The Secret Home of Golf

The Authorized History of King-Collins Golf

and the Creation of Sweetens Cove

by Jim Hartsell

(introductory video below)


Prior to this afternoon, I had played 1001 golf courses, including every one of the 318 still existing courses that has ever been listed on a World Top 100 published by Golf Magazine, Golf Digest, and 8 other well know publications. This afternoon, I played Sweetens Cove and had so much FUN...the only courses I can think of that are comparable in terms of fun include Askernish GC (Scotland), Royal Worlington (England), Royal Dornoch, The Old Course, Brora, Sand Hills GC, and a few others...

Simply brilliant and brilliantly simple. Hope your phone is ringing off the hook. Thank you for your work and the results!

Paul Rudovsky - Golf Course Rater
Paul Rudovsky - Golf Course Rater

I often receive emails, texts, or comments on my reviews suggesting that I play various courses. That said, I have never had more people tell me to play a course than Sweetens Cove in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee. Droves urged me to make the drive across the Carolinas, and with that, I was introduced to the cult following of Sweetens Cove.

Graylyn Loomis - Assistant Editor, Links Magazine
Graylyn Loomis - Assistant Editor, Links Magazine

Challengers are the driven few who pursue their passions, test limits, and drive change. We’re a company that was founded on the principal of challenging the status quo on behalf of investors. That’s why we’re proud to present our Challengers video series, which celebrates these unique individuals in the world of golf. From players and coaches to course architects, club designers, technology experts, and media disruptors - see what inspires them to view the world differently.

(King-Collins was featured in Season Two of The Challengers Video Series. “The Dynamic Duo” video can be viewed on the Charles Schwab Golf website.)

Charles Schwab Golf, Challengers Video Series

The darling of the golf world is a nine-hole course with double-pinned greens just 30 miles west of Chattanooga, Tenn. Low in the valley sits nine holes with enough alternate-routing options to make your head spin. The low-key vibe is the draw at Sweetens Cove, a South Pittsburg, Tenn., track built by Rob Collins and Tad King in 2014... And as the golf world started finding it, it blew up. Rightfully so.

Christian Hafer, Golf Magazine - August 14, 2020

I walked with a pace quick enough to acknowledge that this aura could not last, but slow enough to soak in each moment. I stopped to photograph spots on the course that I’d been thinking about for months, revisiting them like they were old friends: the eighth, the fourth, the fifth. The gold in the light could never have lasted long enough for me to see them all. There are no weak holes at Sweetens Cove, but that understates the course’s brilliance: there are no weak places at Sweetens Cove. Every square foot of ground at Sweetens Cove has purpose; no matter where you find yourself on the golf course, you are confronted with questions that must be answered thoughtfully, risks and rewards that must be weighed against one another. Perhaps there are other golf courses that were designed with such remarkable attention to detail, but I have not yet found them.

I do not say this lightly: Sweetens Cove might be the best golf course in America. Not the best golf course in Tennessee, or the best course in the South, or the best nine-hole course. The best, period. There is a spirituality to this place; in the morning’s earliest moments, it is nothing short of ethereal.

Will Bardwell, Lying Four - May 7, 2019

Rob Collins was fighting for his big break, and it finally arrived — in an unlikely form. He and his course-design partner Tad King took an insolvent nine-hole golf course on a flat, featureless flood plain in rural Tennessee and turned it into an imaginative, eye-popping revelation. The result, Sweetens Cove Golf Club, opened in 2014 and has become a gold standard for modern nine-hole innovative design. Collins, 43, has achieved cult-hero status as hype builds around Sweetens. Now his firm has been called to bid against more renowned designers for gigs. “We’ve scrapped for every bit of work we’ve gotten,” Collins says, “and we bring that mindset to every potential new project. People appreciate it.” Prospective sites are cropping up across the country, `{`including`}` New York’s Hudson Valley to the Carolinas, Texas, Michigan and more.

Dylan Dethier, Golf Magazine, “Next Best Thing, A Change in Course Designers” - December 2018

But for those who had heard rumors or read the fawning blog posts from diehards who had made the trek, the response was unabashed envy. ‘Sweetens is more than golf,’ a friend who had played there whispered. ‘It’s a religious experience.’

Travis Hill, The Golfer’s Journal, No. 2
Travis Hill, The Golfer’s Journal, No. 2

Hand-built from the remains of a forgettable nine-holer called Sequatchie Valley, Sweetens Cove was designed and constructed in 2013 by architect Rob Collins and construction partner Tad King. As their debut project, they went all out to make a big impression, with enormous fairways (the seventh and eighth holes share one that’s a hundred yards wide), distinctive greens (the one on the par-3 fourth seems to go on forever, with wings, swales, knobs and corner pockets), and varied bunkering (massive waste bunkers on the third and ninth, tiny pot bunkers on the second and fifth)... At Sweetens Cove, I can easily take in a second loop, or even a third. There seems to be at least three ways to play each of its cleverly-crafted holes. I’d like to bottle it and take it home.

Ron Whitten, Senior Architecture Editor, Golf Digest

Sweetens Cove…harkens back to one of the most influential golf courses ever built in the United States (Augusta National) …. Collins and his partner, Tad King, have embraced the original MacKenzie-Jones tenets with gusto. Writing about Augusta then, MacKenzie could have been describing Sweetens today.

Anthony Pioppi - Author, To The Nines
Anthony Pioppi - Author, To The Nines

The King-Collins work at Sweetens Cove is remarkable: to take a flat, boring nine hole course and build something so visually dramatic and yet such damned good fun to play is, in my opinion, one of the more impressive golf architectural achievements in recent years. Some will say it is too bold; I disagree. The first and most important job of a golf course is to put a smile on the face of those who play it; well, I came off Sweetens Cove wearing the biggest grin for some considerable time, and I reckon that'll be true of the overwhelming majority who get to play there. I look forward to seeing where Rob's career takes him next; wherever it is, I reckon local golfers will be lucky guys.

Adam Lawrence - Editor, Golf Course Architecture
Adam Lawrence - Editor, Golf Course Architecture

Collins constantly referenced Alister Mackenzie and Harry Colt as we walked, pointing out seemingly minute design details on every hole. The walks from greens to tees, with one or 2 necessary exceptions, are gloriously short and to the point – like the aforementioned home course of the great architect James Braid. I think it will be expedient – and perhaps unavoidable – to try to compare this course to Ballyneal in Eastern Colorado and Sand Hills in Nebraska, two of the best and deservingly well-known course designs of modern golf architecture. Landmand is something completely different.

Jim Hartsell, Twenty Thousand Roads, “A Geological Oddity” (Landmand Golf Course)

It is not hyperbole to say that the Par 5 1st hole at Sweetens Cove wouldn’t be out of place in The Open Championship. It is that good.

With all due respect to The Old Course, I always tell them that in my opinion, `{`Machrihanish`}` is The Secret Home of Golf. After spending the day at Sweetens Cove Golf Club, I believe I’ve found the Secret Home of Golf In America. I can’t wait to go back and play 36….or 54.

Jim Hartsell, Author of The Secret Home of Golf - Sweetens Cove Golf Club

Sweetens Cove is one of the most audacious designs we’ve seen. King-Collins built one of the most diverse & entertaining set of green complexes found anywhere. This kind of fun, inventive, quick golf is more commonplace in the UK, which is why the game is so much healthier there than in America. If you leave Sweetens Cove smiling, don’t panic: golf is supposed to be fun.

Ran Morrissett - The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, v. 2
Ran Morrissett - The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, v. 2

Rob Collins...and his team transformed a featureless and flat existing nine-hole course on the property into a fun and challenging golf experience that harkens back to the quirky links play at the likes of North Berwick and Cruden Bay....Sweetens embodies my favorite type of golf, and I can't wait to see the next courses Rob Collins and his partner Tad King create.

Graylyn Loomis - Assistant Editor, Links Magazine
Graylyn Loomis - Assistant Editor, Links Magazine

The Miracle is a world top 5 practice area.

Keith Mitchell, PGA Tour Winner
Keith Mitchell, PGA Tour Winner

If Sweetens Cove was a canvas, then Landmand is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. There is nothing like it anywhere in America, or maybe anywhere else. Even Cruden Bay in Scotland — whose lauded design plays through dunes 60 feet tall — seems undersized in comparison. On the shores of the North Sea, Cruden Bay feels like the edge of the world; Landmand feels like the top of it.There is nothing like it anywhere in America, or maybe anywhere else.

Will Bardwell, Lying Four, “Landmand Is King Collins' Next Very Big Thing”

“When it opens for public play Landmand will confront players with views, shots and decisions that they have never faced before....Even to the layman, features leap off the land and reveal a golf course with potential to storm its way into the world’s elite.

Will Bardwell, The Golfer's Journal
Will Bardwell, The Golfer's Journal

Around 5 p.m. on the first Sunday of November, the sun began to dip behind the mountains that surround South Pittsburg, a sleepy hamlet in southeast Tennessee, and the golden light illuminating the two groups still playing one of the most scenic, trendy and imaginative golf courses in the country started to fade. It was the kind of tableau that a golf purist might hold up to a nonbeliever as all that is beautiful, sacred and right about the game....

In other words, just your basic Sunday at Sweetens Cove, a nine-hole course opened in 2014 by architect and designer Rob Collins and Tad King that has forced the golf community to reconsider what a course is—and what it can be.

Mark Bechtel, Sports Illustrated - November 22, 2019

Sweetens Cove lived up to the hype...There are endless possibilities to approaching these wildly imaginative greens, which total over 100,000 square feet. I left anticipating the change to play it again - or maybe 255 holes in on day. Sweetens Cove is sweet.

Adam Schupak, Golfweek

Golfweek listed Sweetens Cove at No. 59 in its top 100 modern golf courses, a ranking of American courses built since 1960. Sweetens Cove is ahead of numerous sites that have hosted PGA Tour events and major championships, including Hazeltine and Valhalla. Quail Hollow Club, the site of the 2017 P.G.A. Championship, which concluded Sunday, was behind Sweetens at No. 60.

Dylan Dethier, The New York Times - August 15, 2017

As I reflected on my two-hour drive back to Knoxville, I thought of how Sweetens Cove was in rare air as one of my favorite golf courses because of its beautiful backdrop and world-class architecture. Each shot on the golf course presents unique challenges and multiple shot options to overcome them. Just the type of course I dream about playing from sun up to sun down. I had this surreal day and after I left there for the first time, I was just sitting in my car and it finally hit me that these are the kinds of places that people need to be highlighting.

Andy Johnson, The Fried Egg

I’m sitting in a meeting room in Tallahassee, Florida...

...but my golfing soul is somewhere near South Pittsburg, Tennessee. For those in the know, South Pittsburg is home to Sweetens Cove Golf Club, the modern masterpiece of a course hand crafted by King-Collins Golf Course Design. Tad King and Rob Collins are the duo that comprise this golf course design and construction team based out of nearby Chattanooga. The work they have done there has touched a nerve with me. I am just returning from my first trip to this cult phenomenon of a golf course and the slopes, bunkers, and angles are running through my head like the tune of a new favorite song.

Like Shoe-less Joe Jackson walking out of a cornfield, you are transported into a world of pure perfection. As you stroll to the teeing ground and the vast landscape unfolds before you, you can’t help but look back receiving the nod in recognition that you have paid your fee and you can go walk up and touch the Mona Lisa.

Jay Revell, Author of The Song of Sweetens Cove

Sweetens Cove, which has climbed to No. 50 on Golfweek’s Best rankings of modern courses, is among the mountains but is not a mountain course...The greens are the main attraction, nine distinct thrill rides that rise from and flow into surrounding terrain...

From 30 yards out, a player is often faced with a choice between a putter and a lob wedge.

There’s plenty of room to play and multiple ways to tackle each approach shot. As an added bonus, members often play cross-country golf, using mixed and matched tees and greens to create new holes.

Jason Lusk, Golfweek Magazine - April 17, 2018

That’s why this place is sacred, because every part of his story is baked into the DNA of the golf course. The signature tree standing tall behind the green is the New York Times piece, finally putting Sweetens on the map. The cascading hills of the ninth green are the Golfer’s Journal article, which featured the beauty of Sweetens. Every part of his story resides here—even the hard times. The waste bunkers surrounding the ninth green represents the hours spent at dead-behind-the-eyes office jobs. He pulled his story out of a flat field in South Pittsburg, TN like a sculpture from a block of marble.

Jeremy Wilson, Paired Up, Profile of Rob Collins - 2018