Tee it up in Tennessee
It might surprise golfers to learn the Cumberland Plateau was once considered a vast wasteland. The plateau, which starts about 50 miles west of Knoxville, is remote and rugged country — no place to start a good farm. The foreboding terrain holds rocky outcroppings, steep ravines and endless caverns.
Somewhere along the way, course designers like Jack Nicklaus and Joe Lee figured out that the plateau also has a fair share of beautiful rolling hills, lovely meadows and dynamic views. It might not be good for farming, but the landscape was and is perfect for golf layouts.
Nicklaus’ Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain State Park is a perfect example. Combining a winding mountain brook, mature pinewood forest and breath-taking vistas even from the bunkers, this Bear Trace has been rated among the top courses in Tennessee. Perhaps most rewarding for the average golfer is that the holes are not impossible to play. At 6,900 yards from the gold tees, Golf Magazine once selected Bear Trace “One of the Top 10 Courses You Can Play.”
In fact, most of the plateau’s courses have been designed with an eye toward playability, noting the region’s blooming image as a retirement community.
On that note, retirement paradise Fairfield Glade, just east of Crossville, has four great courses set up as public-private, meaning you best call ahead for a tee time. You might try Stonehenge Golf Club, a layout judged as Tennessee’s most scenic.
Another beauty is Fall Creek Falls in the state park near Pikeville. Designers love to label it “challenging” — a little more so when deer browse on its fairways.
Deer Creek, by contrast, is about playability, handsome like the rest and probably the easiest to reach off Interstate 40 near Crossville.
The golf courses of East Tennessee are not limited to the Cumberland Plateau. The Knoxville area witnessed a boon about 20 to 30 years ago with Willow Creek Golf Club among many built or restored back then. The Smoky Mountains, much like the plateau, provide a great backdrop for pleasurable golf. Lambert Acres and Pine Lakes are two established places to try. The Tri-Cities area has a long list of links. The Tennessee Golf Trail at Warriors’ Path State Park has the best views.
Perhaps the most acclaimed in East Tennessee is The Honors Course just north of Chattanooga. It offers an unforgettable experience to those lucky enough to play there. It is private so you will have to find a way to get a tee time.