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Why Sweetens Cove, one of the country's most beloved 9-hole courses, is closing for the summer

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Sweetens Cove Golf Club, the nine-hole course in South Pittsburg, Tenn., beloved by a devoted group of golf adventurists, announced that it will be closing for three months at the end of May to repair turf damage suffered over the winter.

A stretch of severe weather destroyed grass on the course’s fairways and greens. The club attempted to work around the damage early in the season but a decision was reached to shut down the course for a more comprehensive rehabilitation.

“We were dealt an incredibly difficult hand this winter,” says Rob Collins, the architect who designed the course with partner Tad King and who is also part of the ownership group. “I was speaking to a meteorologist, and he thinks there was an abnormal microclimate around Sweetens Cove that caused the temperatures to get down to negative ten for several days, or maybe lower. We had ice on the turf for over a week.”

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“It’s definitely the worst stretch of weather I’ve seen at the course in the 14 years I’ve been working on it.”

Sweetens Cove operates on a unique model. Instead of offering tee times as do most public courses, it sells all-day passes and themed “experiences.” Players from around the country visit and spend a day, often several days, playing the nine holes repeatedly. The design is known for its large and wildly contoured greens that are cut with two or three hole locations so approach and short game shots vary round to round, creating courses within the course.

Passes for the year typically sell out shortly after they’re released.

Sweetens Cove Golf Club
Public
Sweetens Cove Golf Club
South Pittsburg, TN
The nine-holer just 30 miles west of Chattanooga is probably the buzziest nine-hole course in the U.S. Designed by King-Collins and now with financial backing by prominent golfers such as Peyton Manning, Sweetens Cove offers numerous alternative routings, allowing the course to be played several ways. The laidback atmosphere defies country-club tradition and encourages players to wear whatever they want—even allowing golfers to bring their dog along for the round. The course itself features generous fairways and massive, undulating greens that reward imagination and creativity.
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Collins says they will be refunding those who purchased passes for this summer (he expects the course to reopen in September). Those who have had their reservations cancelled will get first-look opportunities for 2025 passes, along with a discount.

“I feel terrible for the pass holders we had to cancel on, as well as our operations and maintenance staff,” Collins says. “All they want to do is show people a good time, and that’s on hold. It’s tough for them.”

The closure will allow Sweetens to repair the turf and also attend to deferred maintenance projects that wouldn’t otherwise be possible while the course is open. In the fairways they’ll employ a novel devise called a Fraze mower that scalps the old 419 Bermuda down to the roots, removing years of thatch buildup, before planting new Northridge Bermuda, a cousin of 419. The grass on the greens is also being replaced with new MiniVerde Bermuda. Once established, the new turf should make the course play firmer than before.

Collins may also use the opportunity while the grass is scalped for minor architectural alterations, including possible modifications to the ninth green complex.

Sweetens Cove opened in 2014 on the site of the old Sequatchie Valley Golf & Country Club. Collins and King began remodeling it in 2010 for the previous owner before Collins purchased the lease when funds ran dry. Once in control, the design became an opportunity for King and Collins to create the kind of course they’d always wanted to build with massive fairways, heaving greens and swaths of exposed sand. Sweetens was them crashing the party with a kick-down-the-door architectural statement that would not have been possible with someone else calling the shots.

Despite the attraction of unbridled architecture, Sweetens Cove struggled financially for the first five years, constantly teetering on bankruptcy. A nine-hole course 30 minutes into the country from Chattanooga was not, apparently, a model destined to succeed. Slowly, however, word of mouth spread about this unique design, piquing the curiosity of onlookers as images and impassioned critiques proliferated on Twitter and blogs.

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Sweetens Cove became the first golf course sensation of the social media age, and more and more people made the pilgrimage. The course’s charms, audacity and multiplicity turned them to acolytes, and there are enough of them to keep the course filled year-round.

In 2019, a team of investors including Peyton Manning and Andy Roddick partnered with Collins, putting the course at last on a solid financial foundation.

Collins views the latest setback as a chance to elevate the course to a level it’s not previously had the chance to attain.

“It stinks in the short term, but it’s a great opportunity to address some much needed projects. We will come out in September flying like a damn rocket ship,” he says. “Sweetens is a lot of things but above all else it is resilient.”