Hermitage President’s Reserve Golf Course in Old Hickory, TN
Tee Time: October 19, 2012, 1:40, 62 F, Breezy
Designer: Denis Griffiths, 2000
Playing Partners: Dave, Dave and Don (all executives at La-Z-Boy)
Tees: Blue, Par 72 (70.4 rating/124 slope/6,492 yards)
Course Handicap: 13 (11.7 index)
Stats: 84 (42-42); 29 putts; 6/14 fairways; 6/18 greens; 5 penalty strokes
Fall golf in Tennessee marks state #9, just 41 to go. Really should have made it Ol’ No.7 instead… oh well, close enough. It was a chilly afternoon out in Old Hickory at the Hermitage Golf Course, staying 62 degrees throughout the round. Hermitage has two courses, the General’s Retreat and the President’s Reserve. I played the latter from the middle Blue set of tees with a slope of 124, 70.4 rating and coming in at 6,443 yards. The tougher of the two courses, it can play a brutal 7,157 yards from the Black tees. Play off the tee is the number one factor in scoring well, so the extra carry needed from back there would really add to the challenge. As long as you avoid the various sand traps dotting the course it won’t be too hard. The rough is soft and fluffy, perfect for consistent chipping. The greens roll very well. They are soft and receptive to good approach shots yet anything going downhill even slightly will take off with just a tap. There are several spots where the putt will break the completely different direction from where the read appears. Just keep your first putt inside of your partner’s and learn from that, makes things much easier.
The straightforward opening hole at the President’s Reserve plays right down the middle with an easily accessible green and a sand trap to the right you’d have to purposefully aim at to hit. That may be the easiest this course gets, as the three-shot, 560-yard par-5 2nd wait next. Water runs along the left side for the second shot, waiting to eat up any risky fairway wood approaches. The green is guarded by a hefty bunker to the front and the best way really is to set up a wedge approach to get close (I went for it in two and made 7, lesson learned). The easiest par 3 on the course waits next before the fun par-4 4th. This hole showcases how the route taken off the tee can really make the difference between birdie putt or fighting to get up-and-down for a par or worse. The best angle into the green, to avoid the long sand trap to the front and right, is a tee shot to the left patch of fairway. But that requires a carry over a fairway bunker, while bailing to the right opens up much more fairway but also means carrying the green-side bunker. The accuracy demands off the tee continue as the par-4 5th bends around trees to the right, after a couple holes playing the other way, meaning a swing adjustment is needed. A long par 3 waits at the 7th, requiring at least a mid-iron to reach before the second par 5 of the front nine, a rolling 510-yard snake of a hole with sand traps in every shot line. With the elevation change and more green-side bunkers, three shots is again the best choice.
The back nine at Hermitage’s President’s Reserve course has the hardest of the holes, but also the best chances for birdies. By the time we got to hole #16, it was almost pitch black outside, and we relied mainly on the cart’s GPS to see the layout of the closing three holes while wishing we could fire tracer golf balls off the tee to find them easier. The back side does feature a lot of elevation changes, especially on the par-4’s of the 10th and 11th. No. 10 plays uphill to a shallow green while the 11th winds down left and right around a lake and up to a massive green with another green-side sand trap guarding the front for what, if a good tee shot was hit, is at least a 7-iron in. The dastardly long 13th checks in at 451 yards, as a par-4. It runs gradually uphill to a slick, back-to-front green. I got lucky with a long drive, perfect 5-wood and awesome putt for birdie. If I played this hole 99 more times, that would still probably be my only birdie. There is no rest from there as the lengthy 554-yard par-5 14th boomerangs around to the right with OB skirting the edge. The well guarded 157-yard 15th closes out the par 3’s. And then the lights went out. I will say the closing 18th, a 456-yard par 5, must look really pretty in daylight (unlike girls you meet in bars…), playing over water and surrounded by colorful trees on the way back to the clubhouse.
Next time I’ll get an earlier tee time (work be damned), but the Hermitage Golf Course in Old Hickory is a fun golf experience out in SEC country. The course plays as tough as you want it to. Make things easy by avoiding sand traps and hitting fairways or have a good time stomping through the wild bermuda grass to hack your next shot out. A wide creek that feeds into the Cumberland River flows along the edges of this links course and the thick woods that border the banks provide a sense of calm and isolation that make this a timeless experience here in the land of Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson.
#9, Par 4, 398 yards, 8-handicap, My Score: 5
The front nine closes with a par-4 that is enjoyable and pretty. The tee shot can be played short, left, right or over the large patch of rough swallowing up the center of the fairway. From there it’s a shot over a marsh hazard to a wide but shallow green. The putting surface itself is pretty flat and simple, but the undulating mounds and sand trap to the left will tax the short game on any approach that isn’t a GIR. Playing the hole with that weathered barn as a backdrop adds to the delight of the 9th, giving an authentic Tennessee backwoods feel to your round as you make the turn.
Amenities: B+; a nice pro shop, good practice facilities and other standard amenities. The extra point is for the
Staff: A; friendly staff from the cart garage to the pro shop to the starter. I made the mistake of thinking the 18th green was actually a short game practice area (it was a large green near the putting green and driving range with sand traps all around, what was I to think?), and when the starter came out to remove me from my chipping, he was very understanding and we ended up chatting a while about the old Sara Lee LPGA tournament they used to run here. Then when we parted ways, I got to thinking how many other golf courses have a marshal staff patient enough to treat such a faux pas with that much class? Definitely none of the course police I have ever seen.
Difficulty: B-; fairways are key, and the greens are slick, but a pretty straightforward layout makes it very scoreable.
Scenery: B; I missed the fall colors by about a week it looks like, a lot of bare trees but the ones that held their foliage were all great shades of autumn, surrounded all around by a pretty river. With the overcast gray skies and the quiet atmosphere under the dark, naked branches, it felt like the Headless Horseman could ride out of the woods at any moment. A little eerie, but serene and calm.
Value: C+; $80 for 18 at 1:40pm was a little excessive considering we were the last group to finish with any speck of daylight. Definitely worth a higher end price, but probably $20 less would be ideal.
Overall: 3.05 (B); Hermitage President’s Reserve is a great track to play, it has challenges and balances it out with some easier holes to give you a break. The hospitality of the staff and the great condition of the course, even in the frigid, damp autumn months, show they really care.