THE PATCH - A Gamechanger for Growing Golf
First off, we love short courses. If you're trying to reach a goal of playing 1000 courses, they're your best friend. However, there just aren't that many of them around - let alone good ones!
Thankfully, that trend is changing.
High-end resorts like Pinehurst, Bandon Dunes, Sand Valley, and others capitalized BIG TIME on this trend within the last five years or so. It's such a smart play for those guys! Short courses add so much fun to a trip, a day, or just the end of a round.
Well, when people return home after a trip to one of those places, they have golf withdrawal. We had such a high level of it after playing The Cradle (Pinehurst) and Bottlebrush (6-hole short course at Longleaf Golf & Family Club in neighboring Southern Pines, NC), that we set out to add a short course to an empty patch of grass at Dooner's local Muni.
While COVID-19 and some unimaginative and unnamed politicians ultimately decided a 220-yard driving range with 5 portable targets would be a better use for the area (really??? still not over that one obviously), we learned of another short course project being built in East Tennessee, yet for an entirely different purpose than a high-end golf playground or a youth golf cornerstone.
If you haven't had the pleasure, please allow us to introduce you to The Patch. This 12-hole short course designed by Bill Bergin at The Preserve, a growing, 1400-acre community about four miles off I-40 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The Preserve has a 'town center' that grabs your eye as you drive in. It houses the welcome and fitness centers, a resort style pool and likely much more in the future. However, The Patch is the true centerpiece of this development.
If you're a World War II history buff, you might know Oak Ridge as one of the most secretive places in the world. Due to it's role in the Manhattan Project, Oak Ridge is basically the birthplace of the Atomic Age. Stands to reason why everything in 'The Secret City' was guarded so closely.
No more secrets! Time to let the cat out of the bag about Oak Ridge's latest one...
The Patch is freaking awesome and it's open to the public!
In addition to the course, The Patch has it's own little clubhouse with a pro shop and indoor hitting bay, firepit, balcony, short-game practice area, putting green and a 300 yard driving range.
Ok, enough of the other stuff. What about the course?
Any good golf course - much like a good book or movie - must tell a great story. There are ups and downs, chapters and characters, pit falls and glory. The Patch contains them all. Since this story only has twelve holes to tell it's tale, it must build a little quicker than a traditional course.
That said, we feel The Patch is a story of four chapters, each containing three holes and a theme. Since the course didn't name the holes, we'll claim naming rights on the chapters at least!
And since we're in Tennessee, which of course provides America's Soundtrack, we'll provide a song recommendation for you to play on your Bluetooth speaker while playing/reading each Chapter!
Chapter I - Head & Shoulders
"You never get a second chance to make a good first impression."
To our grandfathers, it was a phrase coined by the vaudeville star & early Hollywood icon. To us, it was the marketing campaign for Head & Shoulders in the 80s. Either way, the first impression (Chapter I) at The Patch is a memorable one.
While only the initial green is visible uphill from the first tee, the rest of the opening trio of holes is unveiled once the green is summitted. Escape the tricky perched green on the first with a par and you're in business! Bunkers are a rare sight here (they're mostly just to keep your ball from careening off a cliff), but the second hole is home to one of the four thanks to its short length and flat grade.
The third hole stares at you the entire time you play the second hole - much in the same way a slice of cheesecake does during a plated business luncheon. You eye it with anticipation while your salivary glands work overtime to breakdown your meal just a little bit faster than normal.
Why? Because you want that cheesecake!
On most short/par 3 courses, #3 at The Patch would be a signature hole. If you're adrenaline isn't pumping yet, it will be after the short walk up the hill to the opening shot of Chapter II.
Chapter II - Rock Bottom
The walk out to the 4th tee is such a great reveal. It might not be the highest point on the course, it just feels that way thanks to the 20-mile mountain vista in the distance. It's also from here that Watts Bar Lake makes an appearance beyond Chapter II's trinity of downward tee shots & greens.
The 4th and 5th holes don't play all that different. Similar sized greens and lengths deal with likely the strongest wind conditions on the property thanks to the exposed western hillside.
Together, they make a great visual team. No matter their collective might, they're no match for the main character in this story. How you play the 6th will determine if your story turns out to be a harrowing one of triumph or a tragedy of lost opportunity (and balls).
Chapter II takes it's name from this hole of course - the lowest part of the course playing across a quarry to a narrow ridge that has death all around. It is nearly green or bust here, but only if you care about your score.
Holes like this are so rare enough that playing them are reward enough. Score be damned the first time around. It's ok to be in awe and take pictures!
The signature sixth - to us at least - raises the most interesting question of all about short courses, this one in particularly though... How far would you drive (or go out of your way) to play this course (or 'fill in the blank' short course)?
We ask because The Patch sits right at two hours for us (Dooner). You will likely want to pair it with another course when coming that far, since four hours is a big round trip to play twelve par three holes. But, does the chance to tee it up on this hole change that equation? We knew something like this existed here from construction photos that Bill shared on his Instagram, just not to this level of awesomeness. We don't know what it does for you, but if you're ever travelling between Nashville and Knoxville and have 60-90 minutes to kill, kill them here!
[SIDE NOTE: @bergingolf is a great follow for fans of GCA and the construction/renovation process. Bill gives thoughtful insight to his process on the ever expanding roster of courses he works with and responds to just about every inquiry that's posted. Bill is also the author of other such short courses like Bottlebrush at Longleaf, The Cairn at McLemore & even came to review our site/project at Pine Oaks for us while in town working on another project.]
If you chose to ride, you'll have to ditch the cart (paved path all the way around), and hoof it out along the quarry rim to the 6th green, then back up to the 7th tee where Chapter III begins.
Chapter III - Climb to Safety
Holes 7 through 9 bring you up out of the depths of the quarry in a contrasting way to your first six holes. The 7th begins your journey out of the depths with your steepest uphill shot of the day. Playing parallel to the cliff edge to your left, there is ample room to find the semi punchbowl-esque greenscape and escape with par (or better).
The 8th is the shortest on the course at just over half a hundy, but you're still far from safety. The entire hole is surrounded by rock outcroppings and boulders. Putter would be in play from the tee for uber-creative players, if not for some deftly placed boulders fronting the teebox.
Still, a little wedge chip over them on the right line will feed right down into the green setting up another birdie chance. Nerves required on Chapter III's show-stealer, as these views fore & aft dictate.
The 9th is less treacherous and yields another good scoring chance. A pretty forgiving Reverse Redan (with a only a slightly longer rough cut versus a typically menacing right front bunker) from about 100 yards allows you to build towards a strong finish.
Chapter IV - Out of the Woods
For the severity of the property, the transitions from green to tee are very smooth and very old school. This is a walker friendly course all the way around. Fans of Golden Age architecture will dig this place. A short walk across the short grass from 9 green to 10 tee is bisected by the cart path without a rough cut. A very unappreciated detail in our eyes.
The final chapter opens quietly with an eighty yard shot to a long but narrow green. A hillside looms ominously to the right of the green, foreshadowing what might lie ahead ever so slightly. After you make your par, you've got this to contend with just to reach the penultimate hole:
If the boulders are too much for you that day, there's an alternate tee box at the bottom of the hill. From there you've got a level 70 yard shot while the elevated tee offers one from 92. Make hay here. You're about to be faced with a lot of it.
The final battle take places on a short, downhill 69 yard hole with trouble everywhere coming out of the forest. Tall native grasses line both sides of what 'fairway' exists. While you can see the stick, you can't see the path to it for running shots.
You can also see trouble right in a bunker, with long and left killing all shots in their directions thanks to the steep embankment running off the putting surface. To add to the challenge, the lower shelf of the two-tiered is in the back to defend against the ground game if you're too bold in your approach speed.
And since it's truly a loop, 12 green walks off right back on to 1 tee. Take what you've learned and go do it better!
In short, PLAY IT! It's so damn fun! This is not your typical par 3 or short course. And yes, we differentiate between the two. We say that now because The Patch is honestly the most difficult course to classify that we've ever played.
It's a short course in the sense you can walk it with 3 clubs, no bag and a few balls in your pocket. Only two holes even have a tee that extends to more than 100 yards, yet one still provides a shorter option for those that want/need it and the other plays far shorter due to elevation drop.
It's also a par 3 course in the way its built. Short courses don't have paved cart paths and top of the line carts available. You also don't see 'stand-alone' short courses very often. Usually a short course is attached to a club/resort with a regular course as the main attraction.
The course uses "alternative" golf facility as its descriptor. In our year-end 'best of lists', we always choose a winner for Best Alternative Golf Facility. It'll certainly be a contender - if not the front runner - for that fake award.
Regardless of how you choose to describe it, The Patch is a course you want to play. If it is too far away for you to make it there, then its the type of course you want to see built in your town! This kind of course is how you grow the game. It will allow new players the chance to experience an amazing course in a relaxed environment and certainly allow senior players the chance to keep on playing the game they love well into their later years.
For us, we're keeping this one on the list to do again! Here's hoping we continue seeing more of these places pop up around the country!
Golf will be better for it.
Your Golf Crusade