Black Creek Club

6,586 yards, 130 slope from the Blues

Course:  A brisk eleven hour drive southwest of Philadelphia puts you in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the Black Creek Club resides.  Black Creek was designed by Brian Silva and opened in 2000.  From those that read my review of Red Tail know, I am a big fan of Silva, as his creativity and adherence to classic architecture fit my eye fairly well.  The history of the course is interesting.  Nearby Lookout Mountain Golf Club was designed by Seth Raynor, but after years of revisions, many of the Raynor characteristics and routing were phased out.  Fast forwarding to many years later, a Lookout Mountain member named Doug Stein began a campaign to restore the course to how it was originally designed by Raynor and ultimately hired Silva to assist with the restoration.  The restoration was a success (as will be seen in a future review).  Stein wasn’t finished, however, as he began thinking of developing another course in the area that possessed the famed Raynor/C.B. MacDonald template holes.  Alas, Black Creek was born, a Raynor/MacDonald tribute course that just happened to be one of my favorite courses to play in 2015.

Black Creek includes the template holes, but injects modern aspects of course design to give the course a unique sense of character.  Many of the holes are immense in scale and several of the hazards and contouring contrast sharply and/or are prominent in comparison to the rest of the hole.  The course is set at the base of Lookout Mountain, so there is some elevation changes, yet the course also rises and falls with the dramatic mounding.  The geometric features of greens, bunkers and ridges that I love in Raynor’s designs are present here as well.  The greens can get on the larger side, which makes putting more challenging than usual.  While challenging, the course allows for alternate lines of play and is manageable for a wide range of skill levels, yet does provide an opportunity for the heroic shots for those that want them.  Really, it was my kind of course.  The design features were visually appealing, the holes were both distinct yet flowed together to maintain balance and the play allowed for a variety of approaches and usually provided an opportunity to recover over doling out penalty strokes.

I was part of an outing for the weekend in the Chattanooga area and had the fortune of playing Black Creek, which is private.  I had also never played in Tennessee before, so I was able to get one step closer to my goal of playing all 50 states.  After driving down the day before, it began raining literally as soon as I pulled into my hotel and continued through most of the night into the morning.  We were scheduled to play 36 holes that day, so soldiered through the rain, which at one point became a torrential downpour, cutting the first 18 holes into 9.  Things finally lightened up and we were able to play another 18.  Despite the wet conditions, the course held up rather well and good times were had. I’d still love to play this course in drier conditions, as I think it would completely change how you would approach each hole.

The First is a 402 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  The hole is named, “Double Plateau,” for its double plateaued green.  The tee shot is to a fairway set below the tee area and there is a larger fairway bunker on the right, just waiting for your ball.  Hit over it or around it, but not in it (like yours truly).  The green is set above the fairway, but there is a large opening from the fairway on the front.  Another larger bunker resides on the right side of the green, which should be avoided (unlike yours truly; yep, bunker to bunker).  With Lookout Mountain in the background and prominent bunkers and a rolling green making this hole attractive with a little challenge, it’s a nice handshake.

The First
Approach shot territory

The Second is a 413 yard par 4.  The hole dog legs right with a bunker below the fairway on the right side.  There’s also a bunker on the left side of the fairway that makes the approach semi-blind if close behind it.  The green is reminiscent of the Road hole at St. Andrews, as there is a drop off area to the right and hazard cutting the back of the green.  The challenge ramps a little from the First, but there are ample opportunities for recovery on mis-hits.

The Second

Approach shot territory (the pin is just left of center)

The Third is a 152 yard par 3.  This is the “Short” Hole, with the elevated tee to the raised green, it plays less than the stated yardage.  The area surrounding the green is short grass, inviting an array of short game creativity, while the bath bunkers are the geometric type of design that provide character to the course.

The Third

The Fourth is a 543 yard par 5.  A par 5 felt great here and the routing gets an early nod.  The tee shot must carry a small creek to a generous fairway that features a couple bunkers on the left.  Moving up the fairway on the second shot, one has to ponder the approach shot and pin position, as the green sits off to the left of the fairway, perpendicular to it, with a large deep bunker against it on the left and a short grass area below the green on the right.  The second shot is about determining what angle you would like to take to the green, which also depends on the pin position and how deep into the green it is.  The approach shot, and the number of ways one can confront it, made me really start to enjoy the course.

The Fourth

Moving down the fairway.  Starting to really rain at this point.

Approach shot territory.  I really love this approach.  A lot.

The Fifth is a 354 yard par 4.  It’s a shorter par 4 and the tee shot is a great opportunity to set up the approach shot of a moat-style green that is raised from the fairway, demanding an aerial shot.  Again, the course does a great job of having each shot set up for the next into fantastic approach shots that vary significantly.  The rain actually helped me here stick my approach to a few foot for a nice birdie.

Approach shot territory at the Fifth

The Sixth is a 511 yard par 5.  One of my favorite holes on the course, this par 5 bends just slightly the left with fairway bunkers on the left that come into play off the tee.  The second shot presents an interesting decision; lay up short of the ridge for a shorter approach to the green, or go for the green altogether, although any shot must carry the ridge by a good amount to hit the punchbowl green on the other side.  The approach is blind and there is a bunker on the fairway side to collect those shots that don’t clear the ridge.  The green is lots of fun, as it is larger and with its shape, makes any pin placement interesting putting, especially if you’re on the other side of the green.  It’s a hole that can be played an infinite number of times in a row and never the same, yet always fun.

The Sixth

Moving down the fairway

The green is on the other side of the ridge, but this is an area where you must decide to lay up or go for the green

The terrific punchbowl green on the other side.  The water on the green shows just how much water it was taking

The Seventh is a 215 yard par 3.  This par 3 is a reverse Redan, as the placement of the bunker and direction of the green are opposite of a typical Redan.  The green is angled towards 2:00 and runs the length of a bunker on the front right.  The hillside off the left slopes towards the front bunker until leveling out a little more towards the back of the green.  Like most Redans favor a draw, this hole does well with the fade and with the lines off the tee, I found it a tough par 3.

The Seventh

The Eighth is a 342 yard par 4.  The placement of staggered bunkers on both sides of the fairway makes it imperative to hit the fairway off the tee.  The green is slightly raised from the fairway with bunkers still threatening on the approach.  It’s a nice hole with the potential to get exponentially more challenging depending on how many bunkers you end up finding.

The Eighth

Another look, the rain was pretty bad at this point

The Ninth is a 411 yard par 4.  The tee shot is to a generous fairway, but there are bunkers on either side to contend with.  Black Creek bisects the fairway directly in front of the green, creating a forced carry approach shot.  Due to its length, it may be necessary to lay up on the second shot to avoid the creek, but its a challenging approach shot regardless.  With the mountain lodge-esque clubhouse awaiting off to the right, it’s an exciting approach shot and green to end the front nine.

Moving down the fairway of the Ninth (in a downpour)

A nice look at the clubhouse off to the right of the Ninth

The front nine is a great loop around the terrain and features some of the favorite holes I played in 2015.  Both par 3’s were terrific and featured sufficient variance in distance, the par 5’s were spectacular and my personal favorite, while the par 4’s included a nice mix of challenge and fun.  I would rank them 6, 4, 7, 5, 2, 3, 1, 9, 8.

The back nine starts with the 308 yard par 4 Tenth.  This short par 4 plays longer because it is uphill and will play virtually straight up a wall if you hit it in the hell bunker off to the left.  I’m calling it the hell bunker because that’s how far down you have to go to hit your ball out of it.  This bunker is the prominent feature of the hole and extends from the left side of the fairway to along the front of the green.  The ideal tee shot will carry the bunkers off to the right or just to the left of them, leaving a shorter approach to the green, that runs perpendicular to the fairway.  It’s a short par 4 pulled off extremely well.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 176 yard par 3.  This par 3 features a true Redan, with bunker placement and direction of the green set properly.  I wasn’t able to photograph this hole as much as I wanted, but it’s a great par 3 with essentially bunkers on either side of the green running its entire length, all at an angle from the tee.  Just as the Eighth strongly favored a fade, the Eleventh almost demands a draw so the ball releases properly on the green.  The fact that it’s a drop shot also adds to the fun.

A look at the Eleventh green from off the right side

The Twelfth is a 416 yard par 4.  The hole dog legs right, with a long grass hazard area running the entire right side of the hole, which creeps closer to the green and across the front of it, creating a forced carry approach.  Placement off the tee is vital in ensuring you’re able to reach the green on your second shot.

It was at this point that, to my dismay, my phone became water logged and would not take any more photos.  So, I wasn’t able to photograph the last third of the course, that featured one of my favorite par 3’s on the course and some of my favorite par 4’s as well.  It was tough to swallow when it happened, but will be motivation to get back here at some point.

The Thirteenth is a 419 yard par 4.  The hole bends a little to the right and the fairway is of moderate width, with a creek lining the left side and a hillside on the right that slopes toward the fairway, yet trees are also in the area.  The green is semi-blind from the fairway and the green runs towards the creek on the left, making pin positions on the left side of the green pretty challenging.  It’s a well done par 4.

The Fourteenth is a 504 yard par 5.  The hole is fairly straight, but the green is raised and sits off to the left of the fairway, with a shaved slope separating the green from the fairway area, making the approach shot the fun and interesting part of this hole.

The Fifteenth is a 329 yard par 4.  The hole plays downhill and the green is visible from the tee, goading us all into trying to reach the green.  It is certainly possible for some, but there are hazards around the green to ensure not all tee shots racing the green are rewarded.  The fairway actually cants to the green as well, so placing a shot to hit and release down it will leave a nice short approach shot. Another well done short par 4 with plenty of options for play.

The Sixteenth is a 401 yard par 4.  Bunker placement defines this hole, which forces you to decide which side of the fairway you would like to advance to the green, which sits above the fairway, but is sloped on all three sides except the back to allow from a number of short game shots into the green, which is helpful considering the distance of most approach shots.

The Seventeenth is a 184 yard par 3.  This is the Biarritz hole, as the gigantic green features a large biarritz that runs through its center, complicating how to get your ball from one end of the green to the other.  Large flat rectangular bunkers run along either side of the green as well.  The hole has many similarities to the Biarritz hole at the Yale course on the Ninth, but there is no forced carry and even though the tee area here is above the green, it is not as high up as it is at Yale.  With the size of the green, pin placement provides a wide range of distance and strategies, depending on where it is.  It was my favorite par 3 on the course.

The Eighteenth is a 506 yard par 5.  The fairway is on the narrow side here, with water on the left off the tee.  Water comes into play yet again when Black Creek crosses towards the front and right side of the green.  Precision of ball striking becomes much more important on this hole and setting up a manageable approach is vital to score well here.  While the Eighteenth felt a little different than the rest of the holes in terms of limiting lines of play, it’s a nice finishing hole to a terrific course.

The back nine includes the same diversity of play we see on the front, with better par 3’s and great short par 4’s.  I would rank them 17, 11, 10, 15, 13, 12, 16, 14, 18.

Generally, Black Creek did a wonderful job incorporating the features of a Raynor designed course while asserting its own identity.  The holes were memorable and each presented a unique brand of fun and challenge.  Bunkering was creative and all strategically placed to optimize strategy throughout the course, as well as providing some spectacular visuals.  The range of options most of the holes presented made this some where repeat play is rewarded, and some where you immediately want to play again after you walk off of the Eighteenth.  With its setting at the base of Lookout Mountain, a fitting clubhouse and firm and fast conditions, this was one of my favorite plays of 2015.

Gripes:  The weather.  Not too much the course could do about it and based on the amount of water it took, the course held up great.  Still though, I would have loved to play here in drier conditions.  Also, my phone giving up on me so I couldn’t take as many photos as I wanted.

Bar/Grill:  There appeared to be a few areas, but all have a nice view of the Ninth and Eighteenth, sitting well above the course.  Food, drinks and service were all terrific.

Another look at the clubhouse

Practice area:  A nice range, short game area and putting green.  The putting green had the types of slopes you see throughout the round, so I’d practice on those as much as possible.

Nearby:  Lookout Mountain and parts Chattanooga are a few minutes away.

Getting there:  It’s off exit 174 of I-24, and about 5 minutes up the road from there.

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