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|Laurel Valley is located in Townsend, just minutes from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. (Tim McDonald/GolfPublisher.com)|
TOWNSEND, Tenn. - The Laurel Valley Country Club advertises itself as "off the beaten path," and it is true that Townsend doesn't have the gaudy tourist lures of either of the twin-tourist fortresses of nearby Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge in eastern Tennessee.
Instead of Dollywood or Ripley's Believe It or Not, Townsend - and Laurel Valley - has more subtle charms.
Townsend is a smaller, friendlier and less-hokey town that lies at the doorstep of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with shops selling antiques, intricate chainsaw carvings and restaurants with names like Deadbeat Pete's. It's essentially a one-traffic light, mountain town with wide streets.v
Up the hill and then back down in the valley is the Laurel Valley course, a beautiful, little layout that offers ringside seats to the old, Smoky Mountains.
"It's one of the prettiest courses around," said Frank White, who owns several businesses in town. "Everybody who comes out says it's beautiful, and it is. It sure gets a lot of play."
True enough, Laurel Valley gets a lot of play from locals and tourists alike, drawing them in from Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and even Knoxville.
The course spreads out in the valley and is ringed by the Smokies; you can look up in the early mornings - and frequently throughout the day - and watch the mist moving silently around the peaks and hovering in the hollows.
Being in the breath of the Smokies, the course has the sort of natural elevation many courses would kill for. There are tee shots uphill and downhill, and this is one of those courses where you always want to be below the hole, so steep is the slope on many of the greens.
Like the town, the course is small, only 6,070 yards from the back tees, but the elevations will make it seem longer. There are blind shots off the tee, and blind shots into the greens, but it is a very playable course, once you've figured out the angles.
No. 6 is a fun hole, the No. 2 handicap, a sharp dogleg left in which a nice draw will leave you with a short iron in. Don't be short with your approach, though (Hint: I was 60 yards away after my tee shot and ended up with a bogey).
Laurel Valley endured some unusually harsh weather earlier this year, and has struggled to get the course in shape. But, the bentgrass greens are in good condition, and a pleasure to putt, rolling fast and true as only bentgrass can.
The elevation combines with some tricky angles off the tee to make it a fun play, with a lot of doglegs and risk/rewards, as well as some par 3s that are like falling off the side of a mountain, like Nos. 2 and 10.
It isn't a bomber's course, with the fairways being tree-lined and relatively narrow, and some of the greens can be dangerous if you're off with your approach, dropping off abruptly to low chipping areas.
The course sports quite a bit of wildlife, with deer, turkey and eagles spotted with some regularity; it wouldn't be surprising to see a black bear lurking in the deep woods.
The only serious problem with the course is its lack of a true practice facility. There is no driving range, and the practice putting green is small and, at least on the day I was there, had no holes.
December 20, 2007
Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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