American Society of Golf Course Architects visits Chattanooga

Some of the greatest minds in the golfing community spent the weekend reading greens and yardage books across Chattanooga, but their visit was about much more than the numbers on their scorecard.

More than 100 members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects played three rounds of golf at the Scenic City’s finest courses after the group dubbed the area worthy of hosting its annual business meeting.

“We’re looking at everything,” said Chicago-based course designer Greg Martin. “The fun of what we do every year is we get to play these golf courses, and we see something different. We get to see how each architect approached each situation differently.”

The group arrived in Chattanooga last Friday and held a series of lectures, brain-storming sessions and banquets in addition to its time on the links. Among the big-name guests over the weekend were Hall of Famer Tom Watson and 2016 Olympic course designer Gil Hanse.

ASGCA president Rick Phelps said a recovering economy and the fast-growing First Tee program were among the big topics of conversation this year, but the best part of the gathering is getting out to a variety of courses to keep the group’s creative juices flowing.

“I like to refer to it as adding to my toolbox or adding to my collection of samples,” said Phelps, who is based in the Denver area. “There are always new ideas we’re trying. There’s new ideas that become trendy, or old things that become revived.”

A trio of the region’s most prestigious classic courses were the primary draw. The group played Lookout Mountain Golf Club on Saturday, The Honors Course in Ooltewah on Sunday and Chattanooga Golf and Country Club on Monday.

While each earned rave reviews, the “throw-back” feel of Lookout Mountain was a favorite of many.

“Lookout Mountain was fantastic. It was a step back in time,” said Martin. “It was great seeing that old-school style and trying to play that. I’d love to go back there again because there was a lot of nuances I’d like to see again.”

While inspiring, the local courses also sparked a little jealousy from designers from other regions whose climates won’t allow for several course features enjoyed in the South.

“As much as anything, it’s about what I can’t do versus what’s done on these courses because our climate is so dry (in Colorado),” Phelps said. “So as much as I like to see new things and experience new looks, I’m reiterating in my head that it’s nice, but I can’t do that.”

It might be for the best that they can’t take it all home with them to use in other courses. That way Chattanooga can remain a unique golf destination, rich in history and creative design.

“It’s been great getting to play on these different types of grasses and courses. It’s an experience I only get about once a year,” Phelps said of the visit. “The people of Chattanooga have been fabulous to us. It’s been just a great experience.”

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