I have fond memories of the course at Sewanee. I grew up in nearby Chattanooga, and occasionally my dad would take me to Sewanee as a special place to play on the weekend. I remember a short but tight tree-lined course that was a lot of fun to play. I had heard of the Gil Hanse renovation, but I had never had the chance to play the course until recently. As I drove up to the course, I saw that the tight course of my memory had been transformed into something completely different.
As I walked to the first tee, I was overwhelmed by the sight of rough-edged bunkers, open rolling fairways, and enough beautiful old hardwoods to give the holes definition. As I walked down the opening fairway, my first impression was that I had walked onto a mountaintop version of Swinley Forest, the magnificent course in Surrey. After I finished my round, that impression had only been confirmed.
Sewanee is laid out on a beautiful rolling piece of land. The closing ninth is the only really flat hole on the course, and there is enough undulation to require firm concentration to maintain your balance. Still, there are no slopes severe enough to feel contrived or overly difficult.
The bunkering is simply magnificent. Many of the fairway bunkers are set at a slight obliquity to the fairway, although there are no true angled bunkers such as you see at Swinley. The rough edges were reminiscent of the renovated bunkers at Old Town in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Many of the greenside bunkers were deep and severe enough to dictate the line of approach to the green.
The green complexes were interesting as well. Once again, I would point to Old Town as a model, with multiple slopes and excellent internal contours on all the greens, with the par-three 3rd hole even having a bump akin to a Perry Maxwell puff. Even though the greens had recently been punched, I enjoyed putting on them. The first five holes run roughly parallel, and then the last four are routed around the perimeter of the property. The first five are angled enough for the wind to blow at slightly different angles on all the holes.
There are several outstanding holes and no weak holes. The first and ninth can be played as either a par 4 and par 5, and I suggest that if both were played at par 4 and the whole course to a par of 70, this would be a stern test of golf for a golfer of any caliber even though the total length is 6700 yards from the longest tees. I liked the entire course, but the stretch of holes 6, 7, and 8 is simply outstanding. These are three strong par 4's that really test your driving ability. There is plenty of room here, but the drive has to be placed in the proper part of the fairway to allow the proper approach to the green. The only real weakness here is the two par threes, 3 and 5; both play back to the plateau's edge and are good holes. This offers a wonderful visual experience, but the holes are just too similar for my taste.
Comparisons will eventually arise to Sweetens Cove, another fantastic nine-hole course about 30 miles back towards Chattanooga. If you are in the area, you simply need to play both. I give the edge to Sewanee. Sweetens is wonderful, but Sewanee is more wonderful. Sweetens is dominated by the magnificent green complexes, but Sewanee has much more interesting topography and was a superior experience.
I live about 2 and 1/2 hours away, and I can't wait to return.
Date: May 10, 2021