Sitting high above the city of Chattanooga, the course at Lookout Mountain Club was originally constructed as the centrepiece of the Fairyland mountain resort. The layout was one of Seth Raynor’s final designs before he died in 1926 and was constructed by his assistant Charles Banks from the architect’s detailed plans.
Unfortunately, a combination of events – Raynor’s death, a rainstorm that washed away a number of holes before the course opened and the onset of the Great Depression – ensured that, for more than seventy years, the full potential of the spectacular property was never realised.
All that changed in 1997 when Brian Silva was asked to complete the Raynor vision and so he embarked on a program to refurbish bunkers, add new sand traps and restore greens to their original dimensions.The result of this work speaks for itself and replica holes at the Biarritz 4th, Short 6th, Alps 11th and Redan 13th now adequately show off the talents of the original architect.
This is a really good course that stays under the radar. The front nine does not have a Par 5, but still scores high on the fun factor. Holes 4 (Biarritz Par 3), Hole 5 (Bowl Par 4), 6 (Short Par 3) and Hole 7 (Long Par 4) are some of best holes on the front. The back nine starts with a Cape Par 5, followed by the famous Alps Par 4. The course does not come back to the clubhouse until 12 hole, then you play the down hill Par 3 Redan. The greens are always fast and difficult to read until someone tells you the secret that most everything will break towards the 2nd green.
Seth Raynor’s final design and his only work on a Mountian. But it does not play like traditional Mountian golf- it’s Mountian Links-which sounds like an oxymoron, but play it and you will understand that such a thing can exist. Great views and a perfect example of template golf in a setting like no place on earth. It also has the hardest greens to read of any course I have ever played.
If you ever get a chance to play, make the trip.
Lookout Mountain is a Seth Raynor design, however he died three months before ground was broken. Originally called Fairyland Country Club, it suffered a series of setbacks from its inception, including Raynor’s death and The Great Depression. Hence, the original design was never completed. Charles Banks, Raynor’s protégé did the best he could under the circumstances. In the mid-1990s, copies of the original plans were found and a redesign was undertaken by Brian Silva. This added over 70 bunkers to the course. The club reopened in 1998.
The first hole is a long par 4 downhill, it was originally designed as a par 5. Favor the left side as drives right of center will roll into the trees on the right. For the approach I would recommend coming in a club shorter and running it onto the green. At Lookout Mountain being below the hole is crucial. The 2nd hole is another long par 4. Slight dogleg left and downhill off the tee but with an elevated green. There are 4 bunkers on the inside of the elbow and 3 more on the outside. This hole has a huge green and that is typical of Raynor designs as opposed to his peer designers. The 3rd hole is a short par 4 slight dogleg left. Favor the left side of the fairway off the tee as most balls will roll hard right. This hole also has a plethora of fairway bunkers, 3 left and 4 right. The 4th hole known as Biarritz is a 200 plus yard par 3. When I played it the Biarritz swale was not green length. However, I am told that there is a plan to lengthen the green to include this feature. Far more penal is the 20 foot deep bunker right. Favor the left side of the blind par 4 5th. The approach shot is unsettling to this steep back to front green. Above the hole cues up a 3 putt and short the ball will trickle into a deep greenside bunker. The sixth hole is my favorite, and is called the Short Hole and is only 124 yards. It has been referred to as a top-hat green and sits upon a granite outcropping with steep sides that can drop up to almost 20 feet. It is a classic dry island green. The back tee box on 6 sits on an escarpment and is a top hat in and of itself. The long par 4 7th is the number one handicap hole and with good reason. Favor the right side off the tee and if you get lucky it will climb the hill. Most of us will be faced with a long blind approach shot.
The back starts with a wonderful 3 shot dogleg left par 5. Wonderful views, but be cautious of the 7 fairway bunkers. The long par 4 11th is called The Alps and is patterned after the famous Alps, the 17th in Prestwick, Scotland. Favor the right center of the fairway off the tee to avoid a fairway bunker. The approach is a blind shot, aim toward the large flagpole that marks the center of the green. One of the quirks of Lookout Mountain is the 12th green finishes right next to the clubhouse. There is a recent movement within the golf industry to go to 12 hole courses. So Lookout Mountain was a trend setter. Take an extra club on this approach shot to the elevated green. The 13th is one of the prettiest par 3s I have played with great views extending into North Carolina. It is called Redan and is patterned after the 15th at North Berwick. The par 5 14th is less than 500 yards and is reachable in two. It is uphill and fairway bunkers are lurking where you cannot see them. The long par 4 15th is patterned after the Road Hole at St. Andrews. Favor the right side of the fairway off the tee for the best approach to the green. The 17th is known as Double Plateau. Silva did a lot of research regarding other double plateau greens and even interviewed long standing members who had memories of what the green was like before it was flattened. I three jacked. The 18th has a hog- back fairway. If you are too far left it will bounce into the tree line and if you are too far right it will run into the trees and perhaps even OB.
At an elevation of 1800+ feet, Lookout Mountain offers spectacular views. Putting is a challenge, what may appear downhill is in fact up and vice versa. When in doubt I found it best to anticipate the putt rolling towards Atlanta. Another interesting element of Lookout Mountain is its physical location in Georgia. Yet, Lookout Mountain Club is a member of the Tennessee Golf Association and has hosted the Tennessee State Amateur and the Tennessee PGA.
I played Lookout Mountain with my brother in the early summer of 2018. It was a great experience and the course was unique even for a Raynor with the usual template holes. The greens were so interesting and I'll admit, I never figured them out. A lot of the subtle breaks were hard to figure out for a first timer. The views were as expected (fantastic) and the course was in very good shape, although not perfect. The staff was extremely friendly as were the members we encountered. My personal favorite hole was the "Alps" number #11. The large flagpole with the club logo is located behind the green and the view of the mountains on this hole is amazing. The green is huge so don't think you have par wrapped up with a green in regulation.
I’m a big fan of Lookout Mountain. I actually grew up less than a mile from the golf club but my family moved across town in Chattanooga so I never was a member there. I played the course many years ago before the Brian Silva restoration but I have also had the opportunity to play there several time the past few years including the Tennessee state senior championship. The views from the first tee are awesome and you can well down the Chattanooga valley off the east side of the Mountain. The course is not very long but the greens are among the most vexing I have ever played. There are so many optical illusions that many times you think you are putting uphill and yet you actually heading straight down a slope. This is a course that demands precision and rewards a ball striker who can work the ball in either direction. However the uphill par 4 7th is a brute playing 465 yards steeply uphill. The course also has 4 really strong par 3’s including the long 225 yard par 3 4th and the redan like 13th. This course is great fun and a great challenge.