There was but one goal for my trip to The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tennessee. The sole thing I wished to accomplish for this trip was to simply not drive past the entrance to the club. That’s all . . . see the turn, make the turn. No u-turns . . . no mulligans. Easy, right?? Beautifully simple, yet inexplicably complex.
Every person I had talked to about The Honors Course had told me two things. First, that I must turn left at the giant propane tank and second, that I would miss the turn and drive right past the entrance. I really don’t see what is so difficult about this. Giant propane tank, left turn. Really, a six year old could handle this. I called Vegas before I left my hotel and the odds on me making the trip with NO u-turn was 45-1. Not very good.
Today my friend Rob from Columbia, SC would be joining me for the game at The Honors Course. He was in Atlanta on business so we met up Saturday morning and made the drive to Ootlewah (outside of Chattanooga) together. For most of the two hour trip precipitation fell pretty steadily. We were so certain it would continue throughout the day that we actually stopped at a Dick’s Sporting Goods outside of town and bought the dreaded rain gloves! When you’re on a trip to play a Top 100 course I’m a firm believer that regardless of weather you play the course as long as its open. As an Eagle Scout I still like to live life by the Scout motto of “Be Prepared”.
The time came to test my metal as a golf trip road warrior when we reached the road from which we would be turning into the club. Armed with a GPS, AAA directions printed from the internet and two fully awake, aware and alert navigators I didn’t think there was any way we were going to miss the turn. We missed the turn. I still don’t know what happened, but we missed the stinking turn. Damn Vegas and their odds!
Once we realized our error, got turned around and made the correct turn we got a preview of what to expect as we drove through the grounds on our way to the clubhouse. We definitely liked what we saw. The course looked fantastic.
At the clubhouse we found our host Brian. Five months earlier Brian had contacted me through my website and invited me to be his guest at The Honors Course any time. It has been my experience in this Top 100 quest that the type of person who extends an unsolicited invitation for a game of golf to a complete stranger is always an outstanding and fun person to spend 5-6 hours with. Brian was no exception to this rule. We had actually met the day before when I arranged for him to join me at Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta. I had a blast playing with him there and was looking forward to another game with him today. His wife had originally planned to join us as well but elected to skip it when the rain came in. Too bad, I would have like to have seen her game. She played college golf and has won the Women’s club championship at The Honors Course. Speaking of club champions, I would be remiss not to mention that Brian has held the Men’s club championship at The Honors Course as well. For their next trick I would like to see them hold the titles simultaneously.
The Honors Course is a Pete Dye designed golf course that opened in 1983. The course was founded by Coca-Cola bottler magnate Jack Lupton. The primary mission of the club is to honor amateur golf, hence the name The Honors Course. There has never been a professional event of any kind held here. In front of the clubhouse there is a monument to amateur golfers known as The Honors Circle.
By time we arrived the rain had subsided and we went inside to have a little lunch before starting our game. The clubhouse has a very cozy vibe to it sort of like a southern farmhouse. Add in some homemade potato chips and fried corn and you’ll find yourself uncertain if you’re at a Top 100 golf club or Grandma’s kitchen table. The locker room, grill and dining room all have a down home and welcoming country feel to them. It’s the type of place I’d like to hang out all day drinking beer and watching football even if I’m not playing golf.
After lunch we went directly to the first tee. The range was too wet to hit any warm up balls, but that’s fine by me. I’m a huge fan of the range when it comes to practicing, but don’t really feel the need to hit a bunch of balls before a game. When I do, I usually just end up wasting a bunch of good shots. On the way to the first tee we ran into Brian’s friend Jay who had wandered out and was looking to play a quick nine holes. He decided to join us for our first nine.
We elected to play from the blue tees which play 6630 yard and with the wetness of the course I suspect they played a bit more like 6800. There was not a whole lot of roll to be had out there after all the rain. The first hole is a par 4 of 380 yards from the blues. Its a slight dogleg left and if you can hit a nice draw that is the perfect tee shot. the photo below was taken from the tee.
The approach shot plays just slightly downhill. The photo below is where I hit my approach shot from after I sliced my drive into the right rough.
The 2nd hole is a par 5 that we played from 505 yards. Its takes a pair of very solid shots to get home in two on this hole as the uphill approach makes it play a little longer than the scorecard says. The photo below was taken from the tee box. Too far to the right and there are all kinds of bunkers to cause problems.
The photo below is of the second shot on this hole.
A good layup with leave a nice short iron into this elevated green.
The 3rd hole is a par 3 that we played from 180 yards. Despite the fact that I hit my first tee shot OB I loved this hole. Its a narrow chute and will be a mid to long iron for most players. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
The photo below was taken from the 4th tee which we played as a 425 yard par 4. The hole bends slightly to the right the best drive is a cut that starts out down the left edge of the fairway.
Below is a photo of the approach shot to the 4th green.
Another healthy par 4 awaits at the 5th tee box. This one we played from 410 yards. The best line is to aim over top of the right edge of the bunker and put a little cut on it to get it back to the middle of the fairway.
The approach shot on the 5th hole plays slightly uphill. When the flag is on the right as it is in the photo below the bunker in front will catch shots that come up short of the green.
The 6th hole is a par 5 that we played from 520 yards. Another par 5 that would require a couple of spectacular shots to get home in two.
Below is a photo of the second shot. the green looks tiny in the distance and the route to get there looks pretty narrow as well. From here I played this as a safe layup to leave about 120 yards to the flag.
By leaving myself this distance to the green I found my ball with a bit of a hanging lie for my third shot. The photo below is taken right in the 120 yard range.
The 7th hole is a 410 yard par 4 and the number 1 handicap hole. As shown in the photo below the hole sort of wraps around the lake with the drive requiring at least some water to be carried. If you go too far to the right the hole drops way off and you’re left with no view of the green for your second shot. Its pretty tough to knock it on the green in regulation if you get off to the right.
The photo below is of the approach to the 7th green. We were lucky with a flag location on the right because it takes the water on the left side of the green out of play for the most part.
The 8th hole is a par 3 that we played from 165 yards. Again, the flag location made the water a little less of a factor.
The 9th hole at The Honors Course has a little bit of history. This is the hole that Tiger Woods famously made triple on at the 1996 NCAA championships. For him it played as a 369 yard par 4. For us today it was playing as a 350 yard par 4. Its dangerous to hit driver here so all you really need to do is knock the ball about 220 yards down the middle. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
Below is a photo from the middle of the fairway. You can see a couple of balls up ahead in the fairway. A good drive here will leave about 100 yards in to the hole. I chunked my second shot into the water but I still managed to beat Tiger’s triple so I was happy about that.
The 10th hole is a par 4 that we played from 425 yards. The photo below was taken from the middle of the fairway. There is some pretty nasty bunkering on this hole.
The par 5 11th hole was played from 540 yards. Not much of a shot at getting home in two here for us mortals. I like the view from the tee box below.
For the second shot here you want to make sure to keep it to the right side of the fairway. fall off area on the left is not any place you want to be.
A good layup shot will leave a nice little short iron to the green on this hole as pictured below.
The 12th hole was one of my favorites. Its a short par 4 that we played from 340 yards. Brian encouraged us to hit 3 wood, but at that point in the match Rob and I were 3 down so I took a more aggressive line and hit driver. The line I took just skirted the left edge of the bunkers in the distance with a little cut on it. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
A drive on the most aggressive line will leave an approach less than 100 yards. My ball in the photo below required just 80 yards for the second shot.
And for my third shot just another 20 more. Oh well, those chunked shots always seem to show up at the most inopportune times.
The 13th hole is a par 4 that we played form 380 yards. The hole doglegs to the left a little bit so a draw is a good play here if you’ve got one.
A slightly uphill approach to the 13th green here.
There is an interesting little pot bunker on this hole behind the green. Its one of those ones that really makes you scratch your head. I’m sure not many people land in it but of those that do I suspect they don’t forget the experience. Brian said he’s only ever seen one person hit into it.
The 14th hole is yet another great par 3. We played this one from 135 yards. Your options here are hit it on the green or suffer consequences.
Here is a photo of the 14th green.
The 15th hole pictured below is a par 4 that we played from 420 yards. Clearly there is some water to be negotiated on the tee shot. Anything to the left sleeps with the fishes for sure.
The approach on 15 is no easier than the tee shot. Over the water again and anything to the left is dead. This is the number 2 handicap hole.
The last par 3 we played from 155 yards and as illustrated in the photo below it is all carry over water.
As we walked to the 17th hole I was adding my score up and realized that I had a chance to make a pretty good number. A couple of pars and I’d be in the house with something that I was pretty pleased with. While I was doing math in my head Brian was giving us the run down on the next hole, so I didn’t hear him say that this was a 470 yard par 5. Yes, 470 yard par 5. All I heard him say was to favor the left side of the fairway. I got up to the tee and ripped a snap hook into the brush on the left. Ugh. I ended up with a double on an easy par 5 that very well could have been a birdie. If only I had been listening and not adding I might have really collected myself and made sure I really seized the opportunity. Of course reality is that I probably was going to snap hook it no matter what I heard or didn’t hear. I just like to think of what COULD have happened. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
The second shot should be taken from about location in the photo below.
Here is a shot of the bunker on the left side of the green. Not an easy shot to knock it on the green from here.
After my meltdown on 17 I hoped to redeem myself with a birdie on the par 4 420 yard 18th hole. I hit my drive in the middle of the fairway and was left with the approach shot below.
Unfortunately, I carded a bogey from the middle of the fairway and played the last two holes 3 over and did not make a satisfying number. Oh well. Such is the game of golf. For a game that takes 4 hours it can all come unraveled in just a few seconds.
Overall, I loved The Honors Course. It has a sort of wild and wooly feel to it in places where it is likely that getting off the beaten path will result in a serious tangle with some unpleasant rough/brush. The course has a bunch of great holes that I really enjoyed and the club itself just had a great feel to it. This is definitely one of my favorite Pete Dye courses that I have visited and one I would certainly revel in the opportunity to go back to.