You've probably never heard of it because it's in Knoxville. If HHCC were in a major market, you'd have it on your bucket list. Holston Hills deserves more attention and we're here to give it some!
This is a top five course in the state of Tennessee according to just about any publication. For me, it might be in my top five courses ever played. In fact, if I were talking to the golf course itself, while trying to impersonate Will Ferrell impersonating James Lipton, I would say to it:
“You are a delight.”
It has hosted the Southern Amateur four times (once won by Billy Joe Patton), the NCAA Championship twice, twice hosted the PGA Cup (PGA Club Pro event just like Ryder Cup) and twice welcomed the PGA Tour back in the 1940s (once won by Byron Nelson).
The whole property sits on a trapezoidal shaped-peninsula that protrudes out from an old neighborhood down to its namesake, the Holston River. The river surrounds the course on the three shorter sides, but never comes into play and is barely visible. The clubhouse sits above it all with nearly every hole in view from its stately perch. The golf course lays on flat or gently-sloped land covered in a magnificent blanket of green Bermuda with accents of golden fescue and pure white sand bunkers that dot the landscape.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop/Practice Facilities
McConnell Golf manages a dozen or so of the best private courses in the mid-South, so when they put their name on it, you know it's going to be good. The clubhouse was renovated recently and includes everything you'd expect from a high-end club. Restaurant, bar, pro shop, tennis, pool (featuring competitive youth teams), locker rooms, card tables, etc., HHCC has it all and it's all done well. A new practice facility was added in the last year or two as well. CRUSADER TIP: Warm-up time is best spent on the practice green gaining a handle on the speeds and breaks of the famously difficult Ross greens.
Donald Ross designed this course over 90 years ago. He died 70 years ago. Let's face it, the courses he built are gone. However, Holston Hills as we know it today is probably one of the best examples of his work that exists in the United States. Tom Doak touched up this beauty in the late 1990s. The management on-site and the members I met agree that the course is the best that it has ever been. Who am I to argue?
The aura of this course is impressive. From the moment you step out onto the first tee, you feel like you're walking in the footsteps of Ross himself. The land is as he would have seen it for the first time. He cut some bunkers, contoured some greens and then teed it up! Doak's minimalist approach made him the perfect choice to rediscover the original lines of the course.
While the design seems minimalistic, it is very intentional with every detail. The bunker edges are just high enough to impact a shot, but also to leave a shadow and provide contrast to make the bunker appear deeper than it is.
Mounding cross cuts a fairway to make the green seem closer than it is. Combined with a false front green and you've got a recipe for double bogey. However, once you get past the visual intimidation (or the jitters of jumping into a cash game with members you just met), then you can appreciate how fun this course can be.
The front nine seems to be the more difficult of the two loops. Again, it probably had more to do with trying to impress the group than the actual course, but if you're playing it for the first time, you'll face the same fear factor. There's a little more bend in the course's opening holes with doglegs, target holes and water to play around than the back as well.
Once you get turned, you have some scoring chances. Earn a par on the 10th and you should feel great about what's left. Some shortish par fives and reasonable length par fours give you some chances at birdie. Ross greens should always yield to the Rocky IV strategy - always aim for the middle [What is that? You know during the fight with Drago when Rocky is getting pummeled? Between rounds he tells his trainer that he sees three of (Drago) out there, then Paulie says, "Hit the one in the middle!" If you are still reading this post, we really thank you for not leaving]. That should be especially true on the par threes.
I live right at 100 miles away from this course. When the day comes to join a course and we still live where we do, this is probably going to be the place we do it. It's that good of a course and the memberships are more affordable than you'd think. If I lived in Knoxville, I'd have joined the second I moved to town. The staff is tremendous as are the members that welcomed me into their group for the day (and for giving me 7 marks over my handicap for being a first timer!).
CRUSADER RATING: 5 STARS
Played October 2017
5200 Holston Hills Road Knoxville, TN 37914
Phone: 865.523.4119 (course is private - please do not call for tee times)