. "Tennessee has arguably the best total golf administration in the country, with the TGA, Tennessee Golf Foundation and the Tennessee PGA all under one roof. Because of that administration, golf is thriving in Tennessee."

That, unfortunately, has been a well-kept secret to non-residents. But the Bear Trace (five Jack Nicklaus-designed courses spread across the state and at least two more in serious planning stages) has done much to expose the outside world to Tennessee golf. As Bargatze said, there is a wealth of other excellent courses across the state. Some of those are upscale, private clubs, but many others are open to all and encourage out-of-state players to come and enjoy the experience.

"You've got great golfing weather from March through October in Tennessee, and several pockets of multiple golf courses throughout the state," said Dick Horton, executive director of the Tennessee Golf Association. "Golfers around the country should check it out to see what I'm talking about."

The obvious place to find golf that accommodates travelers is the Tennessee state park system (tennessee.gov/environment/parks/). Four of the Bear Trace courses are built alongside state parks (Tims Ford, Harrison Bay, Chickasaw and Cumberland Mountain). But other parks have long offered golf. Two of the best courses are at Fall Creek Falls in Pikeville and Henry Horton near Lewisburg.

The Fall Creek Falls course

The Fall Creek Falls course, designed by the late Joe Lee, is one of the more popular in Tennessee. Cut from the dense forests of the Cumberland Plateau, the course has been recognized by Golf Digest three times (1984, 1988, 1990) as "One of the Top Public Courses to Play." Fall Creek Falls offers four sets of tees ranging from 4,417 to 6,669 yards. If you're in to wildlife, Fall Creek Falls can't be beaten. You're certain to see some deer roaming the course at some point in your round.

The Buford Ellington course at Henry Horton

The Buford Ellington course at Henry Horton has served many years as the host venue for the Tennessee high school championships. The heavily wooded course offers plenty of length (more than 7,000 yards), and at least two holes that are as tough as you'll find anywhere. The 461-yard par-4 10th is an uphill dogleg left with a ball-hungry bunker guarding the right side of the green. No. 14 plays to 259 yards from the back tees, making it one of the state's longest par-3s.

Tennessee is home to one of the country's busiest golf resorts. Few similarly sized cities in the country have as many golf courses per square foot as Crossville, which is home to 12 courses.

The Fairfield Glade resort alone features 90 holes, including another excellent Joe Lee design, Stonehenge, which has played host to the Tennessee Open. Stonhenge, so named for the deposits of native stone found throughout its 6,549 yards, has been voted the No. 1 resort course in the state. Natural rock comes into play many times, including at the down hill par-3, 14th, where a 15-foot layered stone retaining wall runs along the left and rear of the hole. The course features bent grass from tee to green.

Heatherhurst Golf Club, which offers two courses (Brae and Crag) is another popular stop at Fairfield Glade.

East Tennessee is home to two extremely popular public courses that have received tons of play through word of mouth alone.

Visitors to Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains should veer over to Kodak, where they'll find River Islands Golf Club (865-933-0100). Designed by Arthur Hills, the aptly named River Islands features four holes located on islands in the middle of the French Broad River.

To find out about other golf courses in the Smoky Mountains area, go to greatsmokiesgolf.com/smokymountaingolfguide.htm and order the Smokey Mountain Golf Guide.

Farther north, golfers can ramble through back roads to Chuckey, home of the first course ever built by Rees Jones, Graysburg Hills. Now featuring 27 holes, Graysburg Hills is built on scenic and gently rolling terrain that offers challenges to players of all skill levels.

In Southeast Tennessee, a new course that offers its own unique set of challenges is Black Creek Club. The course is private, but can be played by guests of the Bluff View Inn (800-725-8338). Deigned by Brian Silva, Black Creek is true links golf that affords a host of shotmaking choices. Though not quite three years old, Black Creek has already been chosen to Golf Week's list of the 100 Best Modern Courses (No. 97) and was rated the No. 8 course in Tennessee by Golf Digest.

Golfing opportunities abound in Nashville. Music City USA is also a mecca for golfers. Daily fee courses include two that have played host to an LPGA tournament, Hermitage and The Legends Club (legendsclub.com/fw/main/default.asp) and another, Springhouse, that plays host to a Champions Tour event.

Another new course that has received instant notoriety can be found in the Western portion of the state, a region that has its share of challenging golf. The Tennessean Golf Club (tennesseangolfclub.com/) in Paris has already been chosen as the state's No. 7 course by Golf Digest.

An exploration of Tennessee golf should begin with the Tennessee Golf Map. Order one by calling the Tennessee Golf Association at 615-790-7600 or go to golfhousetennessee.com.

Chris Dortch, Contributor

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