If you follow me on Twitter, you will see that I’m in Florida this week! I was lucky enough to get New Year’s week off and I’m visiting friends and family near Orlando. In the past, I’ve taken only a couple days off but this time I am here for an extended vacation. Like most of my trips to Florida these days, golf isn’t the main focus. I don’t have any elaborate golf plans which is good because I’m not sure that my back could take 10+ rounds of golf if I tried. I’ve played a lot of golf in 2014 and while I’m not looking forward to the cold weather in the coming months, I am looking forward to some time away from the game.
I took the long way to Florida and actually stayed in Johnson City, TN on Friday. It is a long story, but I kicked off the road trip with a friend in the car and dropped him off along the way. I continued my pilgrimage on Saturday but was looking to stop for some golf! I left Johnson City around 9am which meant that stopping in upstate South Carolina was going to offer the most course choices while allowing me to comfortably finish a round before dark. Plus, stopping here meant that I could take a couple routes to Florida.
I’ve never been to the area before and I really liked it! When I think of South Carolina I immediately think of Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head. However, the northwest corner of the state has some stunning scenery and more mountains that I ever would have thought! I mention the Blue Ridge Mountains when I review courses in Virginia, but the mountain range extends down into South Carolina too! I’m not positive if Cherokee Valley is actually in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but it has some very nice views of them!
I had casually researched courses to play along a couple routes, but not in great detail because I had so many to choose from. I knew that this was a mountain course, that Dye designed it, and that it gets good reviews. I booked my 12pm tee time about an hour before I played from a parking lot off of I-26. It cost me $25 through Golfnow and my last minute decision to play here worked out nicely! I was looking at one other nearby course, but it was $59 which is more than I like to pay in the off-season.
Cherokee Valley is located closer to the North Carolina border than it is to the nearby cities of Greenville or Spartanburg. I hoped that the course’s more remote location might give me a chance to get around quickly and get back on the road. That’s happened a few times for me, but not this time! I pulled into the packed parking lot about 45 minutes before my tee time and knew that I’d be in for a long round. Multiple foursomes teed off while I checked in and warmed up. I heard that the course was full and it looked like all the carts were out of the barn when I drove by on the way to the 10th tee. It was one of those days where our foursome waited on almost every shot which led to a round that took 4 hours and 45 minutes. No casual round of golf should ever take more than 4 hours but I was able to remain patient and enjoy the beautiful area.
I mentioned that I had done a little research about the course. Well apparently I didn’t read that webpage too closely because I thought that Pete Dye designed Cherokee Valley. Wrong! Pete’s son, P.B., designed the course! I don’t have much experience playing P.B. courses but from what I’ve seen he isn’t as cruel as his father. After playing the course though, I think that P.B. must have had Pete on speed dial when drawing up this one! Therefore, if someone doesn’t like tricks then I’d suggest they stay far, far away!
Cherokee Valley isn’t a long course, even from the back tees. Those tees are the gold tees (71.7/134/6612) and the one’s that I played. Don’t be fooled by the short yardage though! Personally, I think that the slope should be higher. The course has just about every feature that a designer could dream up to make it difficult. There is some target golf, slopes that feed into trouble, blind shots, uneven lies, severe elevation change, chipping areas well below green level, and big mounds in the greens. There are some deep bunkers and not many good bounces will be found around the course! Being able to hit it straight or work it both ways is the type of game that is going to give someone the best chance to score well here. A good touch around the greens is also needed, because an average chip or putt could easily run off many of the greens and into trouble! In my opinion the course was designed for high level amateur play, not for the average golfer. The only good news, for the score, is that there will be plenty of short irons into the greens!
Because of all this I fought my way around the course for the first time. If I would have played at a non-peak time, and had the course to myself, I think I could have had a bunch of fun trying to hit different shots. Because of all the slope in and around the greens, someone could get very creative. I played 30 feet away from one pin location and looked like I knew what I was doing. I wouldn’t have minded trying to putt, flop, and bump and run a few practice balls from the same spot around some of the greens. Based on the design alone though, I’m not sure that Cherokee Valley is worth playing. I don’t think it is unfair because someone can use the slopes to their advantage, but average shots are going to get punished.
What impressed me most about the course was the scenery. Keep in mind that I played it during the winter! I’m sure that the scenery would be more impressive during the other seasons. There are a few teaser views on the front nine before getting to the 15th hole which has a panoramic view of the nearby mountains! In my opinion the view from that tee makes the course worth playing. A few homes are noticeable from the course, but they didn’t bother me.
An added bonus was that the course was in great shape! The greens were very fast and I just tapped a couple putts to get them to the hole. Their speed had me defensive all day long, but they were plenty receptive. The overseed had grown in nicely in the fairways and I always had a nice lie. I’m not always impressed with the condition of overseeded fairways, but these were very nice! Some tees had plenty of divots, were sanded, and the only part of the course that was lacking when it came to the maintenance. Not a big deal to me though.
I stopped at Cherokee Valley because it was convenient and the price was right. I’m sure glad that I did! It isn’t a course that I’d want to play more than a couple times a year if I lived in the area, but it got me thinking about the types of shots that I wanted to hit. The staff deserves some recognition for good service by including free range balls, dropping the cart off at the car, and sending someone out to chat about the slow play. I wouldn’t mind a trip back to the area on a long weekend to check out some of the other courses in the area.
#1 (350 yard par 4):
The opening hole is one of the shorter par 4’s on the course it looks innocent at first glance! The fairway is pretty wide for what probably will be a layup off the tee. I’d guess that something 225 to 240 yards off the tee should work just fine. From there it will be a semi-blind short iron from a hook like into a green that slopes from right to left. The pin was located on a flatter section of green off to the right, but I found it tough to get the second close because the ball wants to go left.
#2 (540 yard par 5):
The 2nd is the longest hole on the course and it plays uphill the entire way. Anything to the left of the fairway could easily run into the woods so make sure to favor the right side as the ball should work to the left. The layup is a bit strange as someone either needs to carry a grass bunker on the right or lay back short of it. I laid back short of it and had ~140 yards into the green. The green drops off severely on most sides so accuracy is the most important thing on the 3rd shot. I actually hit two clubs more for my 3rd. Finally, the green slopes hard from back to front so someone might be able to use that to their advantage. I think there is too much to deal with on this hole.
#3 (190 yard par 3):
The ideal shot is right to left and there is a chance to run one up onto the green which is nice. This par 3 is unique because it doesn’t have any bunkers! Although that might make it more difficult because there isn’t anything to catch a shot going to the left. Anything on the left side of the green has a good chance of ending up well below green level and maybe even running out of bounds. Be very careful if chipping from the right. It plays about a club downhill and I’d do everything possible to land it short and right of the green in hopes of a good kick!
#4 (378 yard par 4):
This might be one of the blindest (not sure if my grammar is correct!) tee shots that I’ve ever faced! I just tried to hit it at the center of the picture and that should work out just fine as there is a speed slot that will take the ball down the hill and to the right. Make sure to hit a layup club though because the fairway runs out into some rough. I hit my 3 wood which normally goes 235 yards and had just 100 yards into the green. To do over I’d go with my 210 yard club. The approach is tough even with a short iron because of the downhill lie and a green that slopes to the back.
#5 (289 yard par 4):
I like a short par 4 on a golf course, but I like one that can be driven. I don’t see how anyone but a pro could drive this green as a high hook that carries to the front of the green is needed. There is water left and right of the fairway and then again short of the green. I like a short par 4 with options off the tee and there aren’t many here, just a long iron or hybrid. Note that it is a longer carry over the water down the left side to get to the fairway and that the green slopes from right to left.
#6 (166 yard par 3):
The ideal tee shot here has a right to left flight. If someone gets it going too far left, there is a chance that it can hit a slope left of the green and feed back to the right. Make sure not to miss it left because that same slope could make keeping a chip on the green very tough. It looks like there is a buried elephant on the left half of the green which adds a lot of difficulty to the hole. A couple people in my group didn’t get their putts to the top of that mound and the ball rolled back to their feet.
#7 (521 yard par 5):
The 7th offers a good chance for a birdie depending on the pin location. The hole moves to the right, but mostly on the layup. The layup is blind because it plays downhill and someone has to be careful after the generous landing area for the tee shot. There is a small, narrow patch of fairway with water right so someone has to hit a very accurate iron to lay it up. If someone doesn’t get to that fairway then the 3rd shot is going to be from a downhill lie in the rough. The back of the green is maybe 10 feet higher than the front so I played a wedge shot about 30 feet away from the flag and it rolled up close. Someone can get creative around this green!
#8 (461 yard par 4):
This is the longest par 4 on the course! It has the most traditional tee shot on the front nine and plays to a large fairway. I had a long iron for my 2nd shot and unfortunately missed it left of the green. I ended up about pin high but was down in a depression and couldn’t see the flag from 20 yards! To do over, I would have tried harder to hit my 2nd out to the right. There aren’t any bunkers near the green so someone can run it onto the green through a narrow opening.
#9 (422 yard par 4):
The 9th doglegs left around a fairway bunker that is almost hidden from view in my picture. I ended up in that bunker but it kept my ball from going farther left. Someone can play out to the right but that lengthens the hole and there is another bunker over there. It is a pretty good driving hole because it makes someone pick a line and execute. The approach is semi-blind to a green that slopes from back to front.
#10 (422 yard par 4):
The back nine starts out with a par 4 that is the same distance as the last hole. That is a little unusual, but it didn’t bother me because I hit a poor drive out to the right and had a different club for my approach. I easily found my ball, but had a blind shot into a long and narrow green. The ideal tee shot is probably going to favor the left side of the fairway for the best angle to the green. There is some out of bounds to the left. Be very careful putting on this green because the sides fall off of it! Someone could easily putt it off an edge of the green.
#11 (143 yard par 3):
This is a fairly simple hole and there aren’t too many tricks considering that it is a short par 3. If someone has the right club then it shouldn’t be any trouble to hit this large green. I’d make sure not to over the green because it drops off into a chipping area.
#12 (479 yard par 5):
The 12th is the shortest par 5 on the course and a wonderful birdie chance! It took me a moment to find the gold tee box because it is across a road. The tee shot is wide open so it is a chance to try to rip a drive. The fairway slopes to the right and the hole moves to the left so I’d suggest a draw off the tee. If someone opts to go for the green in two then the biggest difficulty is going to be catching the shot solid from an uneven lie in the fairway. The flag was in the front of the green when I played and pretty accessible using the slopes. However, a flag in the back part of the green is going to be a lot tougher to get at because the back section is elevated.
#13 (365 yard par 4):
Be careful playing the 13th as a lot can go wrong! Make sure to favor the left side of the fairway and avoid the fairway bunkers out there. If the tee ends up down the right side then someone might have to carve one around a tree. Favor the left on the approach because a shot landing right of the green is going to get a hard kick right and go down a big slope. I doubt someone would be able to see the pin from right of the green, even if pin high.
#14 (500 yard par 5):
The 14th is the last par 5 on the course. It plays uphill to the green and features a narrow landing area for a driver. There are large fairway bunkers to the right which need to be avoided. The good news is that the fairway gets wider for the layup before an accurate short iron is needed to find the small green.
#15 (226 yard par 3):
The 15th is the signature hole on the course because of its great views! In fact, the views are some of the best that I’ve enjoyed on a course all year long. I estimate that it drops 2 to 3 clubs from tee to green based on my one time playing the hole. At first I thought that I could hit it short and run the ball onto the green, but there is a slope short of the green that needs to be carried. I found it difficult to hit enough club in fear of going over the back the of the green. Missing short and right is the best play because the chip will go across the green that slopes from back to front.
#16 (387 yard par 4):
This downhill par 4 is the 3rd hardest hole on the course. The fairway narrows the farther that someone hits it and the fairway slopes from right to left. I think it should be an easy fairway to hit if someone lays up off the tee. From there it is a semi-blind shot into a small, tabletop green that falls off severely on all sides. Chipping around this green is going to be a nightmare and any ball landing over the green has a good chance to end up in someone’s yard which is out of bounds. Distance control on the approach is very important.
#17 (363 yard par 4):
The fairway on the 17th is in a bowl. Anything to the right or left is going to feed towards the center so I’d venture to say that most folks are going to be playing from the fairway even after an average shot. That is also bad news because there were a bunch of divots and my nice tee shot actually found one of them! The 2nd shot plays slightly uphill to a green with a chipping area long and a deep bunker to the left.
#18 (410 yard par 4):
The final hole is a somewhat “normal” one! The tee shot plays to a gigantic fairway before someone faces potential trouble on the approach shot. There is a steep slope to the right of the green which funnels balls towards the cart path and could possibly lead to a lost ball. I’d make sure to favor the left side when playing the 2nd shot.