CHAPEL HILL, TN - If you're looking for a challenging, out-of-the-way, and inexpensive course-and really, who isn't?-you need to go the extra mile and play Henry Horton State Park Golf Course. Having just played four rounds over two days on this 7,060-yard course (6,604 from the white tees), I can unequivocally say that the course is in immaculate condition from tees to greens, and, contrary to the sentiments expressed by some golfers on another well-read web site, the staff is very courteous and accommodating.
I'm not sure if Henry Hollis Horton, Governor of Tennessee from 1927-1933, ever played golf, but I am sure that he would be pleased to have such a fine course named after him.
Located just outside the small town of Chapel Hill, TN, and inside Henry Horton State Park, this course is a fantastic value, and would remain so, even if greens fees were doubled. As it is, $19 will get you unlimited rounds of golf any weekday ($10 for a cart for each 18), and 18 holes on the weekend. Seniors used to play free on Mondays, but I think they have to pay half-price now.
How can fees be so low? I assume it is because it is a park course. And although the term "park course" may evoke certain unpleasant connotations, I found none of the stereotypes to be true.
As I mentioned, the course is in fantastic shape, the design is challenging, and the staff is great. The only hint that this is a state park facility is the rather shabby clubhouse and the rocks and course sand in a few of the bunkers. Also, no alcohol is sold in the park.
But park facilities have their advantages, too. The park boasts several cabins right across the road from the first hole. 5-8 people can stay in these well-equipped cabins (kitchen, cable TV, hot showers, etc.) for around $20 per person per night. Can you say, "Golf outing?"
As for the course itself, the major design characteristic (and the hallmark of many older courses) is a large number of elevated greens. You will find yourself hitting approach shots from lies either eye-level with or below the green, which makes it nearly impossible to judge pin placement.
Recognizing greenside bunkers is problematic on a couple of holes, too (#3 comes to mind). Along with the elevated greens, which result naturally from the hilly fairways, you will find trees, trees, and more trees. Fortunately for those of us who are born to be wild, however, there is precious little undergrowth (unless you're really wild, in which case watch out for the plentiful poison ivy).
So if you have a favorite punch-out club, get to know it, because it could save your round.
The bentgrass greens are all fairly large (a few are huge), and generally tilt from back to front (sometimes right to left as well). So keep the ball directly below the hole, or at least above the hole, for straight putts. The fairways and tee boxes are Bermuda grass overseeded with rye.
The fairways are generally wide, but there are several blind tee shots. Long drives on some of these holes will be rewarded with easy pitches to the greens. Since several of the par 4s are monsters, the long hitter is rewarded. Still, a few cupcake par 4s will even things out for the shorter hitter (and the trees will really even things out for the shorter, straight hitter).
The rough around all the greens is closely-cropped, so pars can be salvaged from missed greens. Finally, and once again contradicting comments posted on another web site, there is practically no water in play (one hole, maybe two) and bunkers are few, but well-placed.
Some of the holes are truly memorable, so I will have to skip around a bit. This said, let's begin with #2, a slightly uphill par 3. The course offers no really short par 3s, and this is no exception at 209 yards. From the blue tees, you need to shoot between the extended limbs of two trees, about a 15 foot opening. Don't be long, or you will not be able to see the bottom half of the flag stick.
While we're on the par 3s, I'll mention the others as well. Number 8 is 199 yards uphill from the blues, with bunkers right and left. Number 14 is a gut-buster at 259 from the blue tees. The green is elevated, with a crater-like bunker short right, just in front of a couple of trees. In other words, if you're going to miss, miss left or short.
To round out the "short" holes, the 211-yard 16th presents a blue tee box two-thirds obstructed by overhanging tree limbs, woods falling off to the right, bunker left, and a nice house across the road (the only one you'll see on the course). The blue tees used to be on an island in the only pond on the course. It's since been filled in, since duffers like me used to top too many balls into the water and hold up play. Pity.
The par 5s are all long, and a couple are simply not reachable for the average golfer. In almost all cases, it would be better to play for position, since the unsuccessful drive or thin fairway wood can leave severe up/downhill lies. Number 18 (611 yards) is a perfect example. The blind tee shot needs to be right-center of the fairway, over the hill to have a look at the green-forget about a shot at it.
Left will force a long draw around trees. Right will force just a long shot, period. Laying up is tough too, since you will likely find yourself looking at a downhill lie and down at the green from about 140 yards out.
The most memorable par 5 is #6, the 568-yard signature hole. The tee shot is over a ravine to the top of another hill. Be sure to get to the top of the hill, or you won't see the green for at least another shot. (Also watch your speed driving your cart down into that ravine!) Even with the best drive, your second shot will be 260+ yards to the green.
Since the green is, once again, elevated, you can't really see the pin placement until you're there. Combine this feature with the trees jutting out in front of the green to the right, and the decision to lay up is a no-brainer.
The really distinctive feature of Henry Horton (the course, not the governor), is the varied lengths of the par 4s. Numbers 7, 11, 12, and 17 are all less than 400 yards, straight away, and birdie-able.
Number 5 is short, but a tee shot right will leave you in the rough, right and long in the river (i.e., use a fairway wood or iron), and left will put you in a pinball machine (if you're not John Daly and don't drive over the trees). But still, #5 is no giant killer.
The 411-yard #9 won't hurt you either, if you have the following local knowledge: This is a rollercoaster hole-blind tee shot over a hill to a deep valley for a landing area and back up again to a very elevated green.
From the tee, you want a drive just left of the trees on the right. You'll think you may be in trouble, but in reality, your ball will catch the hill and roll way, way down into the valley and you'll have a short iron or wedge back up the hill and over a front bunker to the green.
Local knowledge is helpful on the 13th as well. Another long, blind, uphill-downhill-uphill hole with a dogleg left, 13 will reward a long drive with a fairly severe downhill lie as you look down on the green. This downhill lie will tend to make your ball squirt right, where it will bounce way right of the elevated green.
The real test on this course is number 10. This is a 461-yard par 4 (440 from white tees), and plays every bit of that distance, as it is all uphill. There is a big oak tree on the left for hooks, more of the park's lovely damn trees on the right. 10 is the number 1 handicap hole, and there's not much more to say other than "Good luck."
There's much more I could comment on, but you get the idea. Henry Horton is a very fine course and a super value. The lodging facilities make it a wonderful destination for a golf outing or even a family vacation. If you do go, hop across the road from the course and visit Governor Horton; he and his family are buried in a small cemetery across from the first tee box.
Let him know he's got a nice course there.
4358 Nashville Highway
Chapel Hill, TN 37034