The Tennessee Golf Trail and the Jack Nicklaus Bear Trace

Golf course
  Dougal Waters/Getty Images 

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. I've played each and every one of them, and I can tell you that the best time to play them is in the fall 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 Golf Trail in Alabama. Is it as good? Maybe, if you compare the early Jack Nicklaus signature designs with those of RTJ.

The 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 9 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 nine golf courses are set amid some of the most stunningly beautiful real estate in the Southeastern United States. The six "traditional" courses especially so - 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.

Fall Creek Falls, Pikeville, TN

Henry Horton, Chapel Hill, TN

Warrior's Path, Kingsport, TN

Pickwick Landing, Pickwick Dam, TN

Paris Landing, Buchanan, TN

Chickasaw Golf Course
 Chickasaw Golf Course

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 and 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, part of the Tennessee Golf Trail, is my personal favorite. At 7,140 yards, it's the longest course on the Trace, and maybe the toughest.

The Bear Trace at Tims Ford, Winchester, part of the Tennessee Golf Trail, 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 river. Jack worked hard here to preserve the natural environment. The result is a new 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 I've yet to the match for anywhere else.

The Chattanoogan Hotel
 The Chattanoogan Hotel

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 or 731-689-3135
  • Chattanooga, TN (Harrison Bay): The Chattanoogan Hotel
  • 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 888-800-2327.
The Tennessee Golf Trail
Tennessee State Parks 

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 US airlines, including Southwest (Nashville and Memphis), United, Delta, Continental, US Air, and American.

Beyond The Tennessee Golf Trail and the Bear Trace you might wish to explore new horizons, like these: Scotland, Florida, the American SouthwestBermuda, the Bahamas, all over the Caribbean and Mexico and many more. For up-to-date golf travel news and information, be sure to Subscribe to my weekly Newsletter.

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