weekly online golf column
Chris Dortch
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 course.

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 course feel.

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 warranted.

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 lost art.

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 fit."

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.



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