When you build a golf course in Gatlinburg TN, the terrain makes you adjust to a few realities. One of those realities is it’s hard to find room for a golf course in Gatlinburg.
As a result, many Gatlinburg courses are actually in Pigeon Forge.
Another reality? There’s a good chance you’re going to be hitting a ball up or down a mountain at some point.
And so hole No. 12, described as legendary and one of the most dramatic holes in the country on the Gatlinburg Golf Course website, presents a challenge not often faced outside of video games.
The ball is hit from the tee on top of a mountain to a green 194 yards out and 200 feet down.
My uncle was an avid golfer as was his buddy.
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As a result, one of TG’s hobbies was building his own clubs. On vacations, he and Mike would try to hit the best courses around. This time, in the mountains, they invited me along.
My golf experience was slightly less formal. A mildly athletic young man, I was – with the exception of a few tips here or there from people like my uncle – entirely self-taught.
Specifically, I learned how to golf with my friend Newman. We hit around the cheapest courses in East Tennessee. We were unburdened by some of the game’s more formal traditions.
If we played 18, had a couple of good shots and finished with as many balls as we started with, it made for a successful day.
Once in Loudon, TN, I was tracking an errant hit in the woods. I found a 9-iron that, I assume, some poor soul had chucked into the foliage. Since I found it, I hit with it. It had a heavier head than my 9-iron and I smashed the ball perfectly all the way to the green.
I probably should have turned the iron in at the pro shop. However, I didn’t feel like that club had landed all the way out in those woods by accident.
I kept it.
And for the next couple of years, it was my magic 9-iron. I had confidence in that club like none other. I won’t tell you my hit rate was perfect with that club but my success rate was significantly higher.
So when TG and I were up on the top of that mountain and he asked me, “What are you gonna hit?”
I didn’t hesitate.
“Nine?” he asked, amused. “There’s no way.”
“If I hit it well, I can put it on the green.”
“If you put it on the green, I’ll buy you a new car.”
So I pulled the Magic 9-iron from the bag and teed the best ball I had in my bag up just a little higher.
“You better muscle up,” TG said.
I did. In fact, I started the club high and brought it down with all I had. I cut through the air and connected with nothing.
And so, I whiffed.
Swing and a miss.
I took a little good-natured ribbing from TG and Mike and squared up again.
This time I kept my head down, felt that connection and heard the unmistakable sound of a well-struck golf ball.
Reader, I wish I could tell you I dropped that thing in the hole for the world’s most miraculous two. But I did not. The ball sailed a bit to the left, plopping down on the grass ten feet to the side of the green.
Afterward, we made it down the cart path where I chipped it close and two-putted for what should have been a completely forgettable double bogey.
I think about that day, almost 25 years ago, often, usually as we drive past the course on Dollywood Lane.
Over the years, I’ve played thousands of holes of golf.
None of them are good. Most of them are not especially memorable.
But I’ve found playing in the unique, picturesque courses in the mountains can make a mundane round memorable even 25 years later.
Golfing in the Great Smoky Mountains
You might be asking yourself why you would take the best golf courses advice of someone who on his best days was a hacker.
It’s a fair question.
In my younger days, I was friends with a couple of very good golfers and would visit the courses with them. Later, as a sports editor, it was my job to visit the most popular golf courses in the vicinity of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for competitions and fundraisers.
With my gratis golf carts, I’ve ridden up and down rolling hills of most of the best courses in Sevier County and the surrounding area.
So over the years, I’ve soaked in the scenic mountain views from the emerald fairways, dotted with blue water hazards. I’ve soaked up the scenic beauty of the natural landscape from public courses up and down East Tennessee.
And while I have enough respect for the game not to be taking divots from 18-hole championship courses, I know enough serious golfers to understand the unique golfing experience that the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains offer.
Let’s answer a few questions.
Is there golf in Gatlinburg?
Yes. The Bent Creek Golf Course is on the East Parkway in Gatlinburg.
There is also the Gatlinburg Golf Course, but it’s not in Gatlinburg.
In what town is the Gatlinburg Golf Course?
The Gatlinburg Golf Course is one of the best spots to play a beautiful 18-hole course and take in breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains at the same time.
It is, of course, located in Pigeon Forge.
Is Gatlinburg golf cart friendly?
Gatlinburg and Sevier County are not golf cart friendly.
Assuming you mean the golf course and not the town, then yes.
Golf carts are sometimes included in the rate. Honestly, considering the steep climbs and vertical drops, I think there are a lot of golfers who would not be able to navigate the course without the assistance of a cart.
So, what are the best courses to play in and around Gatlinburg?
5. Gatlinburg Golf Course
We’ve already discussed the beautiful Gatlinburg Gold Course. Open year-round with a fully-equipped pro shop, it is one of the more uniquely situated 18-hole courses in the region.
In addition to Sky Hi, the 529-yard par 5 known as Long Lane, it offers one of the best views I’ve ever seen on a golf course. The fairway runs between two lush and verdant hills. In particular, it’s comforting, almost like you couldn’t miss it if you tried.
Even though it is located at the edge of Pigeon Forge, much of the course doesn’t feel located right in the middle of a tourist town.
The course is currently undergoing an irrigation and drainage renovation. While the work is being done at the Gatlinburg Municipal Golf Course, reduced rates are available.
It’s a great way to get the lay of the land while saving a few bucks. To get a tee time, call the pro shop at (800) 231-4128. Under normal circumstances, I would probably rank this higher, but while the work is going on, I think this is the spot.
4. Bent Creek Golf Course
I have a soft spot for this course in Gatlinburg. In my earliest days as a sports editor, Tellico Plains High School held a couple of fundraisers at the Bent Creek Golf Resort.
Why you might ask, would they schedule an event more than two hours away, passing a dozen other courses on the route?
The event was hosted by Mike Stratton. He was a Tellico native who played football for the University of Tennessee and later the Buffalo Bills. Bent Creek was where Stratton and a handful of his UT buddies like Dewey Warren and Steve DeLong wanted to play. And that’s where they played.
The course itself was designed in 1972 by the legendary three-time Masters champion, Gary Player.
The course is up in the mountains itself. Therefore, the views from Bent Creek aren’t as spectacular as other public courses set in the Gatlinburg area.
The front nine is relatively open, running along the valley. In addition, the back nine offers a unique golfing experience of winding through the mountains.
3. The Sevierville Golf Club
With two separate 18-hole courses, the Sevierville Golf Club offers the best of both worlds.
The River Course, along the banks of the Little Pigeon River, offers a fairly wide course with sweeping mountain views. The Highlands Course, as you might expect, is shorter and tighter.
And also, it offers the challenge of playing up in the hills. Both courses are expertly maintained and offer great practice facilities to warm up before your round.
2. Island Pointe Golf Club
Also known as the River Islands Golf Club, this course is located in Kodak along the banks of the French Broad River. It features challenging holes that can provide a worthy adversary for scratch golfers and higher handicaps as well.
Playing just over 7,000 yards from the tips, Island Pointe boasts of greens that are supple and undulating. Honestly? Same.
In 2020, it was rated a Top 10 course in Tennessee by Golf.com.
Ultimately, I really think it depends on the season and personal preference which of these rate at the top. Each offers a unique golfing experience that highlights the bonuses and challenges of golfing in the mountains.
1. Wild Laurel Golf Course
Located in Townsend, Wild Laurel focuses on conservation and nature while providing one of the best golf courses in the region.
The course was designed by Edmund D. Ault, ASGCA. And it offers Bermuda fairways and bent grass greens.
Wild Laurel is an 18-hole, par 70 regulation course. There is a tavern on-site that features a full bar and cafe.
Here, it wouldn’t be unusual to spot wildlife such as deer, black bears or turkey, inspiring the wild name. Wild Laurel is Audubon International Certified, meaning they achieve the highest standards in environmental sustainability.
They also offer military discounts.
Do you have a favorite golf course in Gatlinburg? Let us know in the comments.