A Closer Look: Sand Hills and The Honors Course
As every golf fan knows, every year Golf Digest compiles a list of the top 100 golf courses in the world. This list contains its fair share of juggernauts such as ANGC, Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Merion, etc.
But what about the rest? Some of the greatest courses in the world are on this list, yet many people don’t know much about them due to lack of TOUR stops, majors, or a lack of media attention altogether. I’d like to put an end to the general golfing public being unaware of some of the greatest tracks planet earth has to offer, which is why I’m starting a series that seeks to dig a little bit deeper into some of the lesser known powerhouses that receive the honor of being placed on the GD Top 100. Each installment will include two courses off of the list.
So, without further ado, I’d like to begin dissecting the lesser-knowns of the top 100.
Sand Hills Golf Club
Located in Mullen, Nebraska Sand Hills was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 1994. At just 23 years old, SHGC is still very young, and plays just under 7,100 yards from all the way back.
The course opens up with a very gettable 549-yard par 5, with the length and difficulty of the second shot being determined by just how aggressive the player wants to be. Some of the longer players may try to carry the bunker off the tee, which results in a steep price to pay if not executed properly. Placing the tee shot in this bunker makes this par 5 a three-shotter that could include a much longer than ideal third shot.
This hole presents a very good birdie opportunity to set the tone for the round, so long as the golfer remembers to play within themselves and not deviate from their respective strengths.
Arguably the most exciting hole on the course is the short par 4 7th, which weighs in at just 283 yards. A hole of this length coupled with a fairly generous fairway provides the player with many options. The player is given the option to lay up to just about any number they want, though their ability to give themselves a look for birdie will be decided by how close the hole is cut to the massive bunker that encompasses the left side of the green.
This same bunker will be in the back of the aggressive players’ minds as they go for the green whether it be with a driver or even a 3-wood. As a huge fan of short 4s, i love this hole because of its simplicity, wide fairway, and massive bunker that poses a threat to every single shot hit into the green. This degree of simplicity can make a hole more complex as it presents the golfer with an abundance of options, which is a tell-tale sign of a great golf hole.
Perhaps the best hole on the entire course is the 150-yard par 3 17th hole. Due to the treacherously short length of the hole, the gigantic bunkers that protect the green appear to be the size of the moon from the tee box. The fescue that lines some edges of these bunkers instill even more fear into the player as they step up to the ball with a short-iron in hand, knowing that a miscue of any kind will bring a 5 into play.
This golf course is a minimalist masterpiece that maximizes both the value of a round there, and the strategy required to get around it. A course as simple yet brilliant as Sand Hills would be ideal for a major championship, and I believe it would hold its own logistically as well. Sand Hills is definitely a bucket list course of mine, but I’m not betting on playing it as its one of the most difficult courses to get onto in the country.
The Honors Course
Weighing in at 7,450 yards, The Honors Course is a monstrous Pete Dye masterpiece that doesn’t play quite all of its card distance due to its setting which happens to be in the mountains of Ooltewah, Tennessee, not far outside of Chattanooga. The course holds a series of seven sets of tees ranging from 5,015 to 7,450 yards, making it a feasible test for players of all skill levels.
THC is a little bit older than the aforementioned track, as it was built in 1983. The course is covered in high, native fescue grass, giving it an organic, natural look and feel. In fact, this grass was so dense and thick that many of the first to play out of it deemed it legitimately unfair. This natural form of rough is what gives The Honors Course so much of its charm. A golf course that gives off an unadulterated vibe always makes for a very fun experience.
The hole that sticks out to me the most at THC is the par 3 16th, whicb measures 200 yards on the button. This par 3 is almost all carry to a green surrounded by stone in front, and tall trees and gorgeous foliage in back, especially in autumn. This hole presents a challenge to the player, as it demands a pure strike with a mid to long iron just to ensure that the ball remains dry. If the player suffers a minor hiccup and ends up in the water, it doesn’t get any easier from there.
Water is a legitimate threat on many holes here, which calls for an increased level of precision and confidence from the golfer.
The Honors Course has played host to four USGA events as well as two NCAA Men’s Division 1 Championships. Its most recent big event, the 2016 US Junior Am, was a very exciting event which could bode well for The Honors Course’s chances at receiving a major in the distant future.
Some more pictures of The Honors Course:
A more extensive collection of photos from The Honors Course can be found here.