"IF YOU LIKE GOLF"
weekly online golf column
July 4, 2000
The Bear Trace at Harrison Bay opened with tremendous
anticipation in May, 1999.
But despite the initial enthusiasm of the local golf community,
even the hierarchy of Redstone Golf Management, which operates the
Bear Trace and its sister courses throughout the state, wondered
about the course’s pricing structure.
Was the rank-and-file duffer in the Chattanooga area prepared to
pay $45 plus tax—$55 plus tax on weekends—for a round of golf?
More than a year after the Bear Trace’s opening, the answer
to that question is yes. Despite some growing pains, the course
attracted plenty of players in 1999, and has continued to do so in
the first six months of 2000.
A year ago, there were 20,000 rounds played at the Bear Trace
in just a little more than seven months. Through June this year,
15,000 rounds had been played at Harrison Bay. Redstone is
predicting 30,000 rounds for the year.
"Play has really exceeded expectations,’’ said Robin
Boyer, the Bear Trace’s popular head professional. "We didn’t
really know what we were getting in to at first. But we thought
that if we put a Jack Nicklaus signature course in this area,
there was a market for it. We thought that people would pay a
little bit more for a nice product."
That has certainly been the case. Though out-of-town play has
accounted for some of that impressive number of rounds played at
Harrison Bay, golfers of the Chattanooga area have supported the
Boyer and his staff have done everything to make the experience
at Harrison Bay enjoyable. The course’s massive clubhouse is an
impressive structure that contains a well-stocked pro shop,
lounge, grill and deck where play on the 18th hole can
be viewed. You won’t meet a more accommodating head pro than
Boyer, and his staff has taken that cue.
The Bear Trace isn’t a private course, but it has a private
And then there’s the layout. Tucked amid Harrison Bay, the
course offers a challenge for any skill level. Three sets of men’s
tees allow a player to take on as much or as little of the course
as he desires. Then there’s the beauty of the terrain.
"Most of the comments about the course have been about the
esthetics," Boyer said. "The vistas create, more than
anything else, a real experience out here."
Redstone, which leases the five Bear Traces courses from the
state of Tennessee (The Bear Trace at Ross Creek Landing opens
next spring), has a commitment to making improvements as they are
A prime example is the grassy areas surrounding the greens. The
course opened with fescue around its greens and fairways, which
made for some penal and often inconsistent lies. Chipping was a
This year, Redstone, at no small amount of trouble, tore out
the fescue and replaced it with bermuda. In order for any changes
to be made on a course bearing Nicklaus’ name, the great one’s
company has to be consulted.
"They sent an agronomist out here, and he agreed with
us," Boyer said. "He said to make changes as we saw
Chipping is now part of a golfer’s arsenal again. Even
fairway rough has been replaced by bermuda in many areas.
"You have to hit a real errant shot to reach the
fescue," Boyer said.
Harrison Bay isn’t the only Bear Trace course that has been
well received. The project’s popularity grows daily. Many
Memphis golfers are finding that they would rather travel east for
an hour to get to the Bear Trace at Chickasaw than travel west 45
minutes and fight downtown traffic to play courses closer to home,
The Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain gets bombed with players
in the spring and fall, when resort business in that area is
booming. Tims Ford has earned a reputation of being a challenging
layout that golfers from Nashville and Chattanooga are traveling
an hour or more to play.
Redstone, which has a 40-year agreement with the state, would
like to expand the Bear Trace trail to nine courses. Some will no
doubt be ticketed for metro areas such as Nashville. The
Tri-Cities can probably expect a course eventually.
"We’re trying to create something similar to the Robert
Trent Jones Trail in Alabama," Boyer said. "We feel we
might have the edge eventually, because our courses are easier.
The Trail courses have been found to be very difficult for the
average player. We feel like ours are very playable."
The numbers at Harrison Bay would support Boyer’s comments.
It’s hard to argue with 35,000 rounds in 13 months.