When Bruce Charlton, immediate past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA), heard that the organization planned on conducting its annual meeting in Chattanooga, he was surprised.
“I said, ‘Why Chattanooga?’ “Charlton remembered. A little research gave him his answer. For a medium-sized city, Chattanooga is home to several golf courses both historic and world-renowned. The ASGCA members sampled three of them during their visit.
“I could play here every day—actually, I could say that about all three courses we played (The Honors Course and Lookout Mountain were the other two),” Charlton said on Monday afternoon after finishing his round at Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, which was redesigned by famed architect Donald Ross in 1927, and though it has been redesigned three times since, notably by Bill Bergin in 2005, it’s still considered by historians to be a Ross course.
“That’s one of my tests. If you feel like you can come out and play a course every day and enjoy it, and test your skills, then it passes the test. If I’m playing well, the course will reward. If I’m playing badly, I’m going to be hitting some high numbers.”
Charlton, president and chief design officer for the design firm of Robert Trent Jones II, wasn’t alone in his appreciation for three of Chattanooga’s finest courses.
“For a lot of our members, this was their first time in Chattanooga, and they had a lot of fun,” said Gary Linn, who has designed more than 40 courses worldwide. “The three courses we played were very different. Tremendous variety.”
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Forrest Richardson, who studied golf course architecture in Scotland and runs his own design company. “But that’s one of the reasons we came here, because Chattanooga has an unusual mix. I enjoyed all three of the courses we played, and I know there are other good courses around the area that you don’t have to drive very far to play.”
All three architects that spoke with Nooga.com singled out a particular course that impressed them.
“To me, Lookout Mountain was the biggest surprise,” Richardson said. “I’d heard about it for years, but I didn’t know what to expect. I came away saying, ‘this is pretty unusual.’ You couldn’t find another golf course like that. Even another Seth Rayor (who designed Lookout Mountain) course isn’t quite like that.”
Linn spoke about the rarity of Chattanooga Golf and Country Club still being on its original site.
“For this place to still be here, on its original site, since 1896, that’s unique,” he said. “A lot of old clubs got moved two or three times because the land got valuable. … This is an old core, pure golf course. It’s a neat setting. Wonderful clubhouse. This was built to be a golf club.”
Charlton, too, has an appreciation for history. But the youngest of the three courses he played this week was his favorite.
“If you put a gun to my head and said which would you prefer to play, I’d probably say The Honors,” Charlton said. “I’m a big fan of (architect) Pete Dye. I love the way he sets up strategy. And I thought (The Honors) was one of the more natural uses of land that I’ve seen Pete do.
“Pete likes to go in and move some earth. I thought he tied it in very well. There are a lot of really good things there.”