Tennessee improves its status as a golf destination
You know a town is serious about its golf when the mayor is a 6-handicap. That's the case in Crossville, which calls itself "The Golf Capital of Tennessee." The 11 local courses there serve as a peaceful and challenging alternative to expensive Florida, crowded Myrtle Beach, and other winter meccas for snow-bound golfers. "Crossville is half the drive and it's really half the price" of most other golf destinations, says big-swinging Mayor J.H. Graham. "Half the population of the United States can get here within a day's drive. Once we get you here, we've got you."
Situated roughly halfway between Nashville and Knoxville, Crossville is more than 2,000 feet above sea level on the Cumberland Plateau. Once a simple stopover for early cross-country drivers, the now-bustling retirement community boasts two of the top-four-ranked public courses in Tennessee. Lovely mountain and lake vistas and impeccable southern hospitality greet golfers at every turn. "I believe we're a sleeping giant," says Doug Watts, a partner in River Run Golf Club, summing up both the region and his own course. Other courses get more ink, but River Run might best represent the progress and potential of Crossville golf.
Built as an amenity for a modest retirement development, River Run was little more than an afterthought when lead partner Paul Underwood acquired it a few years ago. As he tells it, a bartender doubled as greenskeeper, the fairways were barren, and an abandoned Jeep rested in a swamp in the middle of the course. I had to clear the garbage off to find the golf course," Underwood says. Today, it's a terrific golf course set on dramatic topography filled with carries over slate cliffs and the winding Obed River.
The first of two signature holes is the 88-yard par-3 third. A tiny island green is accessible only by a walking bridge. Stand on this elevated tee with a few balls and you'll quickly appreciate just how tough a half sand wedge can be. On the back side, the 15th is a classic treachery-and-treasure par-5. This 503-yard teaser takes two 90-degree turns - the first to the right around a forest, the second to the left over both the river and a stately stone wall banking the green. Eagle should be no problem here. Just hit a monster fade off the tee and a then a high, drawing long iron or fairway wood that carries 190 yards or so. Underwood and Watts could easily charge $40-50 for such a golf experience in Michigan, but it's only $25 for 18 holes with a cart on weekends at River Run. Get it while it's cheap. The reputation of this course will only mature- and the surrounding 350 acres of hardwood forests have prime development potential. It's not difficult to envision a thriving retirement/vacation community of large homes and condos with River Run at the center in a few years.
Such a community already exists five miles north of Crossville at Fairfield Glade. Five strong courses wind through the hills and lakes near the beautiful Catoosa Wildlife Management Area. Sixteen-year-old Stonehenge is the crown jewel here. This public course, ranked the best in the state, boasts deep-bunkered greens and a back-to-back combination of holes that rivals the best of what northern Michigan can offer. The 161-yard par-314th drops 100 feet from the tee to a green, which is ensconced on the rocky shores of a lake. Club selection is pure guesswork. And a wrong guess is an automatic double bogey. The next hole, a 500-yard par-5, requires a long carry over the lake. Big hitters can get home in two - if they avoid the babbling brook flowing all around a green tucked into the side of a high bluff.
The other courses at Fairfield Glade - Dorchester, Druid Hills, Heatherhurst Brae and Heatherhurst Crag - offer some of Stonehenge's beauty with less demand on your golf swing. "These courses won't beat you up at all," said Jeff Houston, head pro at the Brae and Crag courses. The Brae is 6,500 yards from the tips and the Crag is 6,100. Both are good places to build swing confidence while enjoying great views. In fact, the Crag's new 17th tee is the best view in Crossville golf. A rushing stream echoes 100 feet below the tee markers. If you catch it flush, your drive will rise off toward the hardwood-covered hills on the horizon, fly past a lonesome pine jutting out of a bluff looming to the right of the fairway, and fall into the short grass just a wedge away from a birdie putt. On the Brae, the 10th calls out to heroes. It's all downhill from tee to green on this 560-yard par-5. A big drive leaves a fairway wood to a very receptive green. Fade it just the slightest touch, though, and you'll splash down in an even more receptive lake.
Crossville's other great tracks include Lake Tansi (a locals' favorite) and The Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain. Bear Trace was named "one of the top 10 courses you can play" by Golf Digest in 1998. It's the first in a trail of five daily-fee courses designed by Jack Nicklaus throughout Tennessee. At $50 with cart on weekends, it's less expensive than most Nicklaus courses. It's also the longest and most demanding layout in the area. Michigan players will feel at home here - fast greens, rolling fairways, dramatic and forested doglegs, and a log cabin clubhouse with the best selection of golf apparel in the area.
The courses of Crossville are open throughout the year and golf packages are a steal at roughly $350 for four days of golf and four nights in one of Fairfield Glade's many sprawling condos. Many condos come loaded with four beds, pullout couches, three televisions, and a full kitchen to help budget-conscious players further cut costs. Tour operators include: PRM of Tennessee at (800) 354-1404; Bertram Realty at (800) 762-0266; Plateau Golf at (800) 999-3008; and Tennessee Mountain Golf at (800) 647-0077
Off-course activities include hiking in a variety of wildlife areas. Treat the locals well in local watering holes and they'll likely point you to great bass fishing holes and even a trout stream or two. The Cumberland County Playhouse offers a dozen professional productions a year and the folks at Lefty's Barbecue near Fairfield Glade and the Vegas Steakhouse & Lounge on Crossville's commercial strip serve up super meals. All in all, it's a mistake not to accept Mayor Graham's open invitation to visit. "Spend two or three nights here," he says, "and you'll never forget it."
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