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Bent Creek Golf Course in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Quirky but quaint

By Kiel Christianson, Equipment Editor and Senior Writer

GATLINBURG, Tenn. -- If you're not familiar with the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area in eastern Tennessee, you don't know what you're missing.

Bent Creek Golf Course
Gary Player designed Bent Creek Golf Course in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
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Bent Creek Golf CourseBent Creek G.C.
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What started as a playground for the bored wives of lumber barons and Mom-n-Pop businesses begun by mountain folk relocated out of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the early decades of the 20th Century has grown into the epitome of "Americana."

From water parks to the Louise Mandrel Theater to bungee jumping and mini-NASCAR racing to Dolly Parton's own amusement park, Dollywood, Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge has just about every sort of kitschy, catchy, quirky, and quality tourist attraction imaginable.

If you are interested in escaping the crass consumerism for a few hours -- or for most of your stay, for that matter -- and working on your golf game, Bent Creek Golf Course is ideally situated just 12 miles from downtown Gatlinburg.

At just 6,128 yards from the tips (slope 127, rating 70.3), and featuring water on 13 holes and vertigo-inducing elevation changes, this course is quirky. But then so is Gatlinburg, where you can ride a tram up a mountain to play Hillbilly Putt-putt Golf (whatever the heck that is). Despite a handful of mundane holes, and a few more screwy ones, the several nice holes and the bucolic surroundings throughout the course make for a pleasant round.

The Gary Player layout, which opened in 1972, was thoroughly revamped in 1996. Greens were leveled, tee boxes rebuilt, and fairways resodded. Local knowledge is critical here, though, as Webb Creek crosses seven holes, and many of the tee shots on the back nine call for something less than driver (from 7-iron to sand wedge!). Fortunately, all carts are equipped with a GPS system, which will tell you how far it is to various hidden hazards.

PGA Professional Mark Wallace has two pieces of advice for Bent Creek virgins. "First and foremost," he says, "remember that discretion is the better part of valor."

And if you forget this advice? "Play to the high side and pray."

Fail to follow both tips, and this course may have you speaking in tongues before the round is over.

The two nines contrast a bit. The front has somewhat narrow fairways but more open overall, whereas the back is tight and often very hilly. And on the back, the difference between the blue and white tees becomes more noticeable. Nevertheless, the back is actually easier to score on, if you know where to hit it. The conditions are well above average, and the ambiance -- with Webb Creek bubbling past you on nearly every shot -- is exceptional. The small to medium-sized greens are bentgrass, and the fairways and rough are bermuda mixed with bluegrass.

Aside from the condos on the sixth, the course is picturesque. Typical of the front nine is the 321-yard 3rd, where a 200-yard lay-up off the tee is the play. From the center of the fairway (hopefully), you approach a smallish green, fronted by the creek and a bunker, and hidden coyly behind a massive tree.

The 498-yard, par-5 ninth is the highlight of the front. This gentle dogleg right has water in play on the first and second shots and again -- surprise -- separating the green from the end of the fairway. The green itself is deep but narrow, and is set diagonally to the fairway, sloping from right to left, down toward the creek. Front pin placements are testy here.

Bent Creek Golf Course's back nine

The back nine is where the course gets interesting and vexing. On the 463-yard, par-5, 10th, the flat part of the fairway, which otherwise feeds right, is blocked from view by trees, making for a daunting tee shot.

No. 11, at only 362 yards, is the toughest hole on the course, almost to the point of being silly. From tee to green, it seems like there's too much hole for too little land. A long iron from the blues or a mid iron from the whites is all you need to the water-encircled landing area. From there, all you have to do is stick the 10-yard wide strip of green that lies along the rocky creek bed. Basically, this is almost impossible, as the green slopes severely toward the creek (and it was leveled in 96!), and only about one-half of it is suitable for pin placement.

Survive the 11th without too big a score, and you'll be able to get some strokes back on two rather goofy little par-4s (15 and 16). On the 13th, the tips are actually across the road under some trees in a spot that looks more appropriate for a snooze than a tee box. But read the scorecard here, if you let your attention wander and hit anything more than a long iron from the tee, you will find your ball - or rather not find it - in the seriously dense underbrush growing on the steep hillside separating the end of the fairway from the significantly lower green.

The 113-yard 14th is the signature hole. Thanks to the 100-foot elevation drop from tee to green though, it plays only about 80 yards. One of the quirks it the tee box here: Grass doesn't grow up on top of the hill, so players tee off from a squishy artificial turf mat. Then 15 and 16 tempt big hitters to try to drive close to the green too, at 309 yards (uphill) and 333 yards (downhill) from the tips, respectively.

It is fair to say that 10 through 16 have character. They might well have less character, but more playability, if they were to be slightly redesigned. For example, the 11th might be turned into a par 3 (making the landing area the green), and the 12th could be turned into a par 5 (with the present 11th green transformed into a tee box for the 12th).

Quirks and all, this course will definitely give players something to talk about over a beer.

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Equipment Editor and Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.


 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • bent creek

    Andy wrote on: Nov 15, 2006

    Back nine was nice. Front nine didn't do much for me. Too many holes in too tight an area on front. Back nine was more secluded and enjoyable. Carts do not have GPS on board as advertised. Way to many hackers to have serious game here however.

    Reply

  • bent creek

    ron farni wrote on: May 28, 2005

    I normally shoot in the 80's and found this to be an interesting layout. It seems like they forgot to leave room for the back nine. while I did enjoy the course. these people have a dog barking problem. There are two dogs near the 8th hole that make this course unexceptable to play during the week. I had to play there on Sunday and it was quiet. I would not play the couras again because of the dogs, and yes the staff knows about and accepts the problem..

    Reply

  • Bent Creek

    Glenn Greene wrote on: Apr 29, 2005

    A fun course to play if you have enough golf balls. Just forget trying to post a number and enjoy the surroundings. you won't be sorry.

    Reply

    • RE: Bent Creek

      Todd wrote on: May 25, 2015

      Played this course during Memorial weekend. The weather was beautiful and the scenery was amazing on this challenging, tight course. The greens were well kept but the rest of the course was average. Dead grass everywhere you looked, tee boxes to fairways. I'm in the greenside bunker on 3 and up against the wall of the bunker are holes in the sand filled with yellow jackets. My next visit to the Smokie mountains will not include Bent Creek. My two home courses Oglebay Spiedel, WV don't even cost me $52 a round and they're championship quality.

      Reply

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