Lookout Mountain Golf Club

6,613 yards, 128 slope from the Blues

Course:  Lookout Mountain Golf Club is located in Lookout Mountain, GA, which is a mountain ridge where Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia intersect and juts up almost 2,500 feet, providing spectacular views of the Tennessee Valley and almost seven states.  The mountain was used during the Civil War as a reconnaissance point and cannons were fired from its heights, disrupting transportation channels. Apparently the trails leading up the mountain were carved so those running down the mountain were able to use their swords freely while those coming up the mountain would have difficulty with their swordsmanship.  Based on these advantageous characteristics, the mountain was the site of the Battle of Lookout Mountain, where the Union wrested control from the Confederacy.

Its historical significance is matched by its geographical interest.  Driving up the mountain takes almost 15 minutes and at some points, you feel you are going up a wall.  Views of cliffs, waterfalls and the valley below add to its enjoyment and in the morning, it’s not unusual to rise above the fog and cloud levels, giving a sense that you’re in a floating countryside.  As someone who has never been to the area, it was a marvel and some what took me back to my childhood days out west driving up the Sierra Nevada range on the way to Lake Tahoe (although that’s a whopping +7,000 feet above sea level).

From one of the higher points on the course
The putting green, with yet another terrific view
Another view, with the Tennessee River in the background
Looking back at the Tenth from above

Lookout Mountain Golf Club is a private course originally designed by Seth Raynor and Charles Banks.  It was originally called the Fairyland Golf Club (and is credited as the birthplace of miniature golf).  The golf course and Fairyland apparently divided into two clubs at some point, of which Lookout Mountain Golf Club was started, with its own clubhouse.  Over time, many of Seth Raynor’s features began to fade with revisions to the course and in many respects, the course began to appear much different than its original design.  Many years later, a member by the name of Doug Stein began to take interest in restoring the course to its original design.  Stein was able to secure the original design plans of the course and with Brian Silva, did a terrific job restoring it.  Today, I believe the course is in line with the original design in many respects.

As for the course, those who have read some of my other reviews may know I am a big Raynor fan.  In general, Raynor uses template holes from The Old Course at St. Andrews, such as the Short, Alps, Eden, Cape, etc. and incorporates them into the existing terrain, oftentimes using sharp geometrical features that are uncharacteristic of most courses.  This is likely due to Raynor’s background as an engineer and, always interesting to me, someone who did not golf.  At any rate, Raynor’s courses are some of the most renown and unique in the world.

Here, Raynor was able to the make the most of the dramatic mountainside terrain and created a course that drops, rises, traverses and rolls.  The greens really stood out as complex and were firm and fast.  Greens are also set on plateaus or ridges many times, subjecting approach shots to substantial roll offs and various recovery pitch shots.  The tee shots are oftentimes elevated to sprawled fairways below, providing some exhilarating swing away moments while mindful of the smartly placed bunkers.  One thing I noticed is that most holes are straight away, so there are not a whole lot of dog legs and the like, but that seems to work well considering the course is set directly on the side of a mountain.

My round here was one of the most anticipated of last season.  The course at Yale was one of the favorites I have played and considering the hilly terrain it is set upon, was excited to see how Raynor utilized an even more severe mountainous terrain.  I was fortunate to get the round in and it certainly did not disappoint.  After a weekend of heavy rain, the clouds finally parted on the morning of our last day in the area, the sun came out and with the surrounding states in our view from high above, we had our own little battle of Lookout Mountain.

The First is a 427 yard par 4 (from the Whites).  From a higher point on the course, the tee shot proceeds down the mountain, with bunkers placed on either side of the fairway, then again on either side of the green.  The right side off the fairway does slope towards the tree line, so moving down the left center of the fairway is a good idea.  The green actually runs up the mountain, so hopefully you get a read from someone else before you putt.

The First

The Second is a 411 yard par 4.  The hole moves in the same direction as the First, with a treelike along the entire right side and bunkers essentially spotting both sides of the fairway all the way to the green.  The green is on a ridge, so that if you hit it long, your ball is going off the mountain and will probably end up some where in Alabama.  There’s a fair amount of demand for accuracy on this hole and it’s easy to end up in a tough spot to recover from.

The Second (from the extreme left side min the rough)
Approach shot territory
The green

The Third is a 350 yard par 4.  A menacing bunker in the middle of the fairway forces you to consider options off the teem, while the approach shot is to an uphill green off the left side that sits on a terrace.  Shots that miss the green run the risk of hitting the slopes around the green and repelling a good ways from the green.  The width of this fairway is deceiving, as the exacting nature of the approach shot means it’s necessary to set yourself up rather well, likely over the left center of the fairway.

The Third
Approach shot territory

The Fourth is a 206 yard par 3.  This is the Biarritz hole, which runs across the hole directly in front of the green.  And yes, my tee shot ended up in it, requiring a delicate pitch shot to the green.  I use the word delicate because the green juts up, with its sides shaved and sloping down towards the trench bunkers that line around the green, almost like a moat.  Any poorly hit pitch will likely end up in the bunker, then requiring a daunting shot to get back on the green.  The visual intimidation does its job here, as I was terrified of over hitting on the pitch and then again on the putts.  It’s these kinds of holes I really enjoy from Raynor.

The Fourth

The Fifth is a 368 yard par 4.  The fairway is canted from left to right quite significant, so much so that any tee shot too far off to the right will end up in the a couple well placed bunkers.  A tee shot aimed off the left side of the hole will bounce and roll and will likely end up off towards the right side, setting up an approach shot to a wide yet shallow green that sits perpendicular to the fairway.  Any approach shot would do well to start towards the left side of the green, but the risk is you end up above the hole with no roll, at which point you have a testy downhill chip shot or putt on this green that rests behind a rock formation that I assume was spared during construction for the tee shot on the Sixth.  This was one of the more memorable holes on the course for me.

The Fifth
Approach shot territory
The front of the green

The Sixth is a 117 yard par 3.  This is the Short hole, the short par 3 that is one of the template holes Raynor used.  While short, it certainly does not lack challenge, as the table top green does not tolerate shots off to the right, or long, or even those that are all that left.  Two bunkers reside on the front of the green, so at least shots short of the green provide an opportunity for recovery.  In any event, hitting the green is somewhat important here due to the very small margin of error for shots that end up off green remaining in play.

The Sixth

The Seventh is a 410 yard par 4.  Based on how far uphill the seance shot is, this is a very long par 4,, so get all of your tee shot.  There is a ridge on the fairway that’s a pretty good landing spot for your tee shot, which then is about 140 yards into the green, which is blind based on being so far below it.  I’d imagine repeat play helps on this hole, as after a well hit tee shot, I thought my approach was going to be next to the pin instead of 15 yards short of the green.  Distance is at a premium on this hole and mis-hits or short knockers will likely be plating for bogey rather early on in the hole.

The Seventh
Second shot territory

The Eighth is a 312 yard par 4.  Probably one of the few times trees come into play, but they are on the right side and of course I some how ended up under them having to punch out.  The fairway is wide and marches right to the green that is deep yet narrow.  Like many of the greens, shots near the edges run the risk of bouncing off the slope into bunkers or just way off the green in general.  After the beastly Seventh, the shorter Eighth is a nice follow.

The Eighth
Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 361 yard par 4.  At the other corner of the lower end of the course, you proceed in the direction of the clubhouse.  The tee shot is slightly uphill and there are a couple bunkers to contend with as you advance to the green.  There’s a rock formation along the right side that if your ball ends up hitting, could result in anything from an extra 20 yards to the green, or off the face of the planet.  The green is only moderately pitched, but follows the general theme that long approach shots will be fervently frowned upon.

The Ninth
Approach shot territory

Generally, the front nine loops around the lower end of the mountain.  There are no par 5’s, but the longer Seventh plays like one and I believe the First was supposed to be one as well.  I really enjoyed the series of holes from the Third to the Seventh, as the rigid features and use of slopes fit my eye really well.  My ranking of them is 5, 4, 6, 7, 3, 9, 2, 1, 8.

The Tenth is a 531 yard par 5.  One of the few dog legs on the course, the Tenth gives us the first par 5 of the round and it’s a great one.  The elevated tee shot is to a fairway that slopes from right to left, with oval shaped bunkers spotting the fairway on the sides.  Getting close to the left side cuts off some distance to the hole, but getting too close may mean your ball catches the slope and ends up in the group of trees on that side.  The second and third shots level out, but approaching the hole from the left side gives you the advantage of having an uphill putt, which is terrifically helpful with these greens.

About the greens.  They are firm and fast and with the natural sloping inherent with the terrain, move in a lot of different directions.  While I was here, I heard a story about a few members who bet a couple other members they couldn’t break 90 even if they were given a GIR on every hole and all they had to do was putt.  Apparently, they were not able to do it.  After three putting a couple times when I was able to get a GIR, that story is very believable and just makes me wonder who would take the other side of it.

The Tenth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 387 yard par 4.  This is the Alps hole, modeled after the Seventeenth at Prestwick, in Scotland.  The tee shot should favor the right side, away from the bunker on the left side, while the approach shot is blind to the green, which has a false front area before it before sloping towards bunkers on the far side.  The approach shot is tough to gauge for those who have never played the course, but the flagpole provides some perspective on where to aim.  I enjoyed this hole a lot.

The Eleventh
Approach shot territory.  I really like this photo, mainly because of the cloud line, which makes it look like the green is 2,000 feet below

The Twelfth is a 368 yard par 4.  This hole clubs uphill right to the clubhouse.  The hole is named “Pond” because of a pond off to the left of the tee area, that should really only come into play on very bad hooks, but the tee shot is to a generous fairway.  The approach shot is fairly blind and with its uphill nature, is longer than stated yardage.  The green slopes from back to front and even though I hit a nice approach to 15 feet pin high, I walked away with a bogey for failing to appreciate the amount of slope there actually was.  When in doubt, err on more slope.

The Twelfth
Approach shot territory

The Thirteenth is a 185 yard par 3.  It is the Redan hole.  The tee shot is elevated and while the cloud cover was around, I imagine there are some terrific views from this point.  The green runs diagonally from about 4:00 to 11:00, with two bunkers on the front left side and another on the right side.  Another terrific hole.

The Thirteenth
Just how it looks in one of these bunkers
Another look from the left side, on the Fourteenth tee

The Fourteenth is a 463 yard par 5.  This par 5 proceeds in the opposite direction as the Tenth, with the fairway sloping from left to right.  The fairway is bisected by two large bunkers than must be contended with.  There is fairway beyond them before the hill climbs uphill to a plateau green.  While there is some opportunity for longer hitters to try and hit the green in two, the center bunker and uphill nature of the green dictate the play for a three shot hole rather well.

The Fourteenth
Moving down the fairway

The Fifteenth is a 422 yard par 4.  This hole is designed after the famous Road Hole, which is the Seventeenth at the Olde Course at St. Andrews.  One of the wider fairways on the course, advancing up the right side is a fairly good idea to set up the approach to a green that is set off to the left and is at an angle.  It was an enjoyable rendition of the Road Hole.

The Fifteenth
Approach shot territory

The Sixteenth is a 166 yard par 3.  The tee shot is slightly uphill to a green that is pretty much surrounded by bunkers but there is bail out room short and around the bunkers as well.  This is one of the few holes where long will not kill you and due to the tee placement and how the green sits above it, opting for a longer club may pay off.  I’d say this hole is more challenging than it lets on.

The Sixteenth

The Seventeenth is a 376 yard par 4.  At the other side of the property than the Eighth, the tee shot must carry three bunkers that are diagonally placed across the fairway.  The approach shot is then to a double plateau green that is quite large, but it’s beneficial to place your shot below the hole and under no circumstances on the plateau above the hole.

The Seventeenth
Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 352 yard par 4.  The fairway turns slightly left while slopes from right to left, which will likely pull all tee shots in that direction.  The green sits slightly above the fairway, with two larger trench bunkers on either side of the green and a bigger drop off on the far side.

The Eighteenth
Moving up the fairway

The back nine follows the upper part of the mountain and provides two par 5’s and a little variance from the straight holes you see on the front.  While there was more consistent character on the back, the last hole was underwhelming, but then again courses with an over the top “signature” Eighteenth hole are similarly underwhelming.  I would rank them 10, 11, 14, 12, 13, 17, 15, 16, 18.

Generally, Lookout Mountain was a nice Raynor designed course that utilized the terrain very well.  The subdued features that were a little softer than what I remembered at Yale are actually better suited to let the terrain speak for itself.  In other words, while it would be easy to over-do the design in an attempt to accentuate the dramatic landscape, subtlety actually lets the terrain speak louder and affect play more.  The collection of par 3’s are splendid while the par 5’s stood out as well.  The course provides variety of play, inspiring views and the greens really shined as the focal piece of the course.

Lookout Mountain is certainly a destination course, so if you come across the opportunity to play it, even if you aren’t local, I would do what I could to get there.  Having played this and Yale, there is no doubt that Raynor was able to diversify styles and themes of courses even when using template holes.  This course has many subtleties that reveal themselves as you continue to play the course, which really was effectively done while providing lots of character up front in terms of the overall presentation.

Gripes:  Just the weather.  While the course was quick to dry out, I’d love to play here when it’s firm and fast.

Bar/Grill:  The men’s grill area was a nice area while the formal dining area provides the best views of the mountain.

Practice area:  The range and putting green are both more than sufficient.

Nearby:  Of what I know, Chattanooga is down the mountain about 10 minutes away.

Getting there:  About 11 hours south of Philadelphia.

Speaking of Philadelphia, it’s time to get some reviews of courses up that way, isn’t it?

The trip to Tennessee was a success and based on my time there, has some terrific courses in the eastern side of the state.

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