Holston Hills Country Club
Knoxville, Tennessee, United States of America
Greens Keeper: Ryan Blair
Located just east of Knoxville near the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Holston Hills is as well a preserved Donald Ross course as can be found. Built in 1927, Holston Hills immediately was recognized as the finest course in the state and hosted every important regional tournament, including a PGA Tour event.
Little has changed in the ensuing seventy plus years: the fairways are broad, the trees, though mature, remain back from play and once again, Ross chose to defend par at the green site. When the club engaged Tom Doak’s Renaissance Design in 1997, little was required. Renaissance assisted with the restoration of a handful of grass faced bunkers, convinced the board to thin some trees, and helped determine the mowing lines, including perimeters for the new USGA greens.
Why has Holston Hills avoided the same fate as so many Ross designs that have been tampered with by lesser architects who didn’t understand Ross’s design philosophy? Ironically, one reason is that the club is located on the ‘wrong’ side of Knoxville from a social point of view, and thus it never attracted the money/big budget normally associated with such a quality course and facility. Without superfluous money, the club has left well enough alone and the golf world is lucky indeed to have such a pure example of Ross’s design talent.
Students of Ross’s dozen or so finest works sight his ability to route eighteen holes over a piece of property in such a manner as to maximize the property’s finest natural features, all the while avoiding any forced or contrived holes. Such is most definitely the case at Holston Hills.
In fact, anyone interested in studying how Ross found the green sites and then worked backwards to find the best string of holes should come study Holston Hills. Situated on what was treeless farmland, the property features gentle movement with many natural land forms five to fifteen feet in height. By positioning the green sites on top of such hillocks, Ross created attractive targets that give the golfer plenty to think about in the fairway. Greens such as the third, sixth, eleventh, fifteenth, and sixteenth feature a fearsome amount of slope, given today’s green speeds. Elsewhere, Ross benched greens into up slopes such as at the ninth, twelfth and fourteenth greens and let the flow of the land create the challenge. From a strategic point of view, the golfer can tell in the fairway (and often from the tee) where he should leave himself in relation to the hole. Far too many modern courses have segmented greens that make no sense from the fairway, thus robbing the hole of strategic merit. Not so with a Ross course in general and with Holston Hills in particular.
As one strolls around the 150 acres, no distractions prevent one from enjoying his game. No holes have been modernized or incongruent features added. An overforced simplicity exists that allows one to enjoy his time with nature.
Holes to Note
Second hole, 415 yards; One of Ross’s few Cape holes, this one features a ‘bite off as much as you dare’ tee shot from one high bank across a lake to another (yes the lake was always there). The green is open in front and if the golfer has found the bermuda rough off the tee, he will have to bounce the ball onto the putting surface. Green Keeper Ryan Blair and his crew provide uniformly excellent fim conditions throughout the course. From the fairways, to the all important but oft overlooked area directly before the greens, to the putting surfaces themselves, Blair strives to make the course play quick. Seeing approach shots from the rough on this hole hit in the middle of the green only to roll off and down the back shaved bank is a good indication of the challenges that lie ahead.
Third hole, 405 yards; The bunker complex on the inside of this gentle dogleg is the exact sort that so many clubs have either removed all together or allowed the tree line to encroach to where the bunkers are no longer the principal hazard. Such is not the case at Holston Hills were the bunkers remain true to Ross’s intent.