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Head to east Tennessee for great golf in the Great Smoky Mountains

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Truly a sight to behold, the area around the Great Smoky Mountains in east Tennessee is also great for golfing. Notable golf courses include: Patriot Hills, Gatlinburg Municipal Golf Course and Clinchview Golf Club.

No. 12 Gatlinburg Municipal Golf Course
No. 12 at Gatlinburg Municipal Golf Course offers stunning views of the Great Smoky Mountains.
No. 12 Gatlinburg Municipal Golf CoursePatriot Hills Golf CourseSmoky Mountains

GATLINBURG, Tenn. - The great American West hogs most of the mountain ranges in the country - the Rockies, Sierra Nevadas, Cascades and Klamaths spring to mind - but they did leave the East one good one: the Appalachians, which run from Georgia to Quebec, Canada.

The Great Smoky Mountains make up the southern range of the Appalachians, and here in east Tennessee, they are a sight to behold. The name says it all - there always seems to be mist moving in the mountains, giving them a dark, mysterious appearance.

These mountains have an advantage over their Western counterparts: the trees that grow on them are deciduous, meaning their leaves change color with the seasons, and that makes for some spectacular fall color.

Fall is a good time to play golf in the Smokies, as is the spring and summer and - believe it or not - even winter.

The courses in the Smokies aren't as famous as many out West, but good mountain golf courses are scattered throughout the area. Here are some of our recommendations:

Must plays

Patriot Hills golf course in Jefferson City has excellent undulating bentgrass greens, a great layout and cheap green fees.

It's a beautiful course on terrain that is close to spectacular, with views of English Mountain and, farther away, the Smokies, when the haze clears. It has the sort of elevation you look for in a mountain course, and you'll get dizzy trying to figure out how much to club up or down. The elevated tees and greens are nice vantage points to enjoy the scenery.

Patriot Hills is an upscale, public course with green fees of $33 weekdays and $40 weekends. That has to be one of the better bargains anywhere. For a course of this quality, those green fees are outstanding.

The conditioning is first-rate - you could putt off some of the tee boxes - and the service is good. The clubhouse has a wraparound porch with rocking chairs to enjoy the view.

The Gatlinburg Municipal Golf Course, actually located in Pigeon Forge, is a terrific public course, one that both wows you with its views and tantalizes you with its mixture of ease and difficulty.

Those last two come in the form of the many hills and mountains, some of which line one or the other side of most fairways and sometimes both. Those high hills can funnel wayward tee shots back toward the fairway, but they can also obstruct your view from the tee and often become hazards.

"The fairways seem to help you out, the way they funnel your ball off the hills, if you can take advantage of it," said Brian Walker of Knoxville. "It's certainly challenging. I think the layout is great."

It's only 6,282 yards from the tips, but the elevation makes some holes, and the course overall, play much longer. Some of the greens have serious elevation, like No. 11, in which you have to club up on your approach, right before you club down on the No. 12 tee. Those two holes will have you rummaging through your golf bag.

The course is in great shape, both fairways and greens.

Solid seconds

Clinchview Golf Club was built on the site of an old dairy farm in Bean Station and has some very nice, gentle rolling terrain. Like most courses in this part of east Tennessee, it has some inspiring views of the surrounding hills and mountains.

The course has many trees, with mostly tree-lined fairways, and some moderately nasty rough. The greens are excellent: small to medium-sized bentgrass greens with impressive slope and undulation.

What makes that even more impressive is the fact they are the original greens from when the course was built in 1967. It's another of those courses in east Tennessee that combines a good play with even better green fees.

Egwani Farms Golf Course is in Rockford, just a tad outside of oh-wow viewing range of the Smokies.

The Little River borders Egwani for a mile and a half, and there are little streams, creeks and properties throughout the easy-rolling terrain. It isn't overly long for Joe Public at 6,708 yards from the back tees, and its easy slope rating of 128 means it's very playable for pretty much anyone willing to try his or her hand at the game.

Egwani Farms is an attractive option for any golfer wanting to play a good public course. The conditioning is good, as is the service, and the course has a good driving range and practice area.

The small greens are bentgrass and well maintained. They are relatively small and flat, though a couple are two-tiered, and the chipping areas around them are kept closely-mown, making it easy to get up and down if you miss with your approach.

Laurel Valley Golf Course is a beautiful little layout in Townsend that offers ringside seats to the old Smoky Mountains.

"It's one of the prettiest courses around," said Frank White, who owns several businesses in town. "Everybody who comes out says it's beautiful, and it is. It sure gets a lot of play."

Like the town, the course is small, only 6,070 yards from the back tees, but the elevations will make it seem longer. There are blind shots off the tee, and blind shots into the greens, but it is a very playable course, once you've figured out the angles.

Baneberry Golf and Resort - both the town and the golf resort - isn't really close to anything, yet not too far from some things. And that's sort of the idea.

With Lake Douglas, and its stripers, nearby, it's an ideal spot for a laidback golf/fishing getaway with the option of taking in Dollywood in Pigeon Forge or, for the more nature-oriented, hikes in the dazzling mountains.

The course itself is located on a peninsula that extends out in the Lake Douglas portion of the French Broad River, though there are no spectacular water views. It's filled with trees, though. White pines and Norwegian firs, and even some weeping willows, lining most of the fairways.

Millstone Golf Club could use some tender loving care on its conditioning but is still a good play for the price.

"It's a beautifully laid-out golf course, but they need to work on some things," said Rob Dyson of Morristown, where the course is located. "I think with some TLC, they'd be right up there."

Millstone opened in 1994 from a design by architect Bill Henry, and the course has the excellent views of the Smoky Mountains that most courses in the area have. There is extensive mounding to give the course some movement where it's lacking elevation, and it has just enough water to keep you focused.

The star of the course is the greens. They're bentgrass, and they are relatively large, and most will test your putter with their movement.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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