A wide-ranging “summer golf” episode highlighted by Mitch Laurance’s recent mountain golf getaway in North Carolina, with an eye-and-heart-opening experience at Sequoyah National Golf Club at the foot of the Great Smokey Mountains in Cherokee, is on the itinerary in the latest “Talking GolfGetaways” podcast with co-host Darin Bunch and producer Kris McEwen (both of whom also provide summer travel recaps of their own in this fun, funny and revealing three-way conversation).
Having seen photos and read praise for Sequoyah National Golf Club, owned by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, and searching for a summer mountain destination for a golf trip with his wife Ewa and longtime friends Bob and Vicki Paski, Mitch picked the course as the prime reason to visit the Asheville area.
LISTEN to “Talking GolfGetaways” Sequoyah National episode or listen to Mitch, Darin and Kris catch up on their travel in this episode on audioBoom! | iTunes | Stitcher | PlayerFM
In addition to great work by architects Ty Butler, Bruce Charleton (both of RTJ2 Design) and Notah Begay III, Mitch also found the Kemper Sports-managed property was not only a superbly-designed and eminently playable mountain course with stunning elevation changes and vistas, but an overall experience that left all four players completely overwhelmed by an unexpected connection to nature and to the land — to Native American history and legends — and with a deep respect for a Cherokee stewardship that is evident in every moment spent on property.
Mitch details the elements of Sequoyah National that struck him immediately. Chief among them is the cooperation, friendliness and knowledge of General Manager Brad Adams, who made the introduction to Sequoyah seamless and exciting, laying out things to look for during the round and tips on playing certain holes that would add to the experience. An open-air cart barn whose entrance is framed by a curving, labor-intensive, artistic tapestry of single pieces of wood somehow bent and placed together. A phenomenal view of the mountains evident as you step out of the clubhouse to the practice range. Everything about Sequoyah National is striking.
Mitch then details the two elements of playing Sequoyah that are at once separate and yet completely intertwined. First, the course itself, opened in 2009 and designed by Butler with consultation by Begay, is laid magnificently over sacred Cherokee mountain land with an eye toward playability first, allowing golfers the opportunity to enjoy their round and take in the beauty that surrounds them without the majority of players being over-taxed by extreme challenges. Then there was the $2.7 million renovation during summer 2020 by Bruce Charleton, which saw the course completely re-grassed with warm-weather Zoysia, allowing for perfect year-round conditions, the removal of 12 bunkers and the rebuilding of the remaining bunkers with new technology and sand.
The result, Mitch explains, is a course that, after less than a year of grow-in, is already one of the most beautifully conditioned layouts you’ll find anywhere — a treat to play on and a visually artistic and stimulating painting. It’s a course that challenges you while offering abundant room to play and places to miss shots, a gift for every level of golfer. On a pure golf level, you’d be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable, memorable round. Darin then talks about his experience a number of years ago at Sequoyah National, before the renovations, and recalls similar memories of how much he relished his round, noting that he now can’t wait to get back.
Mitch then dives into the deeper connections he felt while progressing through his round, all of them due to the Native American influence that can be felt, progressively, on every hole at Sequoyah National. On every tee box is a plaque that details a particular aspect of Cherokee-Native American lore, history or reasoning behind each hole’s name. At the first tee, against a backdrop of the Great Smokies, you’re connected to the Cherokee mountain creation story. At No. 5, named “Little People”, a 4-par where a few small land indentations along the hole’s border lay, the story of the Cherokee legend of the caves in which the Little People of legend lived. And No. 14 offers perhaps the most powerful message of the round: “Stronghold. These lands are held by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Throughout our history our leaders have worked to preserve, protect and defend our traditional homelands. These lands have become the stronghold of our people and represent our perseverance in protecting Cherokee cultural and historic traditions.”
Mitch then talks about his interaction with PGA Head Professional Carr Crowe, a Native American who began his career working on the building of the course early on, which inspired him to then work toward, and finally get, his certification as a PGA member. Crowe shares the impact Sequoyah National has had on the local Native American community (Cherokee High School being down the street), with junior programs full, jobs created at all different levels and interest in the game growing with every season.
As Mitch then explains, by the time the day is over, with a round marked by awe of the natural surroundings, a fantastic golf course producing lots of fun and laughter among friends, and an appreciation for a game and for a Cherokee people that teach the most valuable life lessons imaginable, you’re already dreaming of a return to Sequoyah National.
LISTEN to the Sequoyah National episode
The remainder of Mitch’s North Carolina adventure was a story of the good, bad and ugly. First the good: The foursome’s round at the historic Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville. Mitch recounts the spectacular mountain lodging and restaurant collection and what a great vacation destination it is. He follows up with a review of the Grove Park Inn golf course, first opened in 1899 and with a 1926 Donald Ross redesign that still forms the foundation of the layout (it was updated in 2001). Mitch describes the thrill of playing a course that hosted a PGA Tour stop from 1933-1951, an event that welcomed great players like Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan (who won the event 1940-42), Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus. He shares his thoughts on a beautiful, scenic course with a front nine played through a gentle valley and a back nine with more difficulty and elevation changes. Finally, he describes the challenge of putting on iconic Ross greens that he says are “the most subtle, difficult-to-read greens I’ve ever played on.” Overall, another fun round with Ewa, Bob and Vicki, all of whom echoed Mitch’s thoughts on the Grove Park experience.
As for the other guys and their summer travels, Kris details spending time with his family in the Phoenix area, playing Legacy Golf Course, a local course that provides the perfect “wide-fairway-not-too-hard” desert round. Kris then shares the fabulous time he and 35 other golfers spent at the Continental Golf Club in Flagstaff at a two-day event that Kris put together — one that now grows every year — and explains how the event is another example of the game being a great unifier bringing different people together.
And Darin talks about the opening of Preview Play at Bar Run Golf in Roseburg, Oregon. The Dan Hixson-designed course, now open with 10 holes that can be played through an All-Day Pass, is receiving strong early reviews as some golfers play more than 50 holes (the record is now 72 holes in one day for a twosome) as part of the “sneak peek” promotion.
Mitch then closes the looooooong episode with a scathing review of Laurel Ridge Country Club in Waynesville, North Carolina, the final stop on his foursome’s trip. Mitch explains how he booked Laurel Ridge because of some great mountain views and a fully-engaged respect for architect Bob Cupp’s body of work. And he mentions how enjoyable he found a few of the holes on the member course (open for outside play), citing the stunning views and challenge of the signature par-4 No. 12, a hole that features a mind-boggling 300-foot elevation drop to a narrow, tree-lined fairway.
But in a rare take-down of a golf experience, Mitch uncharacteristically rips Laurel Ridge for its shoddy maintenance of tee boxes (the worst he’s seen), bunkers full of swarms of bees, blind tee shots with no possibility of knowing where your ball will end up, and an incident on the 18th green involving five of the kind of country club members that give private clubs a bad name. His advice? Skip Laurel Ridge. By all means.
But there’s plenty of great golf to love in this episode of “Talking GolfGetaways.” We hope you enjoy the fun we had discussing it.
—Words by Mitch Laurance
LISTEN to Mitch, Darin and Kris catch up on their travel in this episode