I often receive emails, texts, or comments on my reviews suggesting that I play various courses. That said, I have never had more people tell me to play a course than Sweetens Cove in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee. Droves urged me to make the drive across the Carolinas, and with that, I was introduced to the cult following of Sweetens Cove.
The course is a nine-holer that sits in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains on all sides. The land was originally a completely flat field, although you’d have no idea looking at Sweetens Cove now.
Design duo Rob Collins and Tad King – collectively known as King-Collins Design – were hired to redesign a very basic nine-hole course that sat in the middle of the field.
Their new design features huge, sloping greens that require creativity and cunning to navigate. Combine that fact with traditional features like a Biarritz, a Redan, and more, and you have a course that is completely unique.
When the original owner of the course passed away, Rob Collins and Tad King returned to the project as owner-operators. They’re first and foremost a golf course design firm, but you get a real sense of their pride and excitement in the Sweetens Cove course. Keeping that in mind, the experience at Sweetens is one that is full of interesting contradictions.
You arrive at the course and see a small shed that serves as a clubhouse. It has a limited amount of merchandise and a cooler full of waters and Gatorades for thirsty golfers. You pull up and park alongside the road or on the grass near the clubhouse.
If you show up on the right day, you’ll likely meet Rob Collins who can tell you about every intricate detail of the course. He can show you the completely flat field next to the course and explain that, at one point, there was only a couple of feet in elevation change across the entire property. Collins and company moved tremendous amounts of sand from nearby quarries to build the shapes and features that you see in these photos.
Once you begin your round, you find course conditions that would rival many of the top courses in the country. The massive undulating greens are smooth as glass and very firm. The fairways are fast and cut tight, similar to what you’d find in the UK and the bunkers are all in excellent shape. After a few holes you realize the caliber of championship golf and think, “I’ve got to tell everyone about this… and how can I help them get the money for a clubhouse!?” At that point you’ve accidentally joined the Sweetens Cove cult.
While so many projects pour investment into the amenities and leave the course behind, the exact opposite has happened at Sweetens. Instead of building a big clubhouse or spending thousands on unnecessary amenities, they’ve invested in the course, and it really pays off!
That said, the King-Collins team is looking for new partners to help expand the project and add new amenities that are needed on site. If you want more information, just send me an email and I’ll put you in touch with Rob.
Hole #1 – The opening par 5 requires a draw off the tee, and those who know the course well can point out various speed slots in the fairway. Those going for the green in two can feed an approach toward the left edge of the massive green. Approach options for this green seem infinite depending on the pin placement and use of the huge backstop.
Hole #2 – There’s a single deep, nasty bunker in the dead center of this fairway. Drives are left with a short iron or wedge approach into the severely undulating green, which also has a mean false front.
Hole #3 – It was on this tee that I paused to realize just how special this setting is. The fairway is wide on this par 5, and the layup shot is all about positioning. The huge tree in front of the green blocks out certain angles, which combined with the crazy slopes on the green, can turn par into a double bogey very fast.
Hole #4 – Where does this hole go? I was very happy to be playing with a few Sweetens veterans while on this tee. Just over the dune straight ahead you find one of the largest greens I’ve seen in the US. The hole played just over 100 yards with the pin you see below, but it could be close to 200 with the pin all the way back. It reminded me of something straight out of the St Andrews Old Course!
Hole #5 – This driveable par 4 has a horseshoe-shaped green with a deep bunker right in the middle of the bend. Also keep in mind that the fairways and greens are extremely firm, so a ball landing on this green will likely shoot over the back. That front bunker captured most of our group and the video below is yours truly struggling to get out!
If at first you fail, try try again. This is our very own @graylynloomis taking two to get out of a bunker at Sweetens Cove. While the storm raged in SC last week, Graylyn was enjoying sun in Tennessee. Thank you to @kingcollinsgolf for hosting! #linksmagazine #bestofgolf #tennesseegolf #sweetens #sweetenscove
Hole #6 – This dogleg left is a stiff test after the driveable 5th. After three times playing it, I had 175 yards into this sloping green on average. On a windy day with that bottom left pin, that lake would look very intimidating.
Hole #7 – This hole is similar to the 5th, but the green looks like a crowned Ross putting surface from Pinehurst No. 2. I average about 275-280 yards with my driver and this green was just out of reach for me off the tee.
Hole #8 – A few very large trees narrow this fairway and limit angles into the green for shorter hitters. This is also the Biarritz green, and fortunately for us, the pin was in the middle of the deep swale. We found ourselves wanting to play this hole over and over during our visit, and we hung out for about 20 minutes chipping from various angles on our last loop of nine.
Hole #9 – The final par 3 is a modern take on the Redan. Interestingly, there is a shelf on the right side of the green that can serve as a pin position. That said, the traditional Redan pin placement is where you see it in the photo below. In order to take full advantage of the slope, your line is to split the tree and the power line pole.
I have never played another course like Sweetens Cove. It’s the perfect example of giving a talented pair of architects a blank slate and the opportunity to roll the dice. If Rob Collins and Tad King can create something like Sweetens Cove out of a flat field in the middle of Tennessee, I am itching to see their future designs and renovations on other sites.
The only problem with Sweetens Cove is that if you didn’t know where to look, you’d drive right past and never know you missed anything. Hopefully this post can help solve that problem and I hope they find the investment they need to expand the project. Until then, I’ll just be frustrated that it’s a 7-hour drive for me to get back to South Pittsburgh…