Location: Burns, Tenn.
Course architect: Unknown
Redesigned: 1988 | Gary Roger Baird
Tee — Yardage | Rating / Slope:
Blue — 6,614 | 70.6 / 130
White — 6,067 | 69.6 / 127
Gold — 5,706 | 67.8 / 123
Red — 4.981 | 68.9 / 118
Saturday morning green fee: $ [under $50]
Caddie service: No
Walker friendly: Yes
Fairways: 419 Bermudagrass
Greens: Champion Bermudagrass
Starter: As one of nine courses on the Tennessee Golf Trail, which is part of the state parks system, Montgomery Bell sits 35 miles west of downtown Nashville, not far from Interstate 40. The course’s proximity to Music City’s burgeoning country scene doesn’t generate as much tourism traffic as one might expect, but Mike Nixon is trying to change that tune. Nixon, 72, a native of Nashville who plays a little rhythm guitar with friends in his spare time, oversees the statewide trail as director of golf. He played the PGA Tour in the 1970s and knows that Montgomery Bell and the other state-parks courses under his watch must appeal to the average player. To that end, he and superintendent Jeff Kuhns have embarked on an aggressive policy of improving playability at Montgomery Bell. Quality turf conditions and fewer bunkers — reduced from 40 to 28, with emphasis on strategic placement to boost pace of play — strike the right chord. Montgomery Bell is a comparative bargain, with no houses bordering the property, no parallel holes and an enjoyable walk (or ride, if you must) in nature. There’s a good chance that you’ll see deer, wild turkey and other varmints wandering across the fairways.
Play because …: A tiered rate sheet ranging from $12 walking for seniors (62 and older) to a peak-season price (April 1-Oct. 31) of $45 with cart attests to the affordability. Stay-and-play packages at the Inn at Montgomery Bell start at $88 per person. The inn, which will be undergoing renovations in early 2019 but remain open during the work, offers 120 rooms and five suites. History buffs will appreciate the area’s significance to the South’s industrial development. The park’s namesake, Montgomery Bell, was an early-19th-century industrialist who helped build middle Tennessee’s iron industry, supplying cannon balls and other materiel for the War of 1812. His legacy also includes Montgomery Bell Academy, an all-boys college-prep school that Bell endowed in Nashville.
Takeaway: Single-digit handicappers shouldn’t let the modest length dissuade them. Montgomery Bell, with its hardwood-lined fairways and rolling terrain, will challenge the best players. With an eye on course flexibility, Nixon oversaw the recent building of seven new tees and an additional 300 yards in length. Montgomery Bell won’t host the State Open any time soon, but the course is no pushover, either. Plus, even if you might leave a few shots on the course, you’ll leave feeling as if you stole something. “It’s the best course you’ll play in Tennessee for the money,” Nixon said. “The fairways and greens are good; bunkers are perfect. It’s not overly long, but it plays far longer than it says. It’s a good experience on a great piece of land.” If that’s not music to your ears, then you’re following the wrong band.
RATINGS [1 to 10 scale, 10 being the highest]
Pro shop: 7.0
Course difficulty: 7.0
Pace of play: 7.5
Best par 3: No. 16 [130 | 175 | 188 | 201 yards]
For most players, the slightly downhill tee shot will require a mid-iron or hybrid into a green protected by water in the front. It’s the only forced carry on the course and signals a spirited par-3-4-5 finishing kick.
Best par 4: No. 3 [341 | 402 | 419 | 420 yards]
The hole demands a precise drive into a fairway that cants right to left on a dogleg right. It’s probably the toughest 4 on the course, and that might include the three par 5s, all of which are birdie opportunities for the lower-handicappers.
Best par 5: No. 18 [335 | 440 | 466 | 530 yards]
Solid tree-lined finishing hole moves slightly right, with the clubhouse as a backdrop. The Nixonian bunker-removal program is evident here, with one of the two fairway bunkers lining the left side – it was unreachable off the tee anyway and served only as a maintenance headache – filled in. The hole, the lone par 5 on the back nine, is reachable in two for the longest hitters but still offers hope of a closing birdie for others.