Chattanooga in Tennessee is famed for many things: the internationally renowned Chattanooga Choo Choo by Glen Miller, it being the site of a few critical battles in the US Civil War, but also (and most interestingly for us) it's where you'll find a little gem of a nine-hole golf course that has developed somewhat of a cult following over the years.
The golf course in question is Sweetens Cove. Viewed by many as one of the best golf courses in America, and arguably the best nine-hole course in the world, its charm is in its simplicity. This is stripped-back golf at its finest, and the course looks like an absolute blast.
Far removed from the luxury of many other better-known golf courses in the country, it's a quiet, unassuming place with no expansive clubhouse and no driving range, but don't be fooled into thinking it's just any old nine-hole course.
Sweetens Cove is simply the best nine holes of golf you have never played.
Back in the day, the area tucked into the foothills of Appalachia was home to Sequatchie Valley G&CC.
The municipal facility had an unimaginative layout, flat terrain in what is essentially a floodplain, and a substandard drainage system. It generally suffered from a lack of investment and was not exactly held in high esteem compared to other courses in the area.
There was no mistaking the potential of the land, and one man who immediately saw the endless possibilities for the old property was Sweetens Cove's enigmatic architect Rob Collins.
With his partner Tad King, Collins planned a complete overhaul of the site, and after a few years of redevelopment, a brief hiatus in the build and over $1M spent, it reopened in 2014 under the new name of Sweetens Cove.
Gradually, more and more golfers were awakening to the majestic allure of the newly formed 9 holer. It wasn't long before news spread to social media, and the course built an army of cult followers who continue to spread the word to this day.
If we're being exact, the course at Sweetens Cove is actually located approximately 30 minutes west of Chattanooga. It's a course which benefits from the beautiful backdrop of the Sequatchie Valley and where every facet of your golf game will get a thorough examination.
Despite its inland setting, it has a rolling links-style feel, while a few golf writers have also commented that the course is reminiscent of the original version of Augusta National.
Each shot on the golf course presents a unique challenge. You don't need to be a bomber off the tee, thanks to firm fairways and a 9-hole length totalling 3,301 yards. This is very much a thinker's golf course!
The design requires accuracy on approach to the green and creative shot-making when you find yourself out of position.
The wide fairways mean you have a good chance of keeping it in the short stuff, but if you're focused on scoring well, finding the right spot to land your ball on the green is imperative, for the roll of the ball can take you to all sorts of unintended traps.
Those putting surfaces are devilish, with humps, bumps and hollows everywhere. If you manage to hold the green with your approach shot, you'll rarely be left with a flat, straight putt, and the risk of degreening is real and will menacingly hang over you until you make your final putt of the day. Combine that with the fact that some holes are comfortably drivable, and you have a recipe for true risk/reward.
As you'd expect, there's intelligently placed bunkering scattered through the property to keep you on your toes. A few of these can be particularly tricky to escape from - not least the 'Lion's Mouth' bunker on the par-4 fifth hole, you know when the trap has earned itself a name, it's probably best not to head in there.
Double-flagged greens mean that you can easily play at least a full 18-holes. It's also possible to play from sun up to sun down. And trust us, this is the type of course that will require multiple plays to get a grip of. Larger groups will often book the course for the entire day - using the all-day pass - and play as many holes as they can physically manage.
An experience like no other
If you manage to secure a tee time at Sweetens Cove, you're in for an experience like no other. You can almost see the entire golf course laid out before you as you down your celebratory shot of whiskey, available for all first-timers on the first tee.
Even before you send your tee shot soaring (avoiding the ominous tree left of the back tee), you feel that something a little different is happening here.
The course has an authentic charm which will leave you wanting more. We've read many stories of golfers falling in love with Sweeten Cove after just a few holes of their first nine. The playful nature of its atmosphere and green sites become more than just a little bit endearing to those golfers used to target golf.
Included in that category are Payton Manning and Andy Roddick. After playing the course, both men joined a team of new investors to help secure the course's financial future and ensure it remains a rare, magical place to be protected, preserved and shared.
If you happen to live in Tennessee or any other US state for that matter, it's a no-brainer: get your buddies together and get a trip booked at Sweetens Cove.
Those a little farther-flung might need more time to put together a US golfing trip of a lifetime together. Still, if you manage to stop by this beautiful nine-holer near Chatanooga, you'll be rewarded with memories that will last forever.
Interested in discovering more Golf Courses?
Check out our recent blog here highlighting the surreal Lofoten Links.