The Tennessee Golf Trail manages nine courses along its routing, three of which were designed by Jack Nicklaus under the “Bear Trace” moniker. Although it faces stiff competition from the entry at Cumberland Mountain, many suggest that Bear Trace at Harrison Bay is the best of the bunch.
The course sits along the Chickamauga Lake, northeast of Chattanooga, offering scenic views all around. Nicklaus used his routing to tickle the aesthete’s fancy, with many holes diving down or approaching the lake or its sloughs.
Although many clubs make a habit of playing up to the clubhouse on No. 18, Nicklaus assumed (correctly) that it would be worth extending the drive a little bit if he brought the closing green next to Hide Out Slough, for both scenic and strategic considerations. Only No. 14 features a forced carry, however, as the tee shot on this par three crosses 175 yards of the slough’s finger in order to reach the green.
Although Tennessee is eager to promote playability among its municipal offerings, Harrison Bay can be stretched to 7,100 yards for the bigger bears in your foursome.
Bear Trace at Harrison Bay was one of several Nicklaus courses built in TN in the late 90s and early 00s. It was TN’s answer to the highly successful RTJ golf trail in Bama. The intent was good, unfortunately, TN did not heed the Bama model of putting the courses near interstates. The TN courses have struggled due to location (in my opinion). This course is pretty tight with woods. You will probably see lots of wildlife, I saw deer and fox. It is a serene environment and I was surprised when I rounded a corner and there was a power plant across the water.
The first hole is welcoming. Be forewarned this is one of the broader fairways, especially on the front. Couple of greenside bunkers. The first par five is only reachable by the few, proud and brave. It is tight, favor the left side as the green is tucked right with a greenside bunker right. The 3rd is a dogleg right with a fairway bunker on the inside corner. It starts about 230 yards out and is about 30 yards long. If you are playing the correct tees you should be able to clear it. There is also a bunker right. The first par three is mid-length and you come out of a chute. Front right bunker, woods and lake right. The fifth is a dogleg right and this is all about finding the fairway. There is small water, swamp, gunch carry and the fairway narrows as you approach the defenseless green. The 6th is an S shaped par five. Yardage wise reachable, but it is tight. My advice play it as a 3 shotter and come in from the right on your approach to a green with a front left bunker that is wide but not very deep. The 7th is a long uphill par four and is the number one handicap with a fairway bunker on the right side in the landing area. The green has two bunkers right. The 8th is the longest par three with bunker front left and back right. The 9th bends left and then has the green tucked behind a bunker right.
The back starts with a par four that has a fairly generous landing area, especially by Harrison Bay standards. However, the green is wedged right and the lake sneaks in on the left. The 11th is the shortest and rated the easiest, water hazard left and the green is surrounded by three bunkers. The 12th initially is a straight away par 5 with the last third stretching left. There are two cross bunkers starting bout 170 yards out as well as two greenside left. The 13th is long, tight and leans right with a greenside bunker right. The 14th is a pretty lake carry mid-length par three. The 15th is a good birdie oppty, it leans right and the fairway bunker is about 150 yards out. The green has two bunkers front, left and right and one back. The 16th is long and bends a little left with a fairway bunker on the inside and two front sequential bunkers. The 17th is a revers S par five. Favor the left off the tee if you think you can get home in two. The finishing hole caresses the lake left and has a triumvirate of bunkers on the left about 170 yards out. Good finishing hole.
Good value course.
I was able to play Bear Trace at Harrison Bay in the Tennessee senior match play championship. This was the first time I had played here even though I live less than 100 miles up the interstate in Knoxville. I thought Bear Trace was a very nice layout. The Nicklaus design team did a good job of routing the course through some rolling terrain. There is a good mix of long and short par 4’s and holes flow both left to right as well as right to left. I thought the par 5 holes were quite well designed with some well placed cross bunkering on several of the holes that called for a good deal of strategic thinking. The front nine is fairly tight off the tee but he course opens up a bit on the back nine. The greens were in excellent condition and overall were not too severe. As a tournament venue the course held up well. Both the senior and super senior (over age 65) champions are among the best players of their age in the USA. I probably subtracted half a point because the conditioning was not that great. The bunkers in particular could use some love and attention. Overall I think this is an excellent daily fee course and next to Sweetens Cove and Sewanee it is probably the best public course in the eastern part of the state.