For those who have never visited the American state of Tennessee, often their impression of the place is a bit skewed. They immediately associate it with country music and imagine a barren land of farms and cowboys with the bright lights of Nashville stuck somewhere in between – the twangs of Conway Twitty music blaring from every speaker in the state. How far off are they? Sure there is a little of all of the above – it’s easy to find a country channel on the radio and cowboy hats are certainly common, but Tennessee has more than enough to attract travelers whose tastes range beyond Reba McIntyre and Elvis Presley. Tennessee has grown up – and so has their golf industry.
Five private golf clubs formed the Tennessee Golf Association in 1914. In the ninety years that followed more than 200 golf courses have joined those pioneer clubs, taking Tennessee Golf to a much higher level. Golf, like many other outdoor activities is embraced passionately in “The Volunteer State.” But up until the 1990’s it was an internal pursuit; golf was not viewed as an asset to attract visitors. That all changed when new initiatives were created to show the rest of the world that golf WAS a reason to come to Tennessee.
Graced by natural beauty, with the Great Smokey Mountains to the east giving way to the plateaus and plains to the west, Tennessee possesses idyllic settings for the pursuit of open-air recreation. The heart of that activity is the 54 state parks that dot the regions – west, middle, and east. This protected settings offer up plenty of opportunities to enjoy all aspects of nature, as well as a number of amenities shaped by man. This includes a strong network of golf courses, eight “traditional” designs, and five more designed by Jack Nicklaus. This diverse group of thirteen golf properties forms the Tennessee Golf Trail – a system that is in it’s infancy but clearly one that should be under consideration for any group looking for a golf trip destination.
Originally conceived in partnership with a management group, all aspects of The Bear Trace Trail are now under the umbrella of the ate, providing a more seamless look to their golf trail system – one where the traditional courses are receiving a fairer amount of attention that they deserve.
Outside of the trail, there are plenty of golf courses to mix in to your trip so don’t feel you must stick to a plan. Exploring in Tennessee is half the fun – you will be amazed at the sights along with the warm of the people. Use any planning as the core of your trip but make sure to leave a little leeway for some unexpected fun.
One major convenience of Tennessee is the location. You are within a day’s drive of more than 65 percent of the population of the United States. Flights into Nashville and Memphis are abundant and if you choose to drive form Ontario or Quebec, it makes for a leisurely two-day journey or a hurried one down a variety of major highways.
To get the most out of your trip, it is best to see all parts of the state, from the delta lows of the west to the mountain highs of the east. There is no better place to start than in Memphis.
The home of Blues music and the Pork Barbeque Capital of the World, Memphis has a southern charm, modern look, and vibrant feel. This is a city that is alive and you can hear it in the music and feel it in the energy of the people as you walk the streets, even in the hot humid days of summer.
Here, the West region of Tennessee you will find a flatter landscape than in other parts of the state but one that is just as lush with plant and wildlife. Golf is pursued leisurely but with great passion, as the game was first developed right here in this part of the state.
As part of the Tennessee Golf Trail you have five options in the west, two Bear Trace courses and three of theTraditionals. The Bear Trace options are at Chickasaw in Henderson and Ross Creek Landing in Clifton.
The Bear Trace at Ross Creek Landing was the fifth and last Bear Trace course to open. Unveiled in 2001, it was immediately named to the Golf Digest top ten courses to play list for 2002. Built in the countryside along the banks of the Tennessee River, it is a course that stands out among the Bear Trace properties, even for designer Jack Nicklaus. “While The Bear Trace courses are linked by name and state, we like to think they all have their own unique look, characteristics and feel,” Nicklaus said on the opening day. “That is certainly the case with Ross Creek Landing.” At more than 7100 yards from the back tee, it is a stern par 72 test but it is its beauty that makes it stand out.
The property at Ross Creek rolls nicely and holes landscapes include meadows and hardwood forests. Golfers will be excited to find two par fives that are reachable by stronger players and even a par 4, the 4th hole, which is possible to drive. Visually pleasing and still enjoyable to play, no matter your ability level.
The Bear Trace at Chickasaw, about 30 minutes drive south of Jackson, shares wooded features with Ross Creek Landing but offers a greater abundance of water and marshland. Staring with a handcrafted log clubhouse you feel as if this facility has been standing much longer than it really has. You will the course tough if you are brazen but strategic play to avoid the hazards will usually result in an acceptable score.
Within the West region here are three of the Tradition course, Paris Landing, Pickwick Landing, and T.O. Fuller.
Located in the southwest corner of Memphis, T.O. Fuller might be the most unassuming golf course at the trail. At less than 6,000 yards it will not set your world on fire but for what it lacks in length it makes up in scenery and topography. Lush vegetation and mature trees line each hole, which, for the most part, feature wide fairways. Some strong par three holes make scorer more of a challenge than you would expect.
Paris landing is located at the north end of the Tennessee River, overlooking Kentucky Lake. Built in 1971, this Audubon Certified facility has had numerous revisions in the last decade alone. The result is a 6685-yard course that is heavily tree-lined. On most holes you will have little chance of seeing another group. Great views of Kentucky Lake provide a backdrop on several holes. The park also offers a 130-room inn and ten cabins as accommodations.
At the far south end of the Tennessee River, on the bottom of the state is Pickwick Landing (not far from Ross Creek Landing). The former Riverboat stop has been in the state park system since the 1970’s. Centred on water-based activities, the park features many campsites, cabins, and a 119-room inn on Pickwick Lake.
The golf course at Pickwick debuted in 1973 and is a popular destination form golfers from within the state and also for those from nearby Mississippi and Alabama. With out of bounds protecting 11 of the 18 tree lined holes, you are advised to keep your game on the straight and narrow. If you avoid the out of bounds, you must also keep your ball out of eight lakes. If all else fails – the fishing is good.
Moving westward, into the heart of the state, the terrain begins to rise and this greatly impacts the golf courses as well. Like in the west, here you will find a mix of Bear Trace facilities and Traditional trail golf properties.
It all starts at Montgomery Bell State Park just west of Nashville. When you find the time to pull yourself away from the Grand Ole Opry, the Opry Mills Malls, and the plethora of live music establishments, Montgomery Bell makes a great retreat. Considered as a Top 100 Course to Play by one major golf publication, the Montgomery bell course was vastly improved with a redesign by Gary Roger Baird in 1988. After 15 years open, the course needed some work and Baird brought it up t a new standard. Head straight out form the Inn and Conference centre to the 6186-yard golf course where nature interplays with your game. Deer, geese and wild turkey are not uncommon sights as you make your way through the heavily forested layout.
Heading southeast from Nashville on Highway #24, you will find a solid congregation of golf within a short period of time. Old Stone Fort State Park, Henry Horton State Park, and Tims Ford all lie within close proximity. The nine-hole Stone Fort course is the weakest of the three by far so leave plenty of time for replays of the exceptional Horton and Tims Ford courses.
Stone Fort was a former country club purchased by the state but even with recent upgrades to the water system it does not amount to more than a course for a casual, uninspired round. It is still a good place to enjoy with golfers who are a little less skilled.
Revered as one of the finest courses in the state of Tennessee, the Buford Elington Championship course at Henry Horton State Park is a can’t miss. At more than 7,000 yards it will test any player, although wide fairways squeezed between tree lines makes it seem a little friendlier. Beware of hole #14, this 259-yard par three is one of the longest you will ever see.
If you want a tough nut to crack on your trip then the course at Falls Creek Falls will provide the entire test you want. After you drag yourself (and your camera) from the breathtaking Falls themselves, you can challenge the Joe Lee golf course that has all its greens updated in 1998. No less than 71 bunkers will test your accuracy and patience.
The real gem of Tennessee Golf, East Tennessee is home to more spectacular golf courses than can be found in many entire states.
At Crossville, the proclaimed “Golf Capital of Tennessee” you will find more than a dozen golf courses. Among them is The Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain.
Located right in the middle of the scenic Cumberland Plateau, the site for this course was one of the most sought after in the entire state. The result is a layout that Nicklaus crafted into what is regarded as one of the bets courses in the state and was even voted by Golf Magazine as one of the “Top Ten You Can Play” in North America in 1999. An abundance of elevation changes throughout its 6900 yards, coupled with flowing brooks and stands of pines make it a special sight.
Near Chattanooga you can find the only Bear Trace Course we have yet to mention, The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay. The second of the Bear Trace courses to open (in 1999) Harrison Bay is admired for its property and convenient to the golfers of Chattanooga. Interspersing water and trees throughout the layout, this 7140-yarder looks very natural in its setting. Fairways and green sites required little work to make them part of an effective design. Despite its length, most green sites offer up an open area in front of the green so even weaker players can easily traverse its playing field.
At the far eastern point of the state, near the city well known to NASCAR fans, Bristol is the most easterly of the state golf facilities. Warrior’s Path in Kingsport completes the daily fee accessible golf trail with a course laid out in the foothills of the Appalachians. This course has proven to be one of the most popular in the state park system since it opened in 1972 after being designed by George Cobb. It stretches a comfortable 6600 yards and offers up lake and mountain views.
More Of Course
And to think, these thirteen state-owned golf facilities represent only about five percent of all the golf facilities you can now find in Tennessee. Whether you choose to visit all or some of them, or set out on your own course to find other great courses, you will not be disappointed.
You can bring your cowboy hat and boots to Tennessee – but whatever you do don’t forget your clubs!
State of Tennessee’s Department of Tourist Development
Wm. Snodgrass/Tennessee Tower
312 8th Avenue North, 25th Floor
Nashville, TN 37243
Tennessee Golf Trail
Pickwick Dam, TN
The Bear Trace at Chickasaw
The Bear Trace at Ross Creek Landing
Fall Creek Falls
Chapel Hill, TN
Old Stone Fort
The Bear Trace at Tims Ford
The Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain
The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay