WHITTIER, N.C. — For visitors to Sequoyah National Golf Club, Thomas “Crist” Woody serves as a welcoming sentinel to the golf experience that awaits.
“It was built for entertainment but turned out to be a championship track,” he said while efficiently handling bags and dispensing advice at the club drop.
That’s sound counsel for anybody who wanders over from the nearby Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, hoping for a breather from the gambling action.
Sequoyah National, a 2009 Robert Trent Jones II design, is operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which also runs the casino. Any losses at the gaming tables should be soothed by perspective on the golf course.
Sequoyah National winds through the native firs, hardwoods and rhododendron of the Great Smoky Mountains, about an hour west of Asheville, near the northeast edge of the Nantahala National Forest.
From the first tee onward, the long-range views are spectacular. When fall colors peak, the sight must be breathtaking. Shot-makers will enjoy the precision required by the forced carries and the challenge inherent in uneven terrain and elevation changes. It’s a rollicking parcel that requires 7.23 miles of cart paths to ferry golfers around and plays a seemingly modest 6,517 yards from the tips.
Woody, with a runner’s wiry build, Algonquin lineage, shoulder-length brown hair and a few days of salt-and-pepper stubble, waved off a visitor who inquired about walking.
“I’m probably the only person who runs and walks it, and I still smoke a pack a day,” said Woody, a fiftysomething picture of athletic paradox as he took a drag on a cigarette.
Dylan Wagoner, a pharmacist from Burlington, N.C., who was visiting with his father and a friend, enjoyed a bit of gamesmanship away from the tables with our group. Pounding driver from the elevated tee at the 352-yard fifth hole into the mountain backdrop in the distance, he implored his playing companions to “follow that one” as it ran out toward the green’s edge.
We did, although not nearly as far nor as straight.
At Sequoyah National, accuracy trumps all other plays.
“Whatever your handicap is, that’s how many balls you should plan to lose,” general manager Kenny Cashwell said.
By that measure, our foursome fared well: only a few stray ones, not a few dozen. No matter. For Wagoner and his crew, the golf was a mere sideshow. There would be fishing later that day and a poker tournament that night. According to Cashwell, casino patrons account for about two-thirds of the 19,000 annual rounds at a course with a short season: May-September.
Yet there’s plenty for golf purists to like about Sequoyah National. The bluegrass fairways and bentgrass greens played to a private-club consistency. The five par 3s ranged from 152 to 203 yards. The par 4s and 5s ran all manner of uphill, sidehill and downhill.
Historians will find something here, too, with the legend of Sequoyah written in rich detail on each tee. The native son created the tribe’s syllabary in the early 19th century, advancing his people’s language and civilization. His namesake club takes great care to memorialize him.
In any tongue, Sequoyah National speaks to a golfer’s heart.