The Honors Course
Tennessee, United States of America
Ninth hole, 370 yards; A hole of uncommon difficulty despite its length, the green slopes from right to left toward the lake. Trying to steer his approach and avoid the water on the left, Justin Leonard missed the 9th green to the right by four yards. Upon seeing his opponent in a similar situation chip across the green and into the water, Leonard wedged his ball 90 yards back into the fairway, wedged onto the green, two putted and won the hole! The Dyes provide a generous fairway but then they make you hit this green – or else.
Eleventh hole, 560 yards; A favorite design feature of the authors, this three shotter rewards the golfer who can advance the ball as long down the fairway in two as possible. Such golfer has a clear look down the length of the green while his opponent, if he has strayed at all, will be forced to flirt with a pair of deep bunkers. Architects must reward the better golfer with some advantage for having played two well struck shots on a par five. Dye used a similar strategy to effect at the 7th hole at The Medalist in Florida but the Tennessee landscape makes this a more appealing hole.
Twelfth hole, 355 yards; The master of the short/medium length two shot hole has done it again. The prettiest hole on the course plays toward the far hillside with the green in its own pocket, perfectly situated on a hummock and guarded by six bunkers. However, its real defense is the cleverly sloped left to right green which places a premium on keeping the approach beneath the hole.
Fourteenth hole, 155 yards; Originally a waste area stretched from green to tee but that has wisely been replaced by native grasses. The horseshoe bunker that guards the front third of the long green makes any up and down unlikely. Finding such a challenging one shotter that is only 155 yards from the back markers and has no water is an infrequent delight.
Fifteenth hole, 445 yards; Compare this hole withthe home holeat the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and one can appreciate why The Honors Course remains a joy for its members to play on regular basis: Pete Dye provided a bail-out area for the approach shot. Off the tee, there are similarities but at TPC you must hit the green or best case, face a brutal up and down. Here, the weaker golfer can bail toward the right and has a reasonable chance of a chip and putt par. The hole still remains highly satisfying for the Tiger who must shape a perfect draw into the green. The Dyes struck a perfect balance for all golfers with this one.
Eighteenth hole, 455 yards; Dye designed the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and Long Cove immediately before The Honors Course. Lupton repeated on numerous occasions to the Dyes that he wanted a straightforward course or as Pete Dye describes it ‘a formidable golf course but one that held the line when it came to trickery.’ There would be no manufactured blind shots ala the fifth at Long Cove here. The gentle dogleg to the right eighteenth characterizes the natural, honest nature of The Honors Course as well as any other hole as it flows across the rolling terrain.
Imagine playing this course when it first opened in 1983. Seeing limestone edged lakes right beside the fairway and greens ala 7, 8, 9, 15, and 16 would have been both startling and terrifying all at once. Almost twenty years later, such use of water hazards flush against the playing surfaces is more commonplace. While the ninth and fifteenth are among Dye’s finer, the water holes are no longer what lingers the most in the golfer’s mind. What truly separates The Honors Course from so many courses is the texture within the other holes that David Stone has created over a seventeen year period of closely working with nature.
The Honors is a throwback to the Pine Valleys and Oakmonts where autocrats once saw to it that things were done once and done right. Jack Lupton was friends with Bob Jones and Jones’s views on amatuer golf shaped much of Lupton’s thoughts on the subject. If alive today, Jones would no doubt be struck by the natural presentation of The Honors Course – and instruct his folks in Augusta to promote more of the same.