“In a recent article Hogan was quoted as saying of Seminole, in Florida: “It is the only course I could be perfectly happy playing every single day.” I have often wondered which course I would choose if the remainder of a lifetime’s golf was restricted on one alone. Thoughts of faraway, glorious places spring readily to mind. I would not be utterly downcast if condemned to Cypress Point on the ironbound coast of Monterey; it would be no hardship to contain one’s efforts to Mid-Ocean; and there would be little danger of boredom at El Prat: but these are remote to the point of dreams.”
– Pat Ward-Thomas (Country Life, March 1963)
An interesting theme ran through several of the conversations I had with some of the golfers that attended The Ringer at Sweetens Cove GC, held this past Friday and Saturday in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. I was in a group for 18 holes with Tron Carter of No Laying Up. We had a lot of time to talk during the round. The conversation turned to Sweetens Cove and I asked him if the trip the NLU group made this past spring was his first time at the course. He replied that he had more or less quit playing golf at one point, but had found Sweetens a few years ago. His experiences were so much fun at Sweetens Cove that it made him want to start playing golf again. The place has that kind of effect on people.
My rounds of golf had dropped precipitously over the past few years, with the pressures of work and from dedicating almost all of my free time (and money) to my son’s junior golf pursuits. I had also grown tired of the type of golf that is predominantly played in the US: slow and boring, “factory golf”, as my son Jake and friend Collie like to call it. As these pressures began to relent slightly, I found Sweetens Cove through the Fried Egg podcast. I have played more rounds of golf this year than the previous 5 years combined, most of them in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. I can’t wait for the weekend to make the 90 minute drive to the northeast, with my sons or good friends…or often by myself if nobody will go with me. Sweetens Cove is not remote to the point of dreams, as Mr. Ward-Thomas so eloquently wrote. It is a dream within reach. Sweetens Cove is the very antithesis of factory golf. It is a course to last a lifetime for me.
There is something magical about the landscape of this valley. It brings together golfers with a certain mindset, the type of people who think the game should be fast, fun and played on the ground, if so desired. The people I met and talked to at The Ringer are almost too numerous too mention, so I apologize if I leave somebody out. The first person I met in the parking lot on Friday morning was a Twitter friend, Kevin Moore, a fine golfer, professor and writer from Athens, Georgia. We played the few warm-up holes together and were able to talk throughout the weekend. I am pretty sure that Kevin and I are kindred spirits in many respects.
The organizer of the event, ZB himself, was Tron’s Best Ball partner, so I also played 18 holes with him. Zac was hilarious and a blast to play with. He is obviously a great and accomplished golfer, but was just out having fun with a group of guys. I have played with a few pros over the years and I usually refrain from asking them many golf questions. However, I couldn’t resist asking Zac about his round a Carnoustie a couple of weeks previously, in the Dunhill Links, when he shot 81 in the 3rd round. Having struggled around Carnoustie a few times myself, I asked sympathetically, “So Zac, I guess the weather got you at Carnoustie?” He replied immediately, “No man, that place just kicked my ass.” If you need a pro golfer to root for next year, ZB is a good one.
The event itself was quite simply the most fun I’ve ever had at a golf tournament. Zac’s energy and enthusiasm for golf and The Buck Club were in endless supply. From the 60 man Alternate Shot event (maybe the first in golf?) to the playoff for the The Ringer Net Championship, where the 3 participants were forced to play number 9 with only a 7 iron, it was sheer golfing fun. This is what Sweetens exists for.
The leads me to Rob Collins, the Architect of Sweetens Cove and The Buck Club. I’ve gotten to know Rob pretty well over the past 18 months and he is the nicest man I’ve ever met in golf. The sense of pride he felt in having this event at his course was obvious the entire weekend. I don’t think I ever talked to him when he didn’t have a big smile on his face. He was very humble in talking about the struggles of running Sweetens Cove and getting to where they are now. If anybody deserves more design opportunities, it’s Rob. I can’t wait to play his next masterpiece, whether it’s at Pinehurst, Sand Valley, Forest Dunes, Utah or somewhere else.
Andy Johnson, The Fried Egg, was in the group ahead of me on Friday and we got to talk for a few minutes. He could barely contain his enthusiasm for Sweetens Cove during our conversation. This place is sooo good and sooo much fun – you can probably hear him saying that in your head right now. He has been a key supporter of Sweetens Cove and it’s obvious he loves the place.
Walking out to my car, in the dark on Saturday night, I was thinking that I never got to talk to Jay Revell. He is another Twitter friend that I had hoped to meet. As I was packing up my clubs, someone spoke from the car parked next to me. “Your trunk looks a lot like mine. Jim, hi it’s Jay Revell. I had wanted to meet you.” Jay and I talked for a few minutes about the seemingly mystical qualities of Sweetens Cove. It’s a place that just seems to bring people together.