Years before the opening of Old MacDonald, Bandon Dunes’ reimagining of the famous holes Charles MacDonald created at National Golf Links of America in 1911, architect Brian Silva was doing essentially the same thing, although in a vastly different environment.
Trading in the massive, windswept Bandon site for a small nook in the southern Appalachian Mountains a few miles west of downtown Chattanooga, Black Creek Club is Silva’s homage to the template holes and styles of MacDonald and his protégé Seth Raynor, with a decided tilt toward Raynor’s controlled, linear shaping.
The course opened in 1999 at a time when Silva was becoming the go-to architect for the golf world’s resurgent appreciation of all things Raynor/MacDonald. Two years earlier he’d put together a master plan for reviving Raynor’s lost bunkers at nearby Lookout Mountain, and his restoration work would later continue in this vein at places like St. Louis Country Club, Augusta Country Club and Mountain Lake in Florida.
Black Creek is Silva’s own unrestrained interpretation of Raynor’s severe shapes and concepts. It sits on a beautiful piece of land, with Raccoon Mountain rising around on all sides, Black Creek cutting through the middle and several holes running up a valley along Dry Branch stream. It would be an invigorating contrast for the strong golf aesthetic except that the surrounding housing development destroys any sense of naturalness or serenity.
Silva’s Road Hole (2), reverse Redan (7), Sahara (10) and the stunning Biarritz at 17 are all strong here, fitting easily into their spots around the property. Several holes with no clear precursor are equally good, particularly the par-4 12th with an angled green elevated over the banks of Black Creek and the following par-4 13th, running uphill to another lovely, elevated green that slopes front to back.
The course saves most of its thrills and strategic snacks for the second nine, where the routing turns away from the development into open and wooded spaces near the foot of the mountains. These holes have better terrain to follow and a more authentic, pure golf feel, with fairway bunkering and green orientations that require tactical precision. They tease at what could have been.
Unfortunately they must return to the clubhouse, requiring a trek back through the neighborhood for the 18th hole, already not a particularly strong par-5 with a lake on the left and homes double-loaded on either side. It’s flat, virtually featureless and an unequivocal dud.
At least before this letdown you go out with a bang at the downhill par-3 17th played into a stunning, 70-yard deep Biarritz green. I’m not an expert at template holes, but this one seems like a pretty balls-to-the-wall iteration. And even if, under it all, Black Creek is basically a concept or replica course–one hamstrung by real estate at that–it’s done with passion and commitment, and that’s what’s we demand of good golf design. (91)
Architect: Brian Silva