Founded in 1907, Cherokee Country Club started out – as was the case at many centurion clubs – with a 9-hole course. The layout was expanded to 18 holes in 1910. Today’s course is an unusual and rather hilly track that features no fewer than six par threes and back-to-back par fives at holes 4 and 5.
Marketed by the club as “a classic 18-hole Donald Ross links style course,” Cherokee was originally located four miles outside the city of Knoxville, but urban expansion has since engulfed the club.
A press clipping from the Daily Arkansas Gazette (uncovered by Richard Smith who hails from Knoxville) dating back to 1916, reported: “Little Rock golfers have been invited to participate in an invitation golf tournament to be held at the Cherokee Country Club at Knoxville. The club has recently opened a new course of regulation length, which was laid out by H. H. Barker, the English golf architect.”
In 1919, Donald Ross was commissioned to suggest improvements to the greens and this work was completed in 1920. The course was remodelled down the years, first by Alex McKay in 1950 and Dan Maples made further revisions in 1985.
In the new millennium, Ron Prichard (Donald Ross restoration architect) was hired to return the course back to its origins. Prichard used old aerial photos and the restored course opened for play in 2008.
With commanding views over the Tennessee
River, the compact, 80-acre, undulating and treed course in play today bears no
resemblance to a traditional links, but its modest length (just less than 6,400
yards) represents a fine test. The club has hosted U.S. Open Qualifying and the
Tennessee State Amateur, so its challenge should not be underestimated.
Cherokee Country Club dates back to 1907. In 1908 Jimmie Dickson arrived from Scotland with a letter of introduction from his old boss at St. Andrews, Old Tom Morris. Dickson oversaw the expansion to 18 holes in 1910. In 1919 Donald Ross was commissioned to make recommendations for improvements. Ultimately, Ross submitted drawings and was ultimately paid. As was the custom at the time the Dickson’s lived adjacent to Cherokee. Dickson’s daughter remembers Ross staying with her family in 1920 and then again in 1927 when Ross was working on Holston Hills. Evidently, they knew each other from Scotland. In the 1980s Dan Maples was engaged to modernize the course. In 2000 Ron Prichard was brought in to restore the Ross “design”
Is it? Or isn’t it? Heck, I don’t know.
I was told the 18 holes were squeezed onto 80 acres. It is not long, less than 6400 yards and plays to a par 70. The property is located just north of an oxbow on the Tennessee River on a steep hillside and most holes run east west to minimize the magnitude of the slope. The first hole is a straightway par four with a fairway bunker left, another one short right and then greenside left and right. The second is a long downhill par three with two bunkers left. I have had the best results playing two clubs less and running the ball on. The 3rd parallels the railroad track with a fairway bunker left with bunkers left and right greenside. A good birdie oppty. The first par five is less than 500 yards and is the number one handicap hole. I have found it to be a penthouse or outhouse hole. It is tight with OB right, yet the green light drive is from the right. Much left of center and you will need to deal with several large trees and a couple of fairway bunkers. I have not even mentioned the creek that crosses the fairway about 200 yards out. The creek then parallels the hole is just left of this very small green. The fifth parallels the 4th and is about 50 yards longer but plays much easier. Yes, there are trees on both sides, there is only one fairway bunker that should not come into play and greenside front right and left. Three average shots and you are putting for birdie. The 6th is a mid-distance uphill par three with bunkers front right and left. Take an extra club. The 7th is the shortest par four and is a valley hole. The cross bunkers start about 90 yards out. Greenside bunkers left and right and this small green slopes back to front, long is death. I do not understand why it is the number 3 handicap hole. The 8th is the shortest hole, is uphill has five bunkers and a wide narrow green. Take an extra club. Classic looking par three. The front ends with a left leaning par four with a greenside bunker left.
The back starts with the easiest hole, a short par three with a water carry. The 11th is the shortest par five and is definitely reachable, aim left of your target line as everything contours right. The fairway bunkers left and right can come into play. Greenside there are large deep bunkers left and front right. This is a shared green with 15. How this is rated the 6th toughest hole is a modern mystery. The 12th is a big boy par three at 239 yards. Creek left and a large greenside bunker front left. Don’t be embarrassed to hit driver. The 13th can be tricky, the hole leans left and the creek runs diagonally across the front of the fairway. The conservative play is right, but if you carry the left fairway bunker your approach will be less than 150 to a green with bunkers front right and left. The 6th and final par three has the creek on the left side and two bunkers right. The 15th is a long par four that leans left and while there are fairway bunkers they really do not come into play. There is a large greenside bunker front left. The last par five is pretty straight away and you almost have to work to get into trouble. I succeeded by hooking it behind a tree on the left. However, three mediocre shots and you will be putting for birdie. I cannot help myself, #2 handicap? The 17th is the longest par four at 468 yards and it is the fourth hardest. The 18th is a dogleg right. Do not get greedy, stay left off the tee, otherwise your uphill approach may be blocked out.
An interesting course that I would pay to play again, regardless of who designed it.
Cherokee is a Donald Ross design that is squeezed in between a ridge that overlooks the Tennessee River and a railroad track that borders the northern edge of the property. The land is steeply sloped amd undulating and Ross probably did as good a job as he could with a very difficult piece of land. The only steep holes are the par three 2nd and the uphill approach to the 18th. Otherwise the holes run crossways across the slopes. There are several good holes including the par 5 fifth and the strong par 4 fifteenth. However the narrow par 5 fourth is one of the most bizarre Ross holes I have encountered and the par 3 twelfth is severely pinched between a creek and the railway and it really requires a layup and pitch to play properly. Overall I thought the course was quirky but fun to play up until the clubs fairly recent green renovation. At that time they took some pretty interesting classic Ross style greens and built a set of monstrous atrocities that would be at home at the Castle course in St. Andrews. I only live a mile from the course but I wouldn't Consider joining unless they tore up the current greens and restored the original Ross designs.
After further research it appears that Cherokee was not designed by Donald Ross at all but rather by English architect H.H. Barker. It looks like Ross came in and did some work on the greens, probably around he time he designed Holston Hills in Knoxville. Unfortunately the Ross greens, which were the highlight of the course, have been torn up and replaced so there is really no Ross component to the layout at all.