Opened in 2014, the 9-hole
course at Sweetens Cove Golf Club was built by architect Rob Collins and his
construction partner Tad King from the remnants of a course called Sequatchie
Valley, which previously existed on the same site.
It’s reckoned the new course cost a modest $1 million to construct, with many long hours worked to make it all happen. Collins was so committed to the project that he mortgaged everything and took over the lease himself.
The course is characterised by wide fairways (for example, the one shared by the 7th and 8th), large waste areas (such as those on the 3rd and 9th), and distinctive greens like the putting surface on the par three 4th hole.
In a smart move, Collins persuaded one or two influential “industry experts” to have a look at the course and suddenly the profile of Sweetens Cove has taken a turn for the better, which is good for golf in general as many see projects like this as the way forward.
Out of interest, for those on a budget and/or tight for time, a 9-hole round on the course takes 90 minutes to complete and costs only $20 (with an extra $10 to pay if renting a cart).
Paul Rudovsky, one of our regular contributors and the only person to have completed the World Top 100 “Ever” list (Rudo completes the World Top 100 “Ever” list), played Sweetens Cove in October 2017 and he commented as follows:“This is not exactly Augusta National… nor does it claim to be. The clubhouse is a metal shed from Home Depot and the locker room consists of a port-o-let nearby. But this is pure golf, and was built with the imagination, sweat, hard work, and determination of two men… Rob Collins and Tad King. Sweetens Cove Golf Club totals 3,301 yards for 9 holes and every inch of this yardage in memorable. The greens are of every size and shape imaginable and have humps, bumps and rolls in them that would confound Bobby Locke, Ben Crenshaw, and Jordan Speith.”
Sweeten's Cove is everything golf should be: it's fast, firm, bold, and a ton of fun. As a former collegiate golfer I often felt of golf as being almost a chore, hitting dull shots around a boring, heavily tree lined and bunkered course just trying to shave strokes off my round. Sweeten's is the opposite; you almost want to hit as many shots out there as possible because its just so fun. You have to remember that when you're playing golf, especially traveling out to a place like this to play golf, you're taking time out from your normal daily life, so you should maximize your enjoyment. Sweeten's isn't a place where you should try to keep a score to post on your handicap and get dejected when you get short sided. You should try to hit all the crazy shots the course has to offer and just have fun. Play it as many times as you can while you're there, and play a different set of tees and to a different pin each time (there's a reason there's two on each green!).
The course has 9 greens, with about a million different options of how to play to each one. The first is an awesome par 5 with a reverse-redan/punchbowl type green. Additionally, off to the right is the No Laying Up Cottage, featuring a tee box down to the first green. It's an awesome shot that I highly recommend hitting. The second is a really cool drive and pitch hole that can yield a two or an eight depending on where the pin is. The green is reminiscent of 4 at Royal St Georges with a massive bowl in the front. The third is a goofy par 5 with a green that I can't even put into words guarded by a lone tree at the front. The 4th is named after the late King Oehmig, a pioneer for golf in the Chatanooga area. If there's nobody behind you I recommend sitting and chipping around this serpentine, 80 yard long green for a few minutes, its awesome.
The 5th is probably most people's favorite hole. At under 300 yards its driveable for most players with a massive pot bunker almost stuck in the middle of the green. Another tip: there's a hidden tee long of the fourth green that presents a really cool angle to this hole. 6 is not the hole you'd necessarily expect on a course lauded by golf architecture nerds, as its guarded down the left by a large pond. However, the three tiered green makes the hole really special, rewarding players who end up closer to the hazard with a better angle. The seventh is another awesome hole where there's no clear strategy apparent off the tee. If you bomb it at the green you'll leave an awkward pitch up to one of the most devilish table top greens you'll see, and bailing out left will leave a blind shot.
The 8th is my personal favorite on the course: it's a biarittz style green patterned off the 16th at North Berwick. It shows how awesome Sweetens is, since you sit on the tee thinking "I can hit it anywhere" but where you want to be is completely dictated by the location of the pin. For example, in playing the course the first time around I hit what I thought was a perfect shot down the middle and ended up getting completely Mutombo'ed by the green slope. The second time around I played it way over the tree on the left, giving a perfect look at a wedge that ended up 5 feet. That's what golf is supposed to be: learning more and more, trying new things on every go around. And since Sweeten's is 9 holes and such an easy walk you're able to do that!
The ninth is a beautiful little short/redan template carved into the side of a hill. I've had the privilege of playing many MacRaynor courses over the years, but this hole might be my favorite redan as you can actually see the ball race from right to left towards the hole. After walking off the ninth green the first tee is just steps away, making it impossible to not tee it up again.
Chapter 1: “I often felt of golf as being almost a chore“.
(for whoever writes the next book on Golf Course Architecture)
Although well documented throughout social media, Sweetens Cove is an absolute gem. What Rob Collins has done with a piece of property that only has only a couple of feet of natural elevation, and is on a floodplain, is truly remarkable. I actually found the first tee shot frustrating, I felt it didn’t open up the hole and was a tough start, since then this has been changed and it truly shows off Sweetens from the start. The big greens with two pins is unique, and this course contains so much strategy. I really enjoyed the 2nd with not only the centreline bunker, but also the green complex with a bowl at the front. With a big tree just short of the par 5 3rd green, you have to be nailed on with your layup. The next hole, named King is a blind par 3 with an enormous green, which makes the walk to the green fun to see where (or where not your ball is). I could literally go into detail on every hole, which for me is the sign of a great, memorable course. There are some epic short par 4s such as 5, 7 and even 8 with its Biarritz green but the 9th is a beauty. A par 3 with a massive Redan style green, that forces players to decide between going for the pin or using the natural contours to get it close. It messes with your mind (as most the course does), and requires full commitment to your intended shot. All in all, fun is something that is 100% top of my criteria for my ratings. Sweetens has this in abundance. The greens can be crazy and I’ve heard this as a criticism of the course, but for me I think they are unique and are what makes Sweetens, Sweetens. The only criticism is that there aren’t 9 more epic holes, and to be fair, that doesn’t really matter as you can’t get bored of the current 9! I played 54 holes in a day upon my visit here, and the general vibe including the people I met, matched the special course.
Sweetens Cove has a cult like following. It is a nine hole course about 30 minutes west of Chattanooga (warning it is in the Central Time Zone) that utilizes two pins per green. It also offers unlimited play for $75 per day walking. We looped 5 times in mid-October and it was fast and hard. Great news is affordability and very walkable.
The first hole is a welcoming par 5. Off the tee to the right is a large fairway bunker that should not come into play. There is also a fairway bunker left that may come into play, depending upon the tees you are playing. Twenty yards past that on the right is another fairway bunker and a puddle of water hazard. This is a reachable par five with a fairway bunker about 90 yards short of the green in the middle of the fairway and a greenside bunker right. For left pins there is a natural backstop that will feed the ball back to the pin. However, if you are too far right the ball will move hard right. Large fairway bunker right. The par four second is straight with the only real trouble off the tee are two fairway bunkers about 115 yards out. The fairway slopes left so favor the right side. This is a demanding green with small landing areas. The front right third will reject your approach. If the pin is left, don’t get too aggressive. I landed less than 3 feet left of the flag and ended up off the green in a collection area with out much grass to set up my double. The 3rd is a par five, even though there is a large waste bunker down the right side, favor the right. This one will be tough to get home in two it has a wide narrow green. The green is protected by a large tree about 30 yards in front and another green that will reject approach shots. Not to be outdone there is a bunker left and a steep dropoff on the backside. The par 3 4th is a short par 3 with a long narrow green shaped like the infinity sign. It has a crest in the middle. Easiest pin locations are front and back. There is a bunker from the left middle to the back of the green and a collection area right. Another hole where the approach landed less than 3 feet from the pin that resulted in a double. The driveable par 4 5th is a risk reward hole. The lion head green is elevated, undulating and protected on the right by a large bunker and while you never want to be in a lion’s mouth, you especially do not want to be in the lion’s mouth bunker. Best play is a long drive onto the right side of the green, if you cannot do that lay up. Worse place to be is a long drive left where the fairway is hard pan. In my opinion the par 4 dogleg left 6th is the best hole on the course. There is a large water hazard left and the green slopes significantly right to left. The ideal drive will be a draw off the tee and on the approach aim ten yards right of your target. The 7th is a short par 4 with another table top green. Best play is to lay up off the tee and have a full wedge in, thus avoiding the long bunker on the left side. The par 4 8th can be played down the left or right side. Commit and go to avoid the fairway bunker in the middle. This Biarritz green runs perpendicular to the standard. The great fun of the Biarritz is the anticipation of your ball staying on the front shelf or reemerging on the back tier. The short par 3 9th is well protected by bunker middle and left. The right offers its own protection as just about all shots that end up there will scurry their way down the hill and off the green. I cannot imagine the right side ever having a pin location.
Sweetens Cove has received lots of favorable press and with celebrity investors has a high level of visibility. Some people have likened the greens to Scotland, they are not. Some people have likened the greens to Pinehurst, they are not. While the buzz Sweetens has generated is good for golf, I disagree with the reviews. Good golf shots should be rewarded not penalized, which happens with too much regularity at Sweetens.
What a place. Worth the effort to get there for the course itself and to play golf in such a peaceful environment. Feels like a special place with the shed and the people involved. Played 18 holes on an afternoon and then played again the next morning before anyone was there and told to just put the fee through the door. Some of the best green sites you’d ever see and multiple ways of playing each hole. Just fun all the way.
I played Sweetens Cove in May of 2018. What a unique setting and design. I can honestly say that I have never had a similar golfing experience. Some great holes and some that were a little quirky in my opinion. The green complexes were ridiculous. It was a lot of fun trying to pick where to hit an approach. I think the undulation in the greens was a bit much for my taste, made it awfully difficult to score. Conditioning was far above average although not perfect. It is also of note that the setting is gorgeous. SC sits in a valley and there is some farm land that surrounds it but you do feel secluded and there aren't any homes on the course. The cost of play is so reasonable that everyone needs to plan this trip. You won't regret it. Very cool spot.
I recently helped the Top 100 staff with their rankings of courses in my home state of Tennessee. I was amazed that they ranked this 9 hole course third in the state and commented that while the course may be pretty good I can't imaging it is better than several of the other top rated courses. The staff kept to their guns and kept the course ranked at #3 in the state and I was encouraged by editor in chief Keith Baxter to take the trip 120 miles down the road from Knoxville to play Sweeten's Cove and see what all the fuss was about. Several of my friends had played here and raved about the course as well so I was looking forward to the adventure.
Bringing along Ruth, my brave wife and new golf enthusiast, we arrived an hour and a half before our tee time because of a miscalculation of the time change. There really is nothing there except a 250 square foot shack and a portable toilet, but a quick glimpse of the property gave a hint of the excitement to follow. The course sits in a flat bottom next to the Sequatchie River and is nestled within a set of beautiful mountains that dominate the scenery. The plain is nearly treeless and almost has the appearance of an inland links. Architect Rob Collins solved two problems with the site with one blow by digging out some drainage ponds to improve the water drainage of the flat area and then using the dirt to create subtle contouring of the fairways and not too subtle contouring of the greens. What he created is an absolute masterpiece of a golf course.
The course starts with a strong 563 par 5. A dangerous bunker guards the left side of the fairway and requires a 260 yard carry, but there is ample room right. The serpentine-like green rolls around a large frightening appearing bunker that protects almost every conceivable hole location. The back right part of the green, which was our pin position of the day, is almost dell like and demanded a sure, precise approach.
The second is a 375 yard par four influenced by two bunkers about 275 yards off the tee. The heavily sloped green has no bunkers and does not need any. A steep slope to the front and right places a premium and a precise approach. Three is another long par 5, running over 580 yards. The tee shot appears much tighter than it looks since the right bunker visible off the tee is actually almost 300 yards away and out of range for most players. This hole is dominated by a long tree that bisects the probably 50-yard wide green. Once again there are no bunkers but severe contouring both front and back require almost perfect placement of the approach. Four is a redan-style par 3 playing 169 yards but the green is massive and must be 60 yards from front to back with an almost endless amount of slope and contour. There is also bunkering left, back and long with a slope off the right front once again so that an almost perfect shot has to be played to gain access to the pin.
Five is a beautiful short driveable par 4. The green has a huge slope to the left and the front right of the green is guarded by another rugged bunker. An approach from the left can be flown up to the plateau but the green is crowned so going over is a real possibility. You can't discount the chance to play a bump and run shot here as well. This is just a fantastic short hole. Six is the most demanding hole on the course, 456 yards with a hazard down the left side which runs all the way up to the green. Fairway bunkers to the right prevent a bailout. The bold play with a firm draw off the tee can open up the hole and allow a shorter approach to the subtle yet contoured green. Seven is another shorter par 4 of 328 yards with a long bunker running about 70 yards down the fairway to the green on the left side. There is some room right here, but once again the steep contours on the front of the green require an absolutely perfect shot to get near the hole. Eight is a fun hole totally dominated by the heavily mounded biarritz green. The pin was located almost in the middle in a dell protected by mounds left and right. Once again there are no greenside bunkers but none are needed. Nine is a beautiful short par 3 back over a waste area up to the first hole with a wide flowing green offering an infinite variety of pin placements.
This course absolutely floored me. I have enjoyed the wonderful green complex designs of Tom Doak and Coore/Crenshaw but this course matches or exceeds many of the designs I have played by those famous architects. Each hole presents a unique challenge from the tee to the green that requires thought, conviction and precision. I honestly believe if they could find room for nine more holes and build them to the quality of this nine you would have a Top 100 USA course on your hands. As it is this is a fantastic test of golf that is ridiculously inexpensive to play. The course is easy to walk and is very easy to get to, being about 2.5 miles off Interstate 24 about 30 miles from Chattanooga. It is a shame more courses like this can't be built. Fun, challenging, exciting and enjoyable don't even start to scratch the surface to describe this place. Come see for yourself what all the excitement is about.