SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. - Gateway to the Smoky Mountains, Sevierville is overshadowed by its tourist-frenzied neighboring towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Sevierville may not have the tourist traps, but it does have a few nice sand traps, and a solid course to go with them. Eagle's Landing Golf Club, which serves as both a haven from the bustle of Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge and a refuge for a number of indigenous species, offers a scenic, pleasant round for golfers of every skill level.
Eagle's Landing was designed by D. J. DeVictor (architect of, among other upstanding southern tracks, the Clemson University Golf Course) and features lovely views of the Smoky Mountain foothills, generous bermuda fairways, and some eye-catching elevation changes. With five sets of tees, ranging from 4,800 to 7,320 yards, players of all calibers can find a fair game.
Unfortunately, a major snafu has resulted in pretty close to a 300-yard discrepancy between the actual yardage of the course and what is listed for each tee box on the scorecard (and on the tee markers). For example, on the card, the white tees - the middle tees recommended for golfers with handicaps from 10-17 - are listed at a paltry 5,854 yards, when in reality they play 6,250 yards.
Now, you can imagine all the macho tourists who don't play very often eschewing the whites for the next-longest green tees, listed at 6,463 yards. Problem is, the greens actually play 6,800 yards, and the he-men can hardly carry their shots to the fairways on some holes. According to the staff, on crowded days, this situation results in slow play and some very confused golfers.
And it is confusing. I was let in on the secret before my round. However, knowing the overall yardage doesn't help with any individual hole, so I was left wondering on each tee box just what the heck club to hit. Very frustrating at times, although the yardages from the fairways to the greens appeared relatively accurate.
Aside from this rather persistent problem (which Director of Golf Kevin Craig assured me would be fixed by the end of this season), Eagle's Landing is a fun layout. Fairways are wide for the most part, and allow for some mistakes, though the stiff turf doesn't give much roll. When the fescue and bermuda rough is cut short, it's not bad escaping from. When it's long - as much of it is - it's a bear. And although there is lots of water, little of it is in play. A very nice feature, which adds to the natural feel of the property, is the way DeVictor keeps the cart paths hidden from the fairways (and many tee boxes) with subtle mounding.
Your short game will be at a premium here, given the purposeful bunkering and smallish greens. For example, the par-5 3rd seems reachable from all but the blue tees (the card says it's 527 yards from the tips, but who knows for sure), but the kidney-bean green is only 26 yards deep at the fat lobe, and a measly 13 yards deep behind a menacing bunker. In other words, lay up.
As you approach the first tee, you may be held temporarily at bay by a flock of grumpy geese. If you're not the nature-loving sort, you'd better get used to the fauna right away, though, because Eagle's Landing is one of only 286 courses in the U.S. certified as Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries.
This means that natural habitats here are preserved through less mowing and the planting of native vegetation, pests are controlled with as little chemical help as possible, water is recaptured and reused, and public groups are invited onto the course for educational programs and nature walks to try to catch a glimpse of some of the wildlife observed on the course, including beaver, mink, bobcat, black bear, bald eagle, osprey, gray fox, horned owls, and copperhead snakes. (Um, keep a special watch out for that last one, especially as you're trying to find that $5 ProV1 in the tall cotton.)
This mindfulness of nature makes for some visually impressive holes, especially on the back nine. On the front, Nos. 4 and 5 (both par 4 and both somewhere between 375 to 420 yards from the tips, I guess) stand out. The 4th has a nice, tough tee shot over a ravine. If you are shooting from the tips, one look at this shot makes you wish you weren't. The tricky part, however, is the humpback fairway which abruptly ends on the far side of the hump (about 200-220 yards out). There is no sign or yardage book to warn first-timers, so listen to me know and hear me later: Don't take too much club!
The 5th has a purely evil tee shot from the tips: steep hillside on the left, thick woods on the right, which force you to shoot the gap to a very narrow fairway. From the more forward tees, an iron is the safest bet.
As you round a bend in the 7-mile long cart path (yes, seven miles, and no, walking is not allowed) between the 10th and 11th holes, you'll see a sign with an ominous message: "Caution. Now entering hangman's corner." Considering that this state is home to a town with the word "lynch" in it, I must admit a twinge of trepidation, despite the melodramatic warning.
In fact, the stretch of holes from 10 to 13 is the toughest on the course, composed of the numbers seven, nine, three and one handicap holes. The 10th is a pretty par 5 (I'm not even going to try to guess the length) that is short (especially from the more forward tees) but unreachable in two due to the protection around the green, including a stream, mounding, and bunker.
The par-4 13th is the signature hole: a dogleg left around dense woods with water right. The landing area is almost ridiculously narrow precisely where you want, and need, to be for your approach. An iron from the tee isn't a bad play here, if you don't mind a lengthy second. Bust a drive if you're sure of being straight. Negotiating the drive isn't the only trick here, either. The green is a comparatively deep but exceedingly narrow hourglass-shaped three-putt nightmare.
Overall, the front is considerably easier than the back. The bunkering is strategic, but not showy, and the conditions are respectable. Some of the greens are pocked heavily with unrepaired ballmarks and rough patches (e.g., Nos. 5 and 6), however, and many of the bunkers had not been raked by the morning grounds crew. The staff would be smart to make a concerted effort to get players to fix ball marks, or some players will get very cheesed off by bouncing, veering rolls.
Nevertheless, Director of Golf Kevin Craig is rightfully proud when he runs through the list of tournaments hosted at Eagle's Landing in the six years since it opened, including the 2000 Tennessee PGA Sectional Championship, the 2001 Wilson EZ-GO Open, and several State Open Qualifiers.
Kevin sums up the Eagle's Landing experience aptly: "This layout plays differently from each set of tees, so we've got a golf course that enhances the playing experience for all golfers by offering so many tees and options on each hole. We promise golfers an enjoyable afternoon."