The Tennessee Golf Trail and the Bear Trace is a collection of golf courses spread across the state from Pickwick Landing in the west to Kingsport in the east. In the fall is a great time to play these courses, when the colors bring a whole new and stunning dimension to what are arguably the best layouts in Tennessee.
The Trail itself includes three of the original Bear Trace, Jack Nicklaus Signature courses, plus six more so-called "traditional" courses. All of them, including the other two Bear Trace courses, are located in Tennessee State Parks, which means that all can be played for less than $60, even on weekends (most can be played for $35 Monday through Friday).
The Tennessee Golf Trail/Bear Trace is Tennessee's answer to the Robert Trent Jones (RTJ) Golf Trail in Alabama. Is it as good? Maybe, if you compare the early Jack Nicklaus signature designs with those of RTJ.
Six Traditional Golf Courses in the Tennessee Golf Trail
The Tennessee State Park System states that "We have combined the good nature of Tennessee with the talent of outstanding course designers like Jack Nicklaus and Joe Lee to create the Tennessee Golf Trail. Our nine Trail courses offer exceptional golf experiences, and the natural beauty found only at Tennessee State Parks." And, of course, that's all true, and then some.
There's no doubt that these golf courses are set amid some of the most stunningly beautiful real estate in the Southeastern United States. The six "traditional" courses—especially Fall Creek Falls State Park—is an area of great natural beauty, and to find a golf course, especially one designed by Joe Lee, on such a spectacular location is a real treat.
The Bear Trace Golf Courses
The Bear Trace itself is unique in golf course design in that it's a collection of five, Jack Nicklaus Signature championship golf courses, and all are a part of the Tennessee State Park System; five stunning golf courses designed by the master himself.
The Bear Trace at Chickasaw, Henderson—30 minutes south of Jackson—was recently named "One of the Top Ten You Can Play" by Golf Magazine. Heavily wooded, it's fraught with traps and hazards that include the cruel and unusual use of its natural marshes with a creek that meanders into play on seven of the nine finishing holes.
The Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain, Crossville, part of the Tennessee Golf Trail, is the most popular of the five courses in the Trace. It, too, was named "One of the Top Ten You Can Play" by Golf Magazine in 1999.
The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay, Chattanooga, is a popular favorite. At 7,140 yards, it's the longest course on the Trace, and maybe the toughest.
The Bear Trace at Tims Ford, Winchester, is part links, part rolling hills, and a course where Nicklaus caters to his somewhat morbid love of the bunker.
The Bear Trace at Ross Creek Landing, Clifton, is an alien land of marshes, creeks, and a river. Jack worked hard here to preserve the natural environment. The result is a course that looks almost as old as time itself.
But the Bear Trace experience goes far beyond its fairways and greens. Exceptional hospitality, impeccable service, an overall ambiance, and a sweet sense of solitude and tranquility that is difficult to match with anywhere else.
Where to Stay
- Chapel Hill (Henry Hall): Horton Inn. Call for reservations: 1-800-250-8612.
- The Inn at Pickwick Landing. Call for reservations: 1-800-250-8615.
- Chattanooga, TN (Harrison Bay): The Chattanoogan Hotel. Call for reservations 423-756-3400.
- Tim's Ford State Park Cabin Rentals. For reservations call 1-800-471-5295.
- Bear Trace State Park Cabin Rentals: Call the Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain. Call 1-800-250-8618.
How to Get There
The Tennessee Golf Trail and the Bear Trace are served by the following major airports: Nashville (BNA), Chattanooga (CHA), Memphis (MEM), Knoxville (TYS) and The TRi-Cities (TRI). All are served by almost all major U.S. airlines, including Southwest (Nashville and Memphis), United, Delta, and American.
Beyond The Tennessee Golf Trail and the Bear Trace, you might wish to explore new horizons, like the golf courses in Scotland, Florida, Scottsdale (Arizona), Bermuda, the Bahamas, all over the Caribbean, Mexico, and many more.