• Dooner

Graysburg Hills - Chuckey, Tennessee

Updated: Aug 19

If your last name is 'Jones' and you're a golf course architect, you've got some VERY big shoes to fill. While there's no relation between Bobby and Robert Trent, they are giants in the golf world. Taking away Bobby for the purposes of bloodlines, RTJ's sons RT II and Rees have carved out their own legacies in the course construction business.

When Rees Jones left his old man's design company to incorporate on his own, he embarked on a career that saw him build dozens of award winning courses and even earn the nickname, "The Open Doctor" for his role in updating US Open venues for the modern game (you may have heard of Bethpage Black, Winged Foot, Cog Hill Dubsdread, Congressional and Baltustrol Lower, just to name a few).


His first original design on his own, Arcadian Shores, has been a mainstay on the Myrtle Beach Grand Strand since 1974. His follow up effort didn't come for five years, but when it did, that course was the little known Graysburg Hills Golf Club, located in an even lesser known unincorporated dot on the map known as Chuckey, Tennessee.

It's a course we know well and targeted early on after moving to the Appalachian Highlands region (better known still as the Tri-Cities) that Golf Digest once named the second "Best Metro in the US" for golf (2005).


We thought since the course doesn't do Instagram, barely does Facebook and has had the same website since we first discovered it nearly a decade ago, that it could use some updated content on the web for others to discover.


After all, it's why we do what we do!

While the property now boasts twenty-seven holes over three distinct nines, Rees designed the original championship eighteen (now called Knobs & Fodderstack nines - the Chimney Top nine {pictured directly above} was added in 1994 and was designed by Edward Lawrence Packard - more on that later).


You'll be hard pressed to find a setting more befitting a natural golf course.


When people come to town for a visit - or are passing through and ask us for a recommendation - Graysburg Hills is always a top option. With its close proximity to Interstate 81, it's an easy on/easy off pit stop for the die hard hacker looking for a quick round. Oh, and the value cannot be beat! In peak season, it's only $35 for eighteen holes or just $45 to play all three loops. In the offseason, that $35 will get you an all-day pass.


Since it's a little out of the way for most folks, they have a full-service grass range and practice green just steps away from the parking lot and modest clubhouse. There is food available at the snack bar with typical drinks, candy bars & sandwiches.


This place loves the heat, too! It's Bermudagrass fairways soak up the heat and spit back out firm and fast conditions in the summer months. While that normally may mean thin lies in the offseason, the fairway turf is so consistent that if you get it early enough after it goes dormant you don't miss a beat with your lies in the short stuff!


We're going to break it down for you each nine at a time. It's worth stating again that the Jones championship layout intended to play KNOBS (1-9) to FODDERSTACK (10-18). It can stretch out to 6834 yards, which play to the card fairly true given the overall gentle topography. The CHIMNEY TOP nine has a different feel to it entirely and plays more like a mountain course typically found around the region.


KNOBS


The course starts out with a relatively easy par five that can be reached in two if you're warmed up. It's straight away, much like many of the courses in this bucolic setting, but the driving range flanks the opening hole to the right, making a wayward tee shot tough to find for those that typically work the right side.

Looking back into the valley and the opening hole on the Knobs loop.

The next three tee balls off some reward to those willing to risk the big dog, but the angles have to be precise. The par-4 3rd is especially tricky and tough for the first timer. Big hitters with a draw can clear the bunkers and leave a short wedge, but anything less than perfect can end in jail, OB or up to a 243 yard second shot.


[How do we know its 243 yards? Well, having once hung one out to dry near the right side/outside dogleg tree line, I pulled a 3-hybrid and stuck it with inches of eagle. I walked it off at 243 paces.]

The view from about 165 in to the dogleg par-4 3rd green on the Knobs

You'll use a lot of different clubs on this side. Play what's in front of you conservatively on this side. Length is not important on the Knobs, but if you're comfy with the big stick, it can help in spots. Don't get greedy though.


The first par three (5th) can yield a chance at an ace if you get it to the right level on the multi-tiered green. It sits in a natural (looking) bowl, so it is forgiving if you get the number right. The second one-shotter is one of the reasons for making the drive.

Hard to beat an elevated tee shot to a peninsula green that plays like a tiny island, ain't it?


From the true tips, this hole will make or break your round. From a forward tee, be true to your yardages. Of course I say all this jokingly, I suck at golf. Just look at the pretty pictures and don't ask questions about what yardage to hit.

View of the second half of the 9th - barn included - from the 8th green

The 9th, while a short dogleg left par-4 that seems tucked into land that shouldn't be a golf hole, is actually a great hole. Keep the driver in the bag before you walk up the stairs. Play to just right of the fairway bunker cluster and it'll leave you a pitching wedge in, but careful of the sloping fairway towards the water (long and right). The approach to the green comes in front of a beautiful old barn (no less than 3 of them are found on the course and many more can be seen from it).

Early morning shot looking back on the 9th and 8th greens on the Knobs

Here are a few more of the best of the Knobs nine:



FODDERSTACK

Guarded approach to the par-5 Fodderstack opener

The opener on the 'back nine' starts with another par-5 - and it is awesome. An angled landing area the rewards the aggressive line up the left is a tricky start, but once you land its straightaway home. The approach is slightly uphill to a signature Rees Jones green complex that feels more like Winged Foot or Bethpage than East Tennessee (not that we know what those places feel like, though we did attend the latest Open on Long Island).


Strategy plays big roles on the next two two-shotters, before things open up to a great finishing stretch of holes that will determine who takes the day, including some great chances to let some bombs drop!


The uphill 4th is bordered by farmland with a kind landowner that provided a set of makeshift stairs to traverse the barb-wired fence in case your tee shot is hooked left. The hole climbs so you can drop on the next hole to perhaps the prettiest par-3 in East Tennessee!


Classic bunkering with sharp edges surround this stunning downhill test of wills. Enjoy the view, you may not enjoy the score...

Variety brings you home from here. No hole plays to the same par consecutively after the 4th, but chances to score abound. If you've been able to hold back the temptation to this point, now is the time to let it rip. Distance shortens the course considerably after the 3rd, so let it eat and reap the benefits!

If there is one complaint we have about nearly every course in East Tennessee, it's of the decision of course management in the 1970s and 80s to plant hundreds of White Pine trees to better define their routings. Take the photo above as a prime example. The original design had three fairway bunkers left where only one remains, and (likely) zero trees.


Here's a photo from a very similar angle from the Rees Jones-designed Forest Course at Fiddler's Elbow Country Club in Bedminster, NJ, but with no trees in the line of field. Which would you prefer to play?


Just a few miles away, Johnson City Country Club has realized the folly of planting such hindrances and has taken a strategic approach in removing many of their overgrown White Pines, breathing life and playing options into its 101-year-old A.W. Tillinghast design. It's a lesson we'd love to see learned and duplicated here! Native grass areas abound on this course - it would be incredible to see it restored to a links feel and open up the long views of the valley.


Enjoy a few more of the best views of the Fodderstack loop:


CHIMNEY TOP


As mentioned above, this was the add-on nine and should be treated as such if visiting just for a single round. Its got the more scenic land and long views, but after crossing the valley ridge after the par-3 third hole, its more a 'build what fits' design vs the first twenty-one holes.

Rather than describe them all - which we honestly don't like to do - just enjoy some of the best photos from the third nine in galleries of three below...


Chimney Top Holes 1 - 3

Chimney Top Holes 4 - 6

Chimney Top Holes 7 - 9


So there you have it. Give them a shout for a tee time at 423-234-8061. Tell them we sent you! If you're coming in to play it, use the form at the bottom of the page to let us know if you need a fourth!


Keep it straight and true!

Sincerely Fores,

Dooner


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