Modern golf clubs follow a set formula. You see the entrance. Find the bag drop. Shed your clubs. Park. Change your shoes. Find the pro shop. Look at merchandise. Pay green fees. Find the cart. Hit the range. Roll some putts. Find the starter. Proceed 1 through 18 at a pace dictated by the other groups. Return your cart. Grab an optional drink. Pack up and move along with your day. Return the next day and you’re placed on the same production line.
Not all golf experiences have to be that way. Enter Sweetens Cove Golf Club.
Sweetens Cove’s artistic and edgy spin on classic architecture has received numerous accolades, including a rank of #50 in Golfweek’s Best 2018 Modern Courses, a seven on the Tom Doak scale (“an excellent course”) by Ran Morrissett, and features in The New York Times and The Golfer’s Journal (No. 2).
The Sweetens Cove course is a special experience, one that can be only captured by seeing it for yourself.
When you make the pilgrimage to South Pittsburg, TN, you can be promised an experience ripe with personality on and off the course. Sweetens Cove truly goes back to golf’s roots; it is deconstructive, it is far from the production line, and doesn’t have the amenities typically associated with a top 100 course. Instead, the course is natural in all its surroundings, making it truly remarkable.
From the moment you lay eyes on the property until the last shot hit during the golden hour, no experience will ever be like your first time at Sweetens Cove.
My first Sweetens Cove experience with my Dad
5:05 PM. Blow by the Sweetens Cove entrance sign. Turn around. Park in the unmarked clubhouse yard beside the “range” mat.
5:07 PM. We are greeted...by a post-it note with a phone number to call. Today’s clubhouse worker Spencer picks up. “I’ll be right up.”
5:10 PM. Spencer comes tearing up #9, jumps out of the cart before it stops, and looks at us with a big smile. I know immediately that Sweetens is not your typical golf club and we spend the next 30 minutes porch talking golf, life, and Sweetens.
5:30 PM. Our original tee time.
5:40 PM. I suggest we continue the conversation on the course, asking Spencer if he would like to replace the post-it note and join us for our 9. “We have time for at least 18. Let’s go.”
We move into the clubhouse to pay. There is no merchandise. Your purchase options are golf and a few choice beverages from the clubhouse fridge that reminds you of that in your parent’s garage. The green fee paid feels like a suggested donation to a public park existing for our enjoyment. We load up the carts and head to the first, a nearly empty course awaiting.
5:45 PM. We play 9 using the standard set of tees. Our second 9 has Spencer introduce us to a subset of the alternative routings, unveiling a course with seemingly unlimited options.
8:15 PM. Our dinner reservation in Chattanooga. We couldn't care less that we have missed it.
8:30 PM. Despite Spencer’s best efforts to keep us playing, we pack it in so he can head home and we can find our Chattanooga Airbnb. We have a 7:30 AM tee time. Spencer insists that we arrive before 7:00 AM in order to see the morning light.
9:00 PM. We leave the clubhouse porch with the sun casting its last rays on the course. See you tomorrow, Sweetens.
5:30 AM. I awake 30-minutes prior to my alarm. Sweetens, let’s do this.
6:45 AM. This time we’re ready for the entrance turn. Spencer and another man is waiting on the porch.
7:00 AM. “Hey guys, I’m Rob.”
Rob Collins, the course co-architect, joins us on the porch. His commitment to Sweetens is immediately apparent as we discuss the property history and our game the evening prior.
A group of Sweetens members arrive followed by a group of first-timers. The members do anything but hide their love for Sweetens in all of its nuance.
7:20 AM. No longer able to contain our excitement, Dad and I tee it 10-minutes early.
8:50 AM. We finish our first 9, enjoy a beer on the porch, and turn for our second 9.
10:30 AM. We finish our second 9, and join a crew of golfers on the porch for a beer and golf talk. Spencer introduces us to his Dad, Stu. Stu expresses his love for Sweetens. At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised.
11:00 AM. Our third 9. Stu joins while Dad spectates.
12:30 PM. We finish our third 9. Time for lunch. The good Subway.
1:30 PM. The fourth 9 commences.
Our sixth loop through the routing in the last 21 hours and we remain presented with new and compelling shots. No hole is weak. Every hole is intriguing.
Dad makes a “hole-in-one” par on Sweeten’s 9th-hole rendition of a Redan. What a day, and there’s still more.
2:50 PM. We join the company of an 8-some of members and friends on the course. We watch them play a few holes, with the members opening up our eyes to strategies and options developed over years of experience.
3:50 PM. We find an open spot on the course and play in. No drivers, no wedges, alternative tee boxes.
5:00 PM. Our fifth 9. This time forward tees only, presenting appealing half-pars chock-full of risk-reward decisions.
6:30 PM. We finish our fifth 9. I leave the 9th green unable to think of a better executive course. Dad reminds me of Goat Hill Park, which is a fair comparison in experience and enjoyability.
Dad’s battery is running on empty and the humidity has added what seems like 20 lbs. to my waistline.
7:00 PM. It’s amazing what two beers and more porch conversations can do to men. Let’s get that sixth 9 of the day.
8:30 PM. I tap-in for birdie on my last shot of the weekend while dad rolls in a snake for par. Dad and I share a handshake, a hug, and the two biggest smiles in Tennessee.
As Dad and I finish a drink and watch the closing moments of daylight from the clubhouse porch, we find it difficult to pull ourselves away from Sweetens.
79 holes. 28 hours. And countless “Hey what if I hit it over there” attempts. I couldn’t help but think, what will I create the next time?
A great club makes you feel like it’s yours from the moment you see its weed-covered entrance sign. There is no production line to hop on and follow to its end. There are no eggshells to avoid breaking. There are no paint-by-number templates to restrict you. A great club presents a blank canvas, leaving the experience to the golfer’s creation and design. A great club gives the golfer a sense of ownership and accomplishment. A great club says simply, “it’s yours.”
By Kevin Moore