Fall Creeks Falls, Paris Landing are must-plays
When it comes to accessible public golf in Tennessee, its state parks system has some of the most challenging and picturesque courses. Jack Nicklaus helped put Tennessee State Parks on the map with his Bear Trace. Nicklaus originally built five Bear Trace courses; three of them are still owned, operated, and maintained by Tennessee State Parks. However, as nice as the three Bear Trace courses are, the other six courses on the Tennessee Golf Trail are also excellent. Two of these are Fall Creek Falls and Paris Landing.
Just outside of Chattanooga, Fall Creek Falls State Park sits atop 29,800 acres sprawling acres on the eastern part of the rugged Cumberland Plateau. The park is one of America’s most scenic and spectacular outdoor recreation areas.
In 1972, the Tennessee State Parks commissioned renowned golf course architect Joe Lee to design a challenging 18-hole championship golf course. What Lee put together has been recognized several times by Golf Digest as one of the country’s Top 100 Public Places to Play, a truly remarkable feat. In 1998, the greens were rebuilt and restored to Joe Lee’s original plans and the drainage on all 71 bunkers was improved.
Fall Creek Falls: Natural splendor
The golf course at Fall Creek Falls, part of the Tennessee Golf Trail, has been designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International, one of only a handful in the state. All nine of the Tennessee State Park system’s Tennessee Golf Trail courses are Audubon Certified.
The golf course at Fall Creek Falls incorporates all of the beauty and splendor that the state park has to offer. With almost no parallel holes, it is an amazing experience in the great outdoors with wildlife sightings at every turn.
The course is carved out of densely forested woodlands and features rolling hills; what it lacks in water hazards, Fall Creek Falls Golf Course more than makes up for in trees and its 71 strategically placed bunkers.
The golf course can be played as short as 3,573 yards from the orange tees to 6,655 yards from the blues. At 6,356 yards, the white tees are a good challenge.
The 15th hole is Fall Creek Falls’s signature hole, measuring 414 yards. It requires a long drive to reach the corner of the dogleg left and then a mid-to-long iron approach shot to a green that sits at an odd angle and is protected by two bunkers on the left and one large bunker on the right.
Fall Creek Falls offers accommodations, too. The Lodge is brand new and combines the comforts of modern hotels with the peace and tranquility of the state park. It has 85 guest rooms that overlook Fall Creek Falls Lake. Guest rooms come in a variety of sizes and layouts, allowing you to customize your overnight arrangements. The lobby is full of information on things to do while there: hiking, paddle-boarding, zipline adventures, fishing, and, of course, golf.
The Restaurant at Fall Creek Falls offers a complimentary continental breakfast to lodge guests and is open seven days a week for both lunch and dinner. There’s also a full liquor bar thhat has several local and craft beers on tap.
Fall Creek Falls State Park is located an hour from Chattanooga and less than two hours from Nashville and Knoxville.
Paris Landing: Another Audubon-certified course
Paris Landing is another of the top Tennessee Golf Trail courses. For the past 27 years, Golf Digest has awarded the Paris Landing Golf Course 4 stars and has achieved Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary status. At Paris Landing, fairways are always well-groomed, and the Champion Bermuda greens were rebuilt in 2017 and roll fast and true.
The 18-hole championship golf course is laid out over 300 acres of hollows and hills along the western shores of Kentucky Lake, the largest man-made lake in the eastern United States.
The elevation changes and twists and turns incorporated into the course create a variety of holes. You’ll find several holes that play uphill; others play downhill. Some holes dogleg to the left, and some turn to the right. It’s a real shot-maker’s course.
Just like the course at Fall Creek Falls, most of the holes are tree-lined. There is not a lot of water on the course, except a couple of creeks that cross the fairway on a few holes.
The sparkling waters of Kentucky Lake certainly add to the course’s aesthetics; several holes skirt this mammoth lake, including No. 4, a 177-yard par 3 that plays extremely downhill with trees on either side of the tee and a bunker on the right. The lake serves as the backdrop for the stunning par 3, which is certainly one of the most photographed holes in the state.
Paris Landing has a new 91-room lodge with several different room types. Each room also has a private balcony or patio with terrific views of the lake. Lodge guests have access to all of the outdoor patio spaces including two fire pits.
The restaurant at Paris Landing offers indoor and outdoor seating, an extensive menu and a full bar.
These are just two of several great golf courses within the Tennessee State Parks. For information on any of the Tennessee State Park golf courses, go to tnstateparks.com/golf.
David Theoret is an Alabama Golf News contributor who has previously written about the best courses in Biloxi, Miss.
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Featured image of No. 4 at Paris Landing by David Theoret