It’s rare that a new course and destination take the golf world by storm, whether by word of mouth or by sudden acclaim from one of golf’s most recognizable and respected magazines. But that is exactly what’s happened with McLemore, the stunning experience-above-the-clouds in northwest Georgia, nominated by Golf Digest as the “Best New Course in America for 2020” and as having the “Best 18th Hole Since 2000”. On this episode of Talking GolfGetaways, hosts Mitch Laurance and Darin Bunch and Producer Kris McEwen talk to Duane Horton, President of McLemore and of Scenic Land Company, its developer, to get the behind-the-scenes details of what went into McLemore’s success.
Darin leads off the conversation by asking about the history of McLemore and what lead Horton to get involved in acquiring and developing the existing golf course, formerly known as Canyon Ridge Club. He walks the cohosts through his own history near the magnificent site at Lookout Mountain, GA, having literally grown up at the base of the 2200’ location, and talks about how much sense it made to build the new McLemore in a location that’s not only incredibly scenic and visible but one that’s within a 2-hour drive of 14 million people who can enjoy it. Horton explains how Lookout Mountain, as a “plateau mountain”, is unusual in that it’s a perfect site for a golf course, affording not only relatively flat areas to play from but vistas that make McLemore one of the more visually beautiful layouts anywhere in the country. He talks about the former layout, noting that it had fallen into disrepair over the years and called for a complete redesign in order to bring it up to the standards he envisioned, giving a detailed account of the scope of the work done. Of particular interest is the story of the selection of two world-class course architects, legendary designer Rees Jones and less well-known Bill Bergin, whose star is definitely on the rise. Horton then shares how both contributed to the finished product, the Highlands Course, noting that their ability to change plans quickly and on-the-fly ultimately led to the redesign of the now signature, cliff-top 18th green, a plan originally proposed by Horton himself, and how valuable Bergin’s guidance and shepherding of the project was. Darin and Horton then do a deep dive into the specifics of various special holes at the Highlands and why they’re noteworthy.
Mitch moves to the 6-hole Short Course, designed by Jones and Bergin on the old 18th fairway of Canyon Ridge, and gets the impact on not only the private members at McLemore but on the visiting golfers who have access to the Club from a special podcast guest, Dan Kiley, the Chairman of McLemore, who joins the conversation. Kiley notes that the Short Course has already become a favorite, a place where not only superb conditions but its vibe as a terrific “hang” spot make the course a must-play for all levels of golfer.
Darin shares his experience at McLemore and that vibe, bringing up the new clubhouse and its welcoming, brilliantly designed layout as a fantastic addition to the entire McLemore experience. Horton talks about not only the clubhouse decisions, but describes the community feeling of everything about the Club, from the laid-back (though definitely world-class) interior of the clubhouse to the beauty and harmony of the deck which overlooks the course and the northwest Georgia landscape below. He shares the impact a newly created concert area for local artists has had on the community and McLemore guests, and both he and Darin talk about the fantastic food offerings at the Club’s restaurant, The Creag, which draws on the area’s Scottish heritage as well as the talents of its staff to give guests a most memorable dining experience.
Horton wraps the podcast up with an explanation of the “Friends of McLemore” program, explaining the unique social media tool that allows golfers to connect with McLemore and others who’ve played the course and taken advantage of package opportunities there as a way of joining McLemore’s private membership in enjoying what has quickly become one of America’s newest must-visit destinations.
— Words by Mitch Laurance