TGA Member Club Profile: Stonehenge Golf Club
Host site for the Golf Capital of Tennessee Women's Open Championship
Story by Chris Dortch
Jack Nicklaus once said that golf course
architect Joe Lee “never built a bad course.” Each year when the
Tennessee Women’s Open is played at Lee’s beautiful Stonehenge Golf
Club in Fairfield Glade, that statement rings true.
For the uninitiated, Stonehenge resembles
a cross between Chattanooga’s Rock City (and its world-famous rock
formations) and Fall Creek Falls, another Lee gem at Fall Creek Falls
State Park in Pikeville, Tenn. Which is to say there are several tree-lined
dogleg holes mixed with other holes carved into the mountain stone from
which the par-72, 6,549-yard course gets its name.
Those stone outcroppings are part of
the challenge of Stonehenge. A notable example is the course’s signature
hole, No. 14, a 161-yard par-3. To the left of the green is a 15-foot
layered stone retaining wall and rock-lined creek. To the right is a
huge bunker with a boulder in the middle. Lake Dartmoor provides an
intimidating backdrop and can even claim a nuked tee shot.
Stonehenge is unique in other ways.
Wildlife abounds, including deer, which can pop up any time during a
round. You won’t find many courses in the South that are planted in
bent grass from tee to green, but Stonehenge is.
Stonehenge epitomizes the design philosophy
of Lee, who was a respected architect because he did his job with a
gentle hand. His goal was to simply uncover a golf course that had been
left for him to find by God, rather than move tons of earth to fabricate
one. He called it “molding the land.”
Lee courses don’t beat golfers over
the head with tricked-up obstacles. He preferred straightforward challenges—trees,
large-but-fair bunkering, water hazards that players are aware of but
can negotiate, and greens that slope gently. Sounds a lot like Stonehenge.
“I start with the premise that golf
should be enjoyable, not a chore,” Lee told Golf Digest architecture
editor Ron Whitten for his book, Gentleman Joe Lee: 50 Years of Golf
Design. “Golfers want a challenge, but they want a fair one. An
architect can’t put a foot on the golfer’s neck and keep it there
Amen to that.
For a time, those traits in golf course
architecture went unappreciated amid an era of island greens, railroad
ties, severe green contouring and Pacific Ocean-sized water hazards.
But before that, Lee, sometimes in collaboration with Dick Wilson, produced
several courses—Bay Hill and Doral (Blue) among them—that were fixtures
on the PGA Tour and well respected by great players.
Lee’s understated style may have
fallen out of favor for a time—Pine Tree was ranked No. 10 in Golf
Digest’s Top 100 in 1969 but by 1993 had dropped out of the ranking—but
it’s enjoying a comeback. And other architects have learned that it’s
a lot less expensive to build a course in the Lee style rather than
manufacture unnatural obstacles.
Golfers in Tennessee are blessed to
be able to play some of Lee’s courses. Besides Stonehenge, rated the
state’s No. 1 resort course, and Fall Creek Falls, there’s also
the Landmark Golf Club at Avalon, located about 20 miles outside of
Knoxville in Lenoir City.
Lee died in 2003 at
81 after more than 50 years of building golf courses. Those who knew
him say he was easy going and friendly, without the slightest bit of
pretentiousness. You could say the same about Stonehenge,
or for that matter, his entire body of work.
For more information on Stonehenge Golf Club visit www.stonehengegolf.com.