When it comes to golf courses that are accessible to the public in Tennessee, the Tennessee State Parks have some of the most challenging and picturesque courses in the state. Jack Nicklaus helped put the State Parks on the map when he put together the Bear Trace. Nicklaus originally built 5 Bear Trace courses; three of them are still owned, operated, and maintained by Tennessee State Parks. However, as nice as the three Bear Trace courses are, the other six courses in the Tennessee Golf Trail are also excellent. Two of these are Fall Creek Falls and Paris Landing.
Fall Creek Falls State Park sits atop 29,800 acres sprawling acres on the eastern part of the rugged Cumberland Plateau. The park is one of America’s most scenic and spectacular outdoor recreation areas. In 1972, the Tennessee State Parks commissioned renowned golf course architect Joe Lee to design a challenging 18-hole championship golf course. What Lee put together has been recognized several times by Golf Digest as one of the country’s Top 100 Public Places to Play, a truly remarkable feat. In 1998, the greens were rebuilt and restored to Joe Lee’s original plans and the drainage on all 71 bunkers was also improved.
The golf course at Fall Creek Falls has been designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International. Only a handful of courses in the entire state have received this honor. All nine of the Tennessee State Park’s Tennessee Golf Trail courses are Audubon Certified.
The golf course at Fall Creek Falls incorporates all of the beauty and splendor that the State Park has to offer. With almost no parallel holes, it is an amazing experience in the great outdoors with wildlife sightings at every turn. The course is carved out of densely forested woodlands and features rolling hills; what it lacks in water hazards, Fall Creek Falls Golf Course more than makes up for in trees and sand traps. If you can make it around this course without finding one of the 71 bunkers on the course, you’ve probably shot a pretty good round! Lee positioned many of the bunkers strategically in the landing areas of fairways and around the greens.
Regardless of your skill level, there is a suitable tee for everyone. The golf course can be played as short as 3,573 from the Orange Tees to 6,655 yards from the Blue Tees. I found that the White Tees at 6,356 yards was a good challenge and still let me leave with a little dignity.
Fall Creek Falls’ signature hole is Number 15. From the White Tees, this long, challenging par 4 plays 414 yards. It requires a long drive to reach the corner of the dogleg left. From there you will have a mid to long iron into a green that sits at an odd angle and is protected by two bunkers on the left and one large bunker on the right.
Fall Creek Falls offers accommodations, too. The Lodge is brand new and combines the comforts of modern hotels with the peace and tranquility of the State Park. The Lodge features 85 guest rooms that overlook Fall Creek Falls Lake. Guest rooms come in a variety of sizes and layouts, allowing you to customize your overnight arrangements. The lobby is full of information on things to do while there: hiking, paddle boarding, zipline adventures, fishing, and, of course, golf.
The Restaurant at Fall Creek Falls offers a complimentary continental breakfast to lodge guests. They are open 7 days a week for both lunch and dinner. The current menu may not be extensive but what they do, they do well, and the servings won’t leave you hungry. Start your meal with the Chili Frito Pie appetizer, a mound of corn chips topped with chili, cheese, and jalapenos. You can’t go wrong with Fish & Chips or Low Country Pasta, Cajun alfredo sauce with chicken, shrimp, or both over hot linguine for dinner. There’s also a full liquor bar and several local and craft beers on tap.
Fall Creek Falls State Park is located an hour from Chattanooga and less than two hours from Nashville and Knoxville. It’s the ideal destination for those wanting to enjoy nature.
Another top-notch State Park golf course in Tennessee is Paris Landing. For the past 27 years, Golf Digest has awarded the Paris Landing Golf Course 4 stars. It too has achieved Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary status. At Paris Landing, fairways are always well-groomed, and the Champion Bermuda greens were rebuilt in 2017 and roll fast and true.
The 18-hole championship golf course is carved from 300 acres of hollows and hills along the western shores of Kentucky Lake, the largest manmade lake in the eastern United States. The elevation changes and twists and turns incorporated into the course create a variety of golf holes. You’ll find several holes that play uphill, others play downhill. Some holes dogleg to the left, and some turn to the right. Occasionally you’ll find one that plays straight! It’s a real shotmaker’s course.
Just like the course at Fall Creek Falls, most of the holes are tree-lined and there is not a lot of water on the course, except a couple of creeks that cross the fairway on a few holes. The sparkling waters of Kentucky Lake certainly adds to the course’s aesthetics; several holes skirt this mammoth lake, including Number 4, a 177-yard par 3 that plays extremely downhill with trees on either side of the tee and a sand trap on the right. The lake serves as the backdrop on what I feel is the most stunning par 3 in the state; certainly, the most photographed.
If you’re looking for a place to lay your head after a busy day on the golf course or just touring the state park, the brand new 91-room lodge at Paris landing is the perfect place. Several different room types are available, all with a complimentary continental breakfast. Each room also has a private balcony or patio with terrific views of the lake and lodge guests have access to all of the outdoor patio spaces including two fire pits.
The Restaurant at Paris Landing offers indoor and outdoor seating and an extensive menu. I recommend either the Pork Osso-Bucco, a slow-smoked, flash-fried pork shank served with mascarpone polenta and honey-roasted carrots, or the Grilled Ribeye, served with two sides. Much like the Restaurant at Fall Creek Falls, you won’t leave hungry. They also have a full liquor bar and a selection of draft and bottled beers.
These are just two of several great golf courses within the Tennessee State Parks. The Tennessee Golf Trail is home to nine 18-hole championship golf courses across the state, including three Bear Trace courses and six traditional courses. The majority of these courses are in parks that offer lodging as well as dining. For more information on any of the Tennessee State Park golf courses or to book your next stay-and-play package, visit them online.