Review of the Month June 2018 – Sweetens Cove
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.
By Richard Smith, Knoxville, Tennessee (including photos)Review of the Month June 2018 selected by Editor-in-Chief, Keith Baxter – click to read more about Sweetens Cove.