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 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.