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​US East South Central Division Best in State Rankings 2020

21 September, 2020

US East South Central Division Best in State Rankings 2020

Three weeks ago we revised the charts for the four states in the West South Central Division of the United States. We now turn our attention to Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee in the East South Central Division, adding another twenty courses to the mix in the process, so we now feature a hundred courses across a geographical area extending to more than 180,000 square miles.

Only one of these one hundred layouts – The Honors Course outside Chattanooga in Tennessee – makes the cut for a ranking position within our US Top 100 but don’t let that statistic lull you into thinking there’s little golfing interest to be found in this section of the American South. Hopefully, you’ll recognize there’s plenty to like here from the short profile of the courses mentioned below.


It was something of a surprise when we last appraised the state listings to find out that Shoal Creek in Birmingham had been knocked off the top spot. Well, it’s not taken long for the course to bounce back, regaining its No. 1 status at the first opportunity. Designed by Bob Cupp when he was a lead architect for Nicklaus Design, the course has hosted a number of high profile national tournaments since it first opened in 1977, including a couple of PGA Championships.

Shoal Creek

Mark White, one of our regular contributors, commented earlier this year: “I do believe Shoal Creek is worthy of a Senior US Open championship or another US Women’s Open… and it could have another PGA, particularly since that major has moved to the month of May. It has heroic shots, decision making, builds to a nice finish, is challenging yet fair, has a good routing, is an easy walk, and has good green complexes. There really is not much missing from this golf course.”

Ten courses have been added to our Alabama portfolio so it now extends to a Top 30. The highest new entry from this intake of newcomers arrives at No. 10 and it’s the George Cobb-designed layout at Vestavia Country Club which has recently undergone an extensive renovation by Lester George, who rebuilt more than half the holes, in addition to introducing water hazards and installing a new irrigation system.

Vestavia Country Club

Selective tree clearance has opened up views, sand hazards have been upgraded using Better Billy Bunker lining, and improved mowing lines have created extra width on fairways. Not only that, the introduction of template classics such as a Redan green on the 13th and a Biarritz green on the 15th has greatly enhanced the playing experience at Vestavia.

The biggest upward move is made by the course at Ross Bridge on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, rising three places to No. 11. A recent reviewer had this to say about it: “perhaps the only ‘weakness’ of the course is the somewhat monotonous demand for aerial shots on virtually every hole. Otherwise, with its fabulously manicured facilities, striking terrain, mix of corridors, and terrific all-round amenities, Ross Bridge was a solid, surprising, and bold golf experience.”

Ross Bridge


Click the link to see full details of our latest Alabama Best in State rankings


The Donald Ross-designed course at Idle Hour Country Club in Lexington became the new No. 1 in the Bluegrass State during our 2018 state shake-up and it remains in the same position now. Originally laid out by Donald Ross in the 1920s, the course has benefitted from Ron Prichard restoring the bunkers, installing several water features, and adding some judicious length in order to ease this Golden age classic into the 21st century.

Idle Hour Country Club

The most substantial climb in our Kentucky table is made by the 18-hole layout at the University of Louisville Golf Club. A new entry in our chart last time around, it now soars seven spots to No.6. It’s the home club for the university’s men’s and women’s golf teams and it has hosted a number of prestigious competitions in the last few years, including the NCAA Men’s Regional in 2019, the state PGA Championship in 2017, and the Kentucky Women’s Open in 2015.

University of Louisville Golf Club

In the bottom half of the new chart, two courses with tournament pedigrees leap five places forward: Kearney Hill Golf Links (now at #12) is a Pete Dye/P. B. Dye co-design that held both the national men’s and women’s Amateur Public Links Championships before they were discontinued by the USGA; and the course at Cherry Blossom Golf Club in Georgetown (up to #13) has staged the State Amateur for both male and female golfers on separate occasions since 2014.

Rank/ Course Move
1 Idle Hour No change
2 Valhalla No change
3 Olde Stone No change
4 Keene Trace (Champion Trace) Up 1
5 Big Spring Down 1
6 Hurstbourne (Championship) No change
7 University of Louisville Up 6
8 Heritage Hill Up 2
9 Lassing Pointe Up 3
10 Triple Crown Down 1
11 Wasioto Winds at Pine Mountain Up 3
12 Kearney Hill Up 5
13 Cherry Blossom Up 5
14 Persimmon Ridge Down 7
15 Louisville Down 4
16 Griffin Gate Down 8
17 Traditions Up 2
18 General Burnside Island Down 2
19 Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park. Down 4
20 Eagle Ridge at Yatesville Lake No change

Click the link to see full details of our latest Kentucky Best in State rankings


Fallen Oak, Tom Fazio’s 18-hole layout at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino near Biloxi, recaptures the No. 1 spot in the new Mississippi state rankings. Located deep inside the De Soto National Forest, this course is part of the same Las Vegas MGM Mirage setup as Shadow Creek and some contend that, due its natural setting, it’s actually the better of the two Fazio tracks.

Fallen Oak

Reviewers from a few months ago made comments like: “I highly recommend Fallen Oak; it is fun yet challenging, peaceful and beautiful. Even if some of the terrain changes are not natural, there are plenty of rolling and undulating fairways. The wide fairways, lighter use of trees, and ponds create a spacious feeling on most of the holes... the routing is also quite inventive – moving to all corners of the property. Fazio doesn’t just present the famed ‘look’ where the style outshines the substance. At Fallen Oak there’s plenty of teeth ready to bite so you need to stay on your toes.”

There’s only one new entry and it appears at No. 14 in the new chart. Mallard Pointe Golf Course in Sardis, owned and operated by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, is a Bob Cupp design that’s routed around the southern shores of Sardis Lake and the course is complemented by a couple of golf villas, each with 4-bedroom suites, kitchenette and lounge overlooking the sparkling waters of the 58,000-acre lake.

Mallard Pointe

There’s not much movement in our new state listings as the most impressive advance is a mere 2-position improvement to No. 18 for the course at Timberton Golf Club in Hattiesburg. Mark McCumber set out the fairways here in the early 1990s and this tree-lined parkland course has been used for numerous USGA and PGA qualifying competitions since then.

Rank/ Course Move
1 Fallen Oak Up 1
2 Mossy Oak Down 1
3 Annandale No change
4 Laurel CC No change
5 Old Waverly No change
6 Dancing Rabbit (Azaleas) Up 1
7 The Preserve Up 1
8 Grand Bear Down 2
9 Dancing Rabbit (Oaks) No change
10 Shell Landing Up 1
11 Beau Pré Up 1
12 Reunion Down 2
13 CC of Jackson (Dogwood & Azalea). No change
14 Mallard Pointe New entry
15 The Oaks Golf Club Up 1
16 Bridges at Hollywood Casino Down 1
17 Canebrake Up 1
18 Timberton Up 2
19 Windance Down 2
20 Hattiesburg Down 1

Click the link to see full details of our latest Mississippi Best in State rankings


The Honors Course retains its position at the top of the tree in the Volunteer State and it’s also firmly ensconced inside the US Top 100, having moved up one place to #75 when we re-ranked the national chart at the end of last year. It was founded in the early 1980s by Coca-Cola bottling heir Jack Lupton with the stated aim of providing a stern test for elite amateur players and the club has hosted top tournaments such as the 1991 US Amateur, the 1994 Curtis Cup, the 2011 US Senior Women’s Amateur and the 2016 US Junior Amateur, with many of the opinion that it’s one of Pete and P.B. Dye’s best designs.

The Honors Course

We’ve expanded our Tennessee standings to a Top 30 and the leading new entry is the early 1920s William Langford design at Chickasaw Country Club in Memphis, where Byron Nelson’s eleven PGA Tour event winning streak came to an end in 1945. Bill Bergin completed a restoration in 2018, reworking green complexes, bunkers and forward tees, as well as removing trees and converting grasses from bent to Bermuda.

Chickasaw Country Club

Regular correspondent Richard Smith visited last year and in his verdict was: “the strength of the course lies in the greens and the green complexes and Bill Bergin did a wonderful job of capturing the run offs and slopes that help make Langford courses unique… this is a classic old-style golf course that has been well updated moving forward in the 21st century. If I lived in the area this would be a great course to join as a member.”

The most significant positional gain is a modest 3-place move up to No. 13 by the Bob Cupp-designed layout at Council Fire Golf Club, which is named after the decision making forum of the indigenous Cherokee people who originally populated the surrounding landscape. Council Fire converted greens from bent to bermuda in 2012 then Bill Bergin fashioned a new short game area four years later so the club certainly cannot be accused of dragging its heels in the new millennium.

Council Fire Golf Club

Rank/ Course Move
1 Honors Course No change
2 Golf Club of Tennessee Up 2
3 Holston Hills Down 1
4 Spring Creek Ranch Up 1
5 Sweetens Cove Down 2
6 Black Creek Up 2
7 Chickasaw New entry
8 Chattanooga Down 1
9 TPC Southwind No change
10 Memphis Down 4
11 Tennessee National Down 1
12 Cherokee Up 1
13 Council Fire Up 3
14 The Course at Sewanee Down 2
15 Nashville Golf & Athletic New entry
16 Mirimichi (Championship) Down 5
17 Jackson CC New entry
18 Fairfield Glade (Stonehenge) New entry
19 GreyStone New entry
20 Colonial (South) New entry
21 Hillwood New entry
22 Ridgefields New entry
23 Hermitage (President's Reserve) Down 8
24 The Grove Down 10
25 Island Pointe New entry
26 The Legacy New entry
27 Bear Trace at Harrison Bay Down 9
28 Belle Meade Down 11
29 Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain. Down 9
30 Richland New entry

Click the link to see full details of our latest Tennessee Best in State rankings

Next up: the seven West North Central Division states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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