Many of us dream about owning our own golf course. Hopping on a mower every day to trim the turf, running operations exactly the way we want, building an experience where we and our friends can swing away to our hearts’ content without ever tiring of the fairways and greens we’ve so lovingly created.
Rob Collins took that dream to the extreme. After Collins and partner Tad King designed and built the nine-hole Sweetens Cove on the former site of Sequatchie Valley Golf and Country Club in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, he took a leap of faith to operate the new venture through the initial years, working on a shoestring budget and barely staying afloat in hopes of attracting not only a loyal golf following but also investors who could help secure a future for the golf course.
It took five years, but it paid off. On April 5, 2019, Sweetens Cove announced its new partnership group of Mark Rivers, Skip Bronson and Tom Nolan. Oh, and there were two other guys on the team as well — former world No. 1 tennis player and 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick along with perhaps the most-popular Tennessee sports figure in history, two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Peyton Manning who played his college football for the Volunteers just a couple hours up the road in Knoxville.
In Episode 135 of the “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast, Collins joins hosts Darin Bunch and Mitch Laurance to discuss what this new infusion of capital means for Sweetens Cove, especially since the course has forged a reputation as an amenity-free, come-as-you-are, all-about-the-golf mecca (thanks to early media coverage from writers such as Dylan Dethier in the New York Times and Andy Johnson at The Fried Egg) that attracts golf purists from across the country with dreams of shotmaking fun.
What will become of the beloved “Home Depot shed” that serves as reception, clubhouse and pro shop all in one? Will they get indoor plumbing? And are there plans for more golf — and even lodging — on the Sweetens Cove property? Collins address all these questions and more with Darin and Mitch.
“That has been a discussion that has gone over and over and over … among everyone who’s got an interest in seeing Sweetens Cove be successful,” Collins says on the podcast. “For the longest time — I’d say 2015, 2016, let’s call it ‘pre New York Times article’ — having no amenities was like a huge liability for us because most people didn’t understand or fully respect what we’d done out there. … And then, after the New York Times article, it started to become a strength. And that was not planned; it just happened. It was always just about putting one foot in front of the other, and all of a sudden we’ve got this weird strength in having a shed as our clubhouse and like no amenities. … So we were always concerned that if we start adding stuff, it’s going to actually subtract from what Sweetens Cove is. So the answer is, we’re going to tread very, very lightly with respect to the amenities.”
Also on the podcast, Collins discusses how the nine-hole course is attracting more buyout events such as the Golf Trip Experts’ Sweetens Cove Shootout (Aug. 23-24, 2019) thanks to the success and visibility of “The Ringer,” an annual (and now more frequent) get-together that is the brainchild of professional golfer Zac Blair, with whom Rob is teaming up to design and build The Buck Club in Utah.
“It really is absolutely the perfect way to experience the golf course because playing it one time for nine holes just isn’t enough,” Collins says. “And if you can have the experience of basically having a golf course to yourself, that’s a pretty unique and fun thing. And that’s something we really try to do for people who are coming out for those type of events — we want them to feel like it’s their golf course and they can just do whatever they want. I encourage you guys to play cross-country holes, do whatever — if you want to play the golf course backwards all day long, you can. … It’s just part of the whole mindset at Sweetens Cove.”
And, of course, no “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast would be complete without a shoutout to Mike Strantz where appropriate, and Collins shares a passion with Bunch and Laurance for the “maverick” designer and his North Carolina Sandhills design at Tobacco Road, which bears more than a few comparisons to Sweetens Cove.
“[Strantz] had a huge impact on me,” Collins says. “One of the first times we had any media out there [at Sweetens Cove] was Ron Whitten [of Golf Digest], and this was before the golf course even opened, and we were coming around behind No. 8 green right by No. 9 tee, and Ron said, ‘You know Rob, I hope this doesn’t bother you me saying this, but I see a lot of Tobacco Road in this golf course.’ And I was like, that’s the most awesome compliment ever.”
“The risks he took and successfully pulled off at Tobacco Road were a huge influence on me and the way I thought about architecture. I’ve always been a person who wanted to think about things a little bit differently, and seeing Tobacco Road made me realize how differently you could think about things.”