Chattanooga, Tennessee is about as good a golf town as you'll find in a city it's size. From The Honors Course to Sweetens Cove, from Seth Raynor and Donald Ross to Jack Nicklaus and Gil Hanse, from the 1800s to the 2000s, this city checks about every possible box you'd want to see on the golf spectrum.
Well, you can add another box to the list. McLemore - a striking Scottish Highlands-esque layout atop Lookout Mountain - is now open for play following a national grand opening event on October 7th. The course was designed through a unique collaboration between course architects Bill Bergin and Rees Jones and features what will become one of those holes on every golfers’ must-play list.
“Hole eighteen may become one of the most photographed holes in the Southeast” -Bill Bergin, ASGCA
Who are we to argue? If you're a frequent visitor to The Golf Crusade, you know we take a lot of pictures while we play. I'm not sure I've ever taken more photos of a single hole than I have the 18th at McLemore. If not for a cloudy day and a spoiled sunrise because of it, the shutter count would have been much (MUCH) higher too!
The natural beauty and scale of the property is on full display nearly everywhere you look.
In a word: breathtaking, powerful, diverse, scenic, stunning, memorable, huge... OK, so that's more than a word. It's impossible to narrow down to just one adjective.
Owner & developer Duane Horton (Scenic Land Company) comments during a welcome round table discussion speaks to the diversity of the property.
"There are more botanicals in this county than there are in any other place in the United States." -Duane Horton
Simply put, you have to see in person to understand its power. Even the cart path routing would be a world class luxury hiking or biking trail that dips, dives, climbs and rides the expansive terrain that would probably be a national park if it weren't a golf course.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop/Practice Facilities
You can't talk about one with the other here. They're all connected and once completed, will form the hub of this expansive 1000-acre site.
The pro shop is basically a luxurious tiny house but has an inviting front porch overlooking the pyramids of white golf balls that line the practice range. While views of the neighboring mountains exist from the site now, they'll soon be obstructed by a lodge style clubhouse that will keep most of those views for itself.
The site of the clubhouse took the place of the old course's 18th green. It's under construction and scheduled to open next spring/summer. There are even special 'preview' membership options that feature reduced initiation fees if you join prior to the clubhouse being finished.
Since the 18th hole was shifted down mountain a ledge, it left a flat patch of fairway without a purpose. That left more than enough room for Bergin to design a six-hole short course for the site. 'The Cairn' Course is so much more than an amenity thanks to its flexibility.
Due to the vastness of the main course and the topsy-turvy routing, those looking for a quick round may find their way here instead of playing a few holes or a non-returning nine-hole round. It's the perfect golf playground on which to start or end your day!
So much can be said - and will be said - about the new 18th hole. All of it is due. All of it. Seeing photos of it during and after the construction on social media, we hypothesized that it could be the greatest inland finishing hole in the country.
Think about it for a second.
Sure, Pebble Beach and the Bandon courses are incredible, but they also have the coastline. Harbour Town is amazing, but it also has the marshes, the Intracoastal and the famed lighthouse. Liberty National is a eye-candy overload, but it is also as a coastal feel on New York Harbor, the Manhattan skyline and Lady Liberty herself.
Got one? Good. If not, that's ok, here's McLemore's...
Imagine if we had some clean skies or a sunrise (which would have come up right over the green!)??? Hard to argue, right? It's not just the view either. It's a stiff test - at give or take 400 yards depending on your choice of six tee box options - complete with an uphill finish and of course the cliff running the enter length of the hole.
It's a great hole, but there's more to this course than just one hole.
The course is laid out in three distinct sections and styles of hole: cliffs, canyons and highlands. The neat thing about it is you're constantly weaving through them and the variety keeps it interesting.
That leads to some long rides between holes, so make sure you get one of those tasty pimento cheese sandwiches before your round or at the snack shack. Again, that's not a bad thing here because of the vast beauty of the area.
Personally, I loved the starting trio of holes. Pars play 5-4-3 to begin the day and memorable shot values exist on all of them.
The first tee box on the course is marked with '575' plate only, perhaps to deter hacks like yours truly from planting a tee in the ground and firing one down the chute (just kidding, hooked it in the woods). Once you turn the corner to the mild dogleg, your first gift of the day is revealed in the form of an infinity green. Don't. Go. Long!
The second is the rare risk-reward par 4, giving you a tough choice on club selection. Either way you play it, there is going to be a 'risk' shot whether or not you're rewarded for it! Take an extra club if you've got the long iron heading into the green. Use the slope behind the green as a backboard - it's better to get stuck up there than the alternative shot!
The third is a nice breather hole (they're well-placed all throughout the course too). Short par 3 from an elevated tee just begging for an ace... but probably not yielding many. CRUSADER TIP: Take a peak to the left from your approach to number two to sneak a peak at the retaining wall supporting the green (see below right).
Other dynamic holes - many that would be signature holes elsewhere - litter the remainder of the course.
- Number six is a par five that will eat your lunch for you. - The par-3 seventh is a scenic beauty with tee boxes built like the terraces at Machu Picchu protruding from the hillside.
- The 13th plays as a reverse-Redan and has a definite Jones flavor...
- ...while the 15th leans towards Bergin's influence on strategy, bunkering and the chipping area behind the green.
Here's an appetizer of those holes running clockwise from top left on your desktop/tablet (or vertically on your phone).
However, outside the finisher, the penultimate hole was the one we'd build a course around given the canvas to start from scratch.
If the view from the tee doesn't give you an added shot of adrenaline, you're not a fan of mountain golf. These are the shots you dream about. Gently sloped downward towards the cliff from tee to green, the elevated tee shot should have no trouble rolling out to give you a poke at the green in two regardless of your tee selection (569 yards tipped out down to 376 from tee 'VI'). The width of the green-adjacent area is so forgiving you almost have no excuse not to let it rip.
Future plans may even call for some tree removal behind the green to maintain the view of the mountains the full length of the hole. We'll have to come back to see that! For now, see for yourself...
We'd followed the progress of this course since shovel one went in the ground. The renderings and vision for the property were too great to ignore. To see it come to life over the past year plus has been a treat. To play it at all would have been the whipped cream, but to play with the star power brought in for the grand opening was the cherry on top (as you might notice in some rare photos I post of myself, I do enjoy my milkshakes!).
Thanks and congratulations go out to all who made this project a reality. We certainly look forward to seeing the course again in the future.
And for those that fear they'll never get a chance to play it because it's private, fear not! They have on-site accommodations for stay-and-play golfers! Groups of four to fourteen can stay under one roof, with multiple rentals available to house larger groups.
If you're a mountain golfer, it's worth investigating for your next trip. With a gluttony of great golf courses available in the greater Chattanooga region, your Golf Crusade certainly plans on coming back - and (hopefully) quite often.
As always, bounce around the site and let us know if you need to know where you should be playing next - in or out of town!
Scroll down & enjoy a few more of the best shots from McLemore on Lookout Mountain!
McLemore (Main Course)
Round Table & Panel Discussion (click here to watch the video)
The Cairn Course (Short Course)
Played October 2019 Course numbers 447 and 448 on the Golf Crusade's journey towards 1000.