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Best Public Golf Courses in Tennessee

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Tennessee, located in the southeastern region of the United States, is dominated by the Appalachian Mountains on its eastern side while the Mississippi River is prominently conspicuous on its western border.

Its major cities include Nashville (the state capital, largest city and considered the hotbed of country music) and Memphis (considered as the birthplace of the Blues and where ‘The King’ Elvis Presley traces his roots). The economy is driven by agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism. It is the home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Elvis’ Graceland Mansion, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, and the Bristol Motor Speedway.

Its weather ranges from hot and humid summers to mild and cool winters with slight variations based on elevation. It has a diverse geography ranging from flatlands along the Mississippi River to plateaus and mountain peaks on the Appalachian Trail.

Tennessee has a big sports fan base as evidenced by four of the major sports leagues being represented by a major Tennessean city. With a favorable weather, diverse landscape, and a sports-loving citizenry, it is but natural that golf would also become widely popular in the state.

There are nearly 300 golf courses in Tennessee, with a large part being public courses. In this article, we are going to list down the top public golf courses in Tennessee along with some semi-private facilities that allow playing privilege to non-members in exchange for daily fees. 

Best Golf Courses in Tennessee

Rating: 4.89/5.0
Location: Millington, Tennessee
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,479 yards

Mirimichi means the “place of happy retreat”, and when Justin Timberlake bought the Mirimichi Golf Course several years ago and poured a princely sum into its renovation, it has definitely become in sync with that billing as it quickly rose to become the premier golf haven for players residing in or passing through western Tennessee. Golf Magazine once called it the Best Public Course in Tennessee.

Located in Millington, Shelby County, the Mirimichi Golf Course is conveniently located just 15 minutes away from downtown Memphis. Golf designers Bob Mitchell and Bill Bergin seamlessly incorporated the layout into the area’s natural terrain to come up with a truly magnificent course.
This championship course consists of deep sugar-white sand bunkers, well-sculpted greens, dramatic elevation changes, and various water hazards and wetlands to make for a very interesting and challenging course. Five different sets of tees are provided to cater to all players of varying skill level.

You will be immediately tested right from the opening bell, the Mirimichi opens with the tricky 432-yard, par-4 Hole No. 1. The layout curves slightly to the left, favoring players who can execute a natural draw to settle comfortably around the fairway landing area pock-marked by water hazards and other impediments. A huge pond borders the entire left side of the fairway all the way up to the green while dense trees also take care of the right side. Your approach shot must be perfect in order to get away from the numerous front-side bunkers and to avoid rolling off the putting surface.

The track plays like a tale of two halves. While the front nine is relatively flat and open, the back nine explodes with dramatic elevation changes, more pronounced hole variations, and streams and ponds cutting into your path and coming into play multiple times. It’s almost like you have to change your strategy and mindset once you make the turn.

It will definitely challenge you to exhaust all your bag of tricks and use all your clubs before the round is over. Front-load your card while on the easier front nine as you will be needing that buffer for the few strokes that you are also bound to lose at the back.

While seasoned players may regard the front nine as fairly pedestrian, it is actually the back nine which earns the high marks for the Mirimichi Golf Course. The 427-yard, par-4 10th hole demands absolute precision as you try to stick the landing on a narrow, pod-shaped green bordered by a creek in front and on the right. The 181-yard 11th hole is a picturesque par 3 that is highlighted by a stone retaining wall and a green that is fronted by a beautiful pond.

The 590-yard, 12th hole is probably one of the best par 5s in the entire state. It features a narrow landing area off the tee that is bordered by a creek to the right and a bunker to the left side of the fairway. Your 2nd shot will be limited by a large tree that comes into play while you try to avoid a collection of bunkers to the left. If you managed to avoid all of those impediments, your reward will be a short wedge shot to the elevated green.

My personal favorite is the 346-yard 14th hole. This short par 4 does not automatically require a driver off the tee because of the presence of a massive fairway bunker, a pond, and a creek running on the side of the fairway. Your adopted strategy will inform your choice of club to use at the tee. You will want to use a 7-iron for example if you want to play safe and stay clear of these impediments. Or if you are a long hitter, you may want to use the driver to barrel your way past the traps and end up nearer to the green.

The entire course is kept in impeccable condition. They also have a great practice area and the wide driving range comes with abundant targets and unlimited balls. One of the best amenities, however, is the elegant halfway house that is designed like a party deck. Lights are strung out from the surrounding trees to make for a festive atmosphere tempting you to loiter for a while especially if you happen to be there late in the day.


Rating: 4.82/5.0
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 6,842 yards

A mere 10-minute drive from the Nashville International Airport and located in the capital city of Nashville, Gaylord Springs Golf Links is right in the heart of Tennessee. It has consistently received recognition from several prestigious golf publications such as being named the 6th “Best Golf Course in Tennessee” by Golf Advisor in 2017 and consistently being ranked among the best courses to play in Tennessee by GolfWeek magazine.

Designed by Architect Larry Nelson, this Scottish links-style championship course is peppered with mind-bending hurdles such as water hazards, dense trees, rolling greens, and strategically-placed sand bunkers.

Its signature hole is the 392-yard, par-4 4th hole which forces you to carry the water not once but twice. First, when you tee off and the second upon approaching the semi-island green. The entire hole is either bordered by water or trees on each side. It is a truly worthy challenge that also delivers on the scenic views, making it worthy of its designation as the course’s signature hole.

Another one of my favorite holes on this track is the 184-yard, par-3 13th hole which forces you to carry the pond off the tee towards a green that is surrounded by a massive bunker, trees, and water. If you manage to stick the landing, this will probably be the highlight of your day. If you fall short or overshoot your approach, however, it could be your playing partner’s highlight of the day. 


Rating: 4.78/5.0
Location: Old Hickory, Tennessee
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,157 yards

Consistently bringing in the praises since it opened in 2000, Hermitage Golf Course’s the President’s Reserve Course has been recognized as the Best Golf Course in Tennessee by Golf Digest and the Top Public Golf Course in Tennessee by the PGA, among other accolades.

This championship course was created by the esteemed course designer Dennis Griffiths. Laid out beside the mesmerizing waters of the Cumberland River, Griffiths flawlessly combined the exciting layout with the area’s existing contours and natural beauty. It relies on narrow fairways, deep sand bunkers, thick tree-lined fairways, and water hazards to provide the challenge. This is a course that seasoned players and high-handicappers will both enjoy if you play from the right tees.

Immediately upon starting the round, you will be welcomed by the 369-yard, par-4 1st hole featuring a stream coming into play as you aim to reach the wide-open fairway landing area off the tee. It is a beautiful and challenging hole that sets the tenor for the rest of the round.

The most memorable hole is the par-5 8th hole which comes in at 562 yards from the tips. Easily offering one of the course’s best views, it forces you to carry the water off the tee and to avoid the trees and fairway bunkers on your 2nd shot. The approach to the green is an easy wedge as long as you manage to avoid the massive bunkers and dense trees surrounding the green.

The course is in excellent condition from the tee to the green. Fairways, bunkers, and greens were impeccably maintained. If you make an errant shot or two, the rough is thick but not too penal. The entire layout was very refreshing and gives off an almost resort-like atmosphere. Based on the fun layout and the excellent course condition, the President’s Reserve Course at the Hermitage Golf Course is definitely one of the best public golf courses in Tennessee.


Rating: 4.73/5.0
Location: Crossville, Tennessee
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 6,928 yards

Judging by its name you may have already guessed that the Bear Trace at Cumberland Mountain State Park is one of the many creations of the legendary Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear himself. Perched atop Cumberland Mountain, the Bear Trace is a 72-par premier golf course that has garnered numerous accolades from prestigious golf publications since it debuted in 1998, including being named among the “Top Ten Courses in North America” by Golf magazine in 1999 and listed among the “Top 10 Golf Courses in Tennessee” by Golf Digest in 2001.

The entire course gives off a secluded feel from start to finish and features dramatic elevation changes all throughout, along with strategically-placed white sand bunkers, water hazards, narrow fairways, and thick trees bordering most of the holes.

A showcase of hole variation, every one of the 18 holes on this track has a distinctly different character and layout than the others. Their signature hole is the 393-yard, par-4 7th hole which features a layered flagstone design in front of the green.

I love the range bag with golf balls that they give you in case you want to have a little practice at the range before hitting the course.

Aside from golf, there are lots of other outdoor recreational activities in Cumberland Mountain State Park such as hiking and swimming. They also have cozy cabins that are open all year round and campsites for those who want to come in with their own tents or RVs. So plan a weekend getaway with friends and family at the Cumberland Mountain State Park as soon as you have the chance. Not only does it provide the perfect setting and activities for a wide range of outdoor activities, it is also home to one of the best public golf courses in Tennessee. 


Rating: 4.67/5.0
Location: Dickson, Tennessee
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 6,858 yards

Situated in Dickson, Tennessee, the GreyStone Golf Club is less than an hour drive from Nashville. It features a bevy of dramatic elevation changes and some breath-taking, sweeping vistas. It has consistently taken the top spot in Golf Advisor’s list of “Best Golf Courses in Tennessee” for three consecutive years.

The GreyStone G.C. features undulating greens, blind shots, plenty of water hazards, mature trees, and steep bunkers to provide the challenge and excitement in this 18-hole layout. The zoysia fairways and bentgrass greens are kept in pristine condition and the hole diversity is impressive. There are some very interesting holes scattered throughout the layout.

With five sets of tees to choose from, it provides a perfect balance of playability and difficulty for a wide spectrum of players. One of the most memorable holes is the picturesque 152-yard, par-3 11th hole featuring a forced carry over a lake towards a green that’s heavily protected by water and a huge bunker.

The 352-yard, par-4 13th hole probably has the most interesting tee shot of the entire layout. From a secluded tee box, you have to squeeze through a narrow window in between thick trees to land on the fairway. Once you are out, however, you will be presented with a makeable birdie opportunity if you can manage to land on the green on your 2nd shot without falling off into the humongous back-side bunker or the surrounding trees.

All in all, the GreyStone Golf Club gives excellent value for your money and should be on your short list of top courses to play when you are in the Nashville area.


Rating: 4.61/5.0
Location: Fairfield Glade, Tennessee
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 6,549 yards

Situated in Cumberland County, Stonehenge Golf Club is accessible from three major cities as it is only minutes away from Knoxville and about an hour-and-a-half from Chattanooga and Nashville.

Ranked as the second “Best Golf Course in Tennessee” by GolfWeek magazine, this championship course features dogleg fairways, well-manicured greens, mature colorful trees, water hazards, undulating greens, and strategically placed sand bunkers along with absolutely stunning views of the surrounding landscape. It plays longer than its published 6,549 yardage due to its narrow fairways and out-of-bounds on almost every hole.

The back nine is actually more challenging than the front nine. Among the holes in this group is the course’s signature hole, the 161-yard, par-3 14th hole. Wedged in between a dense set of trees and facing the lake, this is easily one of the most beautiful holes in the entire layout. You have to carry your tee shot over a vast waste area in order to reach the small green which is protected by bunkers, trees, and surrounding water.

My favorite hole is the beautiful yet challenging 15th hole. With the lake to the left side of the hole and actually cutting through the fairway twice, you will also be forced to carry your shots twice over the intruding water bodies. Once you get past those two obstacles, however, it will be a wide-open assault towards the green. If you don’t allow yourself to get distracted by the beautiful scenery, this is actually a very makeable birdie opportunity.

If you are looking for a good test of golf, make it a point to drop by the Stonehenge Golf Club in Fairfield Glade. It is one of the top golf courses in central Tennessee.


Rating: 4.55/5.0
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,211 yards

Widely considered by many as among the best golf courses in Tennessee, Willow Creek Golf Club has been awarded the coveted 4-star rating by Golf Digest. The exciting layout is primarily brought about by the narrow fairways, deep bunkers, elevated greens, numerous holes with water coming into play, and OBs on many of the holes.

The front nine is actually easier than the back nine, hence you have to score low off the starting gate in order to build some kind of buffer because you will definitely be losing a few strokes here and there once you reach the back nine.

The 584-yard, par-5 10th hole features a huge fairway bunker in the vicinity of your landing area off the tee. A row of trees come into play on your 2nd shot that they virtually squeeze your line of sight, forcing you to thread the needle as you approach the green.

Another notable par-5 hole is the 564-yard 15th hole featuring a forced carry over water off the tee. Once you clear the water hazard, however, you will be rewarded with a wide-open lane towards an unprotected green. Thus, this is actually an excellent opportunity to card a birdie.

The Willow Creek Golf Club has a very elegant clubhouse and their staff are some of the friendliest and most helpful people that you will ever meet. When you are in Knoxville, be sure to include the Willow Creek Golf Club in your itinerary. It is definitely one of the top golf courses in the state of Tennessee.


Rating: 4.50/5.0
Location: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Holes: 18     Par: 71     Length: 6,282 yards

Gatlinburg Golf Course is located in the famous eastern Tennessee vacation city of Pigeon Forge. It is readily accessible from the city, hence it’s possible for you to enjoy the fun-filled theme parks and still be able to play a round of golf on the same day.

A consistent placer among Golf Advisor’s list of “Best Golf Courses in Tennessee” for three years, Gatlinburg G.C.’s layout has been renovated a couple of times since it first opened in 1955. Originally designed by architect William Langford, the course was subsequently renovated twice by Bob Cupp in 1993 and in 2007.

With multiple scenic displays and picturesque views scattered all throughout the track, Gatlinburg Golf Course will leave a lasting impression on you and will have some of these beautiful images permanently etched into your memory. Serene water hazards often come into play or surround many of the holes while dozens of sand bunkers are cleverly placed all around the course. Frequent dramatic elevation changes are aplenty and colorful trees outline certain holes.

Gatlinburg’s signature hole is the 194-yard, par-3 12th hole aptly named “Sky Hi” due to the cardiac 200-foot drop from the tee to the green below. Another notable hole is the 231-yard 17th hole. This unforgiving par-3 hole starts with an extremely narrow tee shot due to mature trees coming into play from both sides as you aim to reach the heavily-bunkered green right off the tee.


Rating: 4.48/5.0

Location: Kodak, Tennessee
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,001 yards

Set between the famous Great Smoky Mountains and Knoxville, River Islands Golf Club is a premier golf course that features 7,001 yards of beautiful, relaxing landscape in a challenging yet enjoyable setting.

This Arthur Hills design features lush fairways, well-managed greens and natural water hazards as the river winds through the course. With magnificent trees lining each hole, the course is perfect for both high-handicappers and seasoned golfers with a slope rating of 133 and five different sets of tees to cater to the different skill sets of all players.

As the name suggests, you will be treated to stunning views all throughout the track with the river as the centerpiece. There are some gorgeous par-3s over water. Immediately after starting your round, you will be tackling one of the most difficult holes in the entire course, the 195-yard, par-3 3rd hole.

his is an excellent risk/reward hole. You can either play safe by carrying the water in front of the tee, laying up on the near fairway landing area, but take a longer approach shot to the green afterward. Or if you are confident enough, you can carry the water off the tee and go for a long ‘thread the needle’ shot in between the trees to land right in front of the green. By the way, the woodbridge connecting the tee box and the fairway is a gorgeous sight when set against the river backdrop.

Nicknamed as the “Aquatic Doom”, River Islands’ 5th hole is another gorgeous par-3 which requires you to carry the vast water hazard off the tee to reach the green on the other side. This is one of the most beautiful holes in the entire layout.

Ranked among Golf Digest’s list of the “Top 10 Best Golf Courses in Tennessee”, River Islands G.C. boasts of impeccable fairways and greens and excellent facilities which make it one of the top golf courses in eastern Tennessee. 


Rating: 4.44/5.0
Location: Sevierville, Tennessee
Holes: 18     Par: 72     Length: 7,120 yards

Sevierville Golf Club is a premier golf club that features two magnificent championship courses, the River Course and the Highlands Course. Among the two, the River Course is widely acknowledged to have the more scenic and exciting layout.

Ranked among Golf Advisor’s list of the Top 10 “Best Golf Courses in Tennessee” for three consecutive years, the River Course is a favorite of many locals and visitors alike.

Found at the foot of the famous Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the River Course incorporates the Little Pigeon River along with other water hazards to make for a beautiful yet very challenging layout. Bunkers, mature trees, and elevated greens can also be found all throughout the 18-hole course.

My favorite hole is the 394-yard, par-4 15th hole where you have to carry a vast waste area off the tee while avoiding two massive fairway bunkers near the landing area. Once you manage to get past that, it’s a wide-open path to the green with only the beautiful lake lining the whole left side of the layout serving as a distraction. This is easily one of the prettiest holes in the entire layout.

Sevierville Golf Club is a semi-private golf club that offers upscale facilities and amenities comparable to other country club facilities. It certainly deserves its spot as our final entry in our list of the top golf courses in Tennessee.


Wrap up

With a diverse landscape that includes great landmarks such as the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains, to go along with favorable weather, Tennessee is home to some of the most scenic and challenging golf courses in the country.

There are almost 300 golf courses in the state, the majority of whom are considered as public or semi-private courses that allow public access for daily fees. What we have presented here are the best public golf courses in Tennessee based on accumulated reviews from players, golf publications, and our own experiences.

Ranking golf courses can be a subjective matter, however, and it is only natural if you came up with a slightly or totally different list than what we have. The important thing is that it starts the conversation and, hopefully, encourages you to go out there and explore the courses on your own so that you can make your own judgment.

So, go out and have fun playing the great sport of golf. We would appreciate hearing about your experiences as well. Feel free to write us and tell us about your thoughts. It would be highly appreciated.   

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Abraham

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