Although Great Smoky Mountains National Park is headquartered in Tennessee, perhaps the best golf option for players in the region is across the border in North Carolina, at Robert Trent Jones II’s Sequoyah National Golf Club. The course belongs to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, so it’s appropriate that Notah Begay III — a former PGA pro and Navajo/Pueblo — contributed to the routing.
The course, despite its mountain setting, is not very long (6,500 yards), putting more emphasis on the player’s willingness to take risks in order to secure a red number. Examples will come early, such as at the short dogleg left No. 4 where players, teeing off downhill, will notice that the green is angled toward them, with a generous tongue for accepting bombs from 330 yards out. Can you really carry the marsh to get there? Jones and Begay are curious to see you try.
Hole names give some character across the round. Players may feel the sting early when they enter “Hornet Place”; the 165-yard par three plays entirely across a marsh to a green built atop a rock wall. Jones returned during 2020 for bunker renovations and re-grassing.
Sequoyah National is a Robert Trent Jones Jr and Notah Begay III design. Not long, but there is a lot of up and down as one would expect as it is nestled in the Smoky Mountains. I played the course in horrid conditions, but hopefully I will be able to retain objectivity.
The first hole is a dogleg right par 5. Big hitters can get home but they would have to cut the corner over the inside bunker and the fairway is at its narrowest point. Coming out of the gate, not sure that it warrants the risk. The 2nd hole is a downhill all carry par 3 and unfortunately was closed for maintenance. The 3rd is another par five dogleg right. This is also reachable for long knockers but the landing area off the tee hourglasses. The 4th is a short left leaning uphill par four, with fairway bunkers left. Good birdie hole, bunker in front protecting this multi-tiered green. Gotta be on the right tier to make bird. I was not. The 5th is a dogleg left with a huge landing area and a greenlight birdie oppty. The 6th puzzled me, from the tips 230 about 80 carry over water, but it is the number one handicap hole? Heck, I parred it. The 7th also leans left and has a large landing area and it teases you to bite off more than you can chew. Did not end well for me. The 8th is the shortest hole on the course and a gimme par 3. The front closes out with the shortest par five that bends right. Off the tee go over the left side of the right fairway bunker. There is a cross bunker field short of the green with plenty of room behind them. Layup or go for it? Once again, I was puzzled by the hole ranking as the 3rd toughest hole, when in my opinion it is the easiest par five.
The back starts out with what I think is the hardest hole. A long par four, favor the right off the tee and your approach will need to carry a ravine to a green on a ledge. The 11th and 12th are similar length par fives one downhill and one uphill. The 13th is a long par 3, but it is downhill and plays 1-2 clubs less and is protected by three bunkers right. The 14th is a great birdie hole. Short and uphill with a green protected by three bunkers, front right and left and back left. The 15th tee is probably the highest point on the course and it is a downhill dogleg right. Favor the right side off the tee, but this fairway narrows the more aggressive you are. The 16th is a short straightaway par four, a good birdie hole. The 17th is the last par 3, left and right NG. This has a very long narrow green, so pay attention to pin location, could be a 3 club differential. The round closes with a dogleg left with a bear claw bunker design on the inside elbow. Fly the bunker to set up an attack wedge to finish with a birdie.
Good not great, no walking allowed.