The eighteen holes at Champion Hills have been described by architect Tom Fazio as a layout that “looks hard but plays easy” and he somehow routed the fairways in such a way that fourteen of the holes play downhill.
Opened for play in 1991, this heavily forested mountain course features a number of engaging holes including the left doglegged 7th, the short par five 13th and the uphill home hole which plays to a tricky two-tier green.
Most memorable hole, though, is probably the par three 9th where the green lies more than 100 foot (or, as the architect says, the height of a 12-storey building) below the level of the tee - it’s easy to see why many consider this one of the most spectacular holes in the Tar Heel State.
Perched on a relatively undeveloped Appalachian property, Champion Hills Club is considered to be one of Tom Fazio’s finest mountain designs in North Carolina. Fazio’s ability to visualize and construct holes over such severe land is remarkable, and as a result the entirety of the player’s experience is memorable.
A recent interview with the architect sheds light on the numerous ways in which Champion Hills is altogether unique. For starters, Fazio’s firm is actually based in Hendersonville. While most of his team is typically spread across global project sites, many of his associates weighed in on the construction of the course. To his credit, Tom specifically designed Champion Hills with the amateur player in mind. Many corridors are friendly to slightly errant tee shots, and flanking banks will ricochet mishits back into the fairway.
Champion Hills is not an overly long course, and its length on the card is shortened by the fact that 14 holes play downhill. Even so, the routing has plenty of teeth. Fairways are narrow, and a big hitter spraying the ball even slightly is in for a tough round. Bunkers are often located right where an aggressive player would like to place their drive, and the green complexes are relatively small. Champion Hills is a shot-shaper’s track that requires well-struck aerial approaches on almost every hole. The par threes in particular present desirable variety.
While most of the ideal landing zones are fairly flat, certain fairways, such as those at the 10th and 12th, employ speed slots that can reward a well-placed drive with a distance boost, but may also funnel shots toward the rough. The majority of greens are terraced. The putting surface at the 10th was especially memorable, as the first tier is raised above the back. To stick a shot at a front pin placement requires creativity and touch, potentially even landing a ball in the run-up area short of the green.
The breathtaking vistas at Champion Hills are unparalleled, and the severe drops on tee shots like the 5th, 9th, and 13th are exhilarating. Adding to the quality of the experience were the hospitable staff and well-maintained turf. Should you find yourself with an invitation to play Champion Hills, it is well worth the trip. The course would also pair well with nearby Hendersonville Country Club for a contrasting classic/modern day.