Tennessee is assumed, at least by Smokey Mountain tourists, to be crawling with black bears. However the “bear” in “Bear Trace” is none other than the “Golden Bear,” Jack Nicklaus. The icon designed a trio of public-access courses for the Tennessee State Park System, all named “Bear Trace” (which of those is the best of the three is an argument typically waged between the Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain and Bear Trace at Harrison Bay).
Although “mountain” is built into the property’s name, the land is moderate in its roll. Players will more likely need to be concerned with water hazards rather than gravity, as creek and marsh crossings incur across the front nine.
If you’re a fan of Jack’s work at Valhalla Golf Club but don’t have the access, you’ll find two strong replicas of his famous “Island” par four, both requiring shots over a marsh to a green built up on walls built atop roughly-hewn boulders. No. 7, one example, is considered the course’s signature hole.
Driving from Nashville to Knoxville, I found myself with some extra time looking for a round of golf in the Crossville area. GolfNow introduced me to Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain, a Jack Nicklaus Signature design from 1999 that was reasonably priced off-season and a delightful trek through Central Tennessee.
Amenities at Bear Trace are perfect for the setting. The Clubhouse sits at the top of the property, and has a very "cabin" feel to it. There's a range, chipping area, and practice green to help dial in your game before the round. It's nothing too glitzy or glamorous, but the feel of everything fits perfectly with the surrounding area.
The Par 3's are a delightful combination of holes, views, and yardages. The Front 9 3's favor a draw while the Back 9 3's favor a "Nicklaus Fade"...with the best par 3 being the 167yd 8th which plays over a small cliff and tributary to Byrd Creek. Towering pines frame the green site - it's a really pretty golf hole, and one that instantly associates with Tennessee "Mountain" Golf.
Par 4's are an interesting variety. Yardages range from 325 to 466, with the majority of them in the 380-410 range from the tips. Front 9 4's are longer and wider with not a whole lot of elevation change, while the back 9 4's play up and down the side of the State Park's hills. The 7th is listed as the "signature" hole on property, but I think the best Par 4 is the 17th. Both holes play over a ravine to a two tiered green, but the 17th challenges you off the tee with a smattering of bunkers to test any line you take.
The Par 5's are relatively "short" and scoreable - as they play 494-558 on the card. The 11th is the most fun of the 5's, as it plays significantly downhill and snakes right to left. A well placed tee shot gives players a legit look at the green, which sits within a pocket furthest east of the clubhouse. Honorable mention to the 4th as well, the shortest 5 and most scorable hole on course.
Overall, Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain is a delightful golf experience. It doesn't quite have the "polish and finesse" that other Nicklaus Signature Designs have, but it makes up for that with playable golf holes, lovely views, and good value. If you're looking for a place to play along I40 - this is worth a visit.
The Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain is my favorite of the Bear Trace courses. The first hole is a welcoming dogleg right with a bunker on the inside elbow. The green is guarded by two bunkers right and one left. The 2nd has woods right and a ravine carry on the approach to green with two front bunkers, center and left. The 3rd is the longest par four on the front and what you see is what you get. The fairway bunker on the right is about 175 yards out, so favor the left off the tee. The 4th is the shortest par five and is definitely reachable, but it is tight. There are three fairway bunkers right and one left starting about 250 out. Favor the left side off the tee. The fairway narrows the closer you get to the green. There is a right fairway bunker about 75 yards out and one left closer as well as a pot bunker front center. There are also a couple of bunker in the sky trees that squeeze the fairway even more. The first par three is mid-length and unremarkable. The 6th is a good birdie oppty. The shortest par four on the front, the key is a decent drive thru a chute. The crescent shaped green has bunkers front and right. The par 4 7th is considered the signature hole. One of the widest fairways on the course the approach is to a green perched on stack rock. The green is surrounded by three bunkers and the approach is over prime gunch. The 8th is a short par three over a creek with two bunkers in front. The 9th is the longest par five, which does not mean that it cannot be reached, but certainly not by me. Favor the left off the tee to split the fairway bunkers. The next fairway bunkers on the left are about 120 yards out and the green has bunkers left, right front and a pot bunker right.
The back starts with a long dogleg right. There are no hazards other than woods both sides and the right is the side of a hill. Favor the left off the tee. The 11th is a reachable par five. It is tight and favor the right side off the tee. It bends left and has a bunker short right and two left. The uphill 12th is the shortest par four, has woods left and two small bunkers left front and rear. An excellent birdie oppty. The downhill 13th is the longest par four and is wide open and devoid of hazards. The 14th is the shortest hole with a bunker front right. The last par three is reachable favor the left side off the tee to take the right fairway bunkers out of play. Woods run down the entire right side and the green is cantilevered right with bunkers front right and left. The 16th is the longest par with a slight water carry and two bunkers in front. There is about 25 yards from the water hazard to the green. The 17th is my favorite hole and the only one I birdied, coincidence? I think not. Favor the right side off the tee, there is a pot bunker left about 200 out. There are three bunkers right starting bout 160 yards out. The fairway runs out about 100 yards from the green and you have a ravine carry with three front left bunkers. The 18th is a good finishing hole, long and straight. The bunker left is bout 225 yards out and the three bunkers right are about 180. The raised green has a large oak tree left and two bunkers front right.
A fun course that I would pay to play again.