Ask a Member

by Casey Griffith

 Sep 19, 2018 at 1:29 PM

Not every sport loves you back throughout your life, but golf — as it often does — proves to be the exception. From Juniors first developing their skills to the fine-tuning and frustrations of adulthood and on into the golden years, our clubs teem with enthusiasts of all ages.

Ken Reed, Holston Hills Country Club

Shooting your age just one time is quite a feat. And doing it again? Incredible! So how do you describe someone who has shot their age 363 times? (That’s not a typo!) A member at Holston Hills for 47 years, Reed shot most of these scores on its Donald Ross track. He also has seven aces to his name — so far.

How did it feel the first time you shot your age?

I was sure it was something unique because I’d been trying for some time. I was getting close in May of 2005 and my birthday is in August. I saved that card and still have it. I’ve saved nearly all of them.

What keeps you playing, even after tough days on the course?

Simply my love of the game keeps me playing, and being outside with friends is always enjoyable. At my age it’s a little more difficult, but I’ve managed to do it since I turned 87 last fall.

What advice do you have for aspiring age-shooters? 

Practice and improve your short game!


Read More

Holston Hills Turns 90 In Style

by Brad King

 Dec 19, 2017 at 4:31 PM


“It immediately reminded me of Shinnecock Hills,” McConnell recalls, referencing the storied eastern Long Island golf club that was a founding member of the USGA and next year will host its fifth U.S. Open Championship.

Acclaimed golf course architect Tom Doak says that of all the Ross-designed courses, Holston Hills comes closest to his original design. This year, Golf Digest ranked the dutifully preserved 1927 course No. 4 in Tennessee, while also including it in its top-100 classic courses nationwide.

“It has some of the best bunker complexes that I have seen on any Ross course,” says McConnell. “I knew when I saw Holston Hills that it would be a great addition to our golf portfolio. It’s a must-play for our members.”

The co-founder of the Donald Ross Society, Michael J. Fay, has said that he would rather play Holston Hills on a consistent basis than any other golf course in the South. If the vision of Ross, horse, and cart culpting the course isn’t enough to give you goosebumps, there are plenty more magical elements to the course. It was here Bryon Nelson won the Knoxville Invitational in 1945, one of his 18 PGA TOUR victories that year.


McConnell Golf purchased Holston Hills in December 2015 and — with a nod to the past and an eye on the future — immediately started to bring renowned architect Charles Barber’s building back to its glory days.

From its hilltop perch, nearly every hole of the golf course is visible, and the clubhouse takes every advantage to show off the view inside with oversized windows. The most popular outdoor area is undoubtedly the new second-story veranda off the Donald Ross dining room, while an original terrace on the south side of the ballroom also offers space to enjoy the view.

Opposite these transfixing vistas, the clubhouse offers subtle hints to its fascinating past. Just to the west of the front entrance, between a row of cypress trees, an unseen door hides in plain sight. And just to the right of the southwest ballroom entrance, exterior steps lead to a seemingly inconspicuous basement door. Except, it doesn’t lead to a basement, per se.

“Decades ago, there was reason to need a secret way to exit the club and make your way back into the neighborhood,” explains clubhouse manager Jim Disney. “The clubhouse was actually built with tunnels and hidden exits from different rooms for this purpose.”

Though all other remnants are now sealed off for safety, one part of the “escape route” is still in use. A wide passage way runs the full length of the terrace and is currently used for storage.

Another historical nugget that’s often overlooked hangs in the southeast entryway of the Donald Ross dining room. Archie Campbell, long-time member and celebrity of Hee Haw and Grand Ole Opry fame, painted the course and clubhouse landscape in the ‘70s. (Yes, he painted!) These limited-edition paintings were sold to raise money for the club’s west wing, which now houses the Holston Room, fitness center, locker room, and kids’ room. 


Bringing a 90-year-old building (and its additions) up to modern times is no small task, but it’s one that McConnell Golf is pleased to unveil. After $1.4 million in capital improvements, Holston Hills now joins its sister properties and “clubs of the future.”

Last year, McConnell Golf added a fitness center and members have since enjoyed extended hours via key fob access seven days a week, giving them the flexibility to customize their workout routines.

The former kitchen was completely gutted; an entirely new restaurant opened called the Donald Ross Room. The room includes a bar, high-top and booth seating, and an outdoor veranda overlooking the 18th hole. It’s where everyone goes after a round.

The club upgraded the Holston Room for private dining and business meetings. This room has maintained the original arched ceilings and offers a stunning view of the course. The men’s locker room underwent a nice facelift as well. One hundred wooden lockers were added, along with a bathroom and card room remodel. The grand ballroom retained its original 1920s feel with wood beam ceilings, but has added new flooring and windows overlooking the terrace on the golf course side of the club with a great view of the Smoky Mountains. This room seats 250-270 for weddings and events.

A relocated golf shop on the east side of the building offers the most current lines in apparel along with the club room that houses fitting carts and all equipment. Members can now enjoy the new portico when arriving at the club. “It also makes the arrival for golf much more service friendly when using the new bag drop area,” says Chris Dibble, director of golf.

And for the kids? The former golf shop has been converted to a dedicated Kids’ Club area with tons of activities. Since last winter, Holston Hills has hosted a monthly, staff-led kids’ program with activities that range from outdoor games to arts and crafts.

The club also added its first summer camps this year, allowing kids to take advantage of all the club’s facilities — from learning golf and tennis fundamentals, to cooling off at the pool.

Adjacent to the pool, the tennis facility has four Rubico clay tennis courts and two hard courts. The courts are professionally maintained and enjoyed during peak season from April through November, with hard courts remaining in play during the off-season as well.

Beyond open play, the club’s growing tennis program features seasonal clinics led by tennis pros Bart Kennedy and Troy Cash. The multi-day clinics help players of all levels sharpen their skills and master the strategy of the doubles or singles format.

“The impact of all these improvements around the club has been tremendous,” says Brian Donaldson, a Holston Hills member since 1988. “One of the many attractions of becoming part of McConnell Golf is

their devotion to family. I am seeing a lot of new faces around the club in the demographic that private clubs have to draw from, which is younger families.”

McConnell sums it up well: “Holston Hills enjoys a proud past and we think that it has a great future as well.”

Read More

The Fabric of Our Family

by Martha-Page Althaus

 Aug 11, 2017 at 8:15 PM

Making memories at Holston Hills Country Club

For the Hayes family - father Tracy, mother Janet, 17-year-old daughter Macy, and 15-year-old son Cooper - Holston Hills is a big part of family life.

“We’re native Knoxvillians, so we’ve always known about Holston Hills,” says Tracy Hayes, vice president and CFO of Pipeline Construction Company. “This Donald Ross course is one of the best in the state.”

The family first became involved with the club on a partial membership when the children were young. Macy joined the swim team at six years old, and Cooper started golfing with the junior program at age seven. 

But when McConnell Golf took over Holston Hills in 2015, the family opted for full club membership.

“When we heard about the upgrades that McConnell was making to the club, it just made sense for us,”

Janet, an attorney, is not a golfer but enjoys the club’s amenities including the fitness center, pool, and dining room. As a busy 17-year-old, Macy no longer competes on the swim team but visits the club often. As for Cooper?

“His second home is Holston Hills,” says Hayes. “He’s still very much involved with junior golf and he’s doing very well. Chris Dibble [director of golf] and ‘Tee-Time’ Tom Seymour [golf shop manager] are so supportive and treat him with such respect as a young golfer. They make an impact on his life every day. Cooper will look back on his time at Holston Hills as some of his best memories growing up.”

For the whole family, Holston Hills is a peaceful escape during a busy season of life. 

“This past Mother’s Day, we had brunch at the club,” says Hayes. “It was a beautiful day. We left church, drove to Holston Hills, and had a terrific meal with great service. It was just very pleasant. And that’s the reason we’re members. It’s more than just golf for us. Holston Hills holds so many memories of our children. It’s a part of the fabric of our family.”


Read More

Straight from the Source

by Martha-Page Althaus

 Aug 08, 2017 at 6:44 PM

Part of McConnell Golf's future-focus is seizing opportunities that benefit the planet, local economies, and member taste buds. We spoke with Executive Chef Patrick Budniewski on how - and why - he incorporates local ingredients into the menu at Holston Hills.

“Farm-to-table” is an overused culinary phrase, but for Patrick Budniewski, it’s the only thing he’s ever known.

“I grew up with a garden in my backyard,” he says. “We canned our own tomato sauce and made our own jams and jellies. I never ate the store-bought stuff. That upbringing was very influential in my career.”

So it’s only natural that Budniewski employs that same practice in the Holston Hills kitchen. The Johnson & Wales grad identifies his culinary style as simplistic: “I use really good ingredients and let them speak for themselves.”

The Ingredients 

Budniewski has a lengthy list of local purveyors. Among the favorites? Sweetwater Valley Farm cheese is a staple on his menu, whether it’s smoked cheddar on the charcuterie board or sharp cheddar in macaroni and cheese. Swaggerty’s Farm sausage is used for biscuits and gravy. Hickory-smoked bacon from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams is another favorite.

“The whole kitchen smells like hickory when we get that bacon in,” says Budniewski. “We get it in slabs, wrapped in old-school deli paper, and cut it ourselves.”

At the Table

This isn’t your typical bacon. Benton’s high-end bacon finds its way into several dishes, from Budniewski’s twist on chicken cordon bleu - pan-seared chicken with Benton’s bacon and a Swiss cheese sauce - to fried-green tomatoes with poblano pepper and bacon jam. You’ll find many of these ingredients on Holston Hills’ daily menus. The club’s spring social featured a big display of Sweetwater Valley Farm cheese - buttermilk cheddar, gouda, and roasted garlic and pepper cheddar.

As for the future? Expect even more events and menus with a local focus. “We’ll keep trying to source the best ingredients, and those are usually found in our own backyard,” says Budniewski.


Read More

New Fitness Facility

by Jessie Ammons

 Dec 12, 2016 at 4:27 PM

In 2016, resourceful planning brought modern improvements to Knoxville's historic Holston Hills Country Club. Thanks to ingenious use of clubhouse spaces, the club now boasts a brand-new fitness center.

One of the first renovations made to the clubhouse under McConnell Golf ownership was transforming an unused space with new flooring, lighting, and equipment. This former dining room is now a state-of-the-art fitness center with wide-ranging strength training and cardio options including Torque series equipment, Intenza Entertainment Bikes and Octane stride ellipticals. 

To the members' delight, the space has opened the door for exciting new programming. Activities Director Katelyn Graham was brought on board to oversee an active group fitness class schedule (yoga, Zumba and more!) and personal training sessions.

"We have a good mix of equipment and programs for everyone,” says Corporate Director of Member Activities and Wellness Natalie Clemens. Clemens was instrumental in the overhaul, but incorporated feedback from the membership to ensure the new facility was a perfect fit. 


Read More

Donald Ross' Chocolate Drops

by Shayla Martin

 Dec 01, 2016 at 4:29 PM

The story behind those often-overlooked fairway mounds
Built in 1927, Holston Hills Country Club is home to one of the most well-preserved Donald Ross courses in the nation. One of its more striking features can be found at the 380-yard 15th hole, where a series of mounds, affectionately referred to as chocolate drops, appear on the fairway like reverse craters. 

Chocolate drops represent the “Golden Age” era of golf course design, which was from roughly the late 1910s through the early 1940s. Some of the most famous courses in the country were built during this era, but there wasn’t a strong focus on aesthetics from 1900 to 1915 due to limited land availability: The best pieces of land were hard to secure for course construction, resulting in stretches of land filled with debris that needed to be cleared in order to lay down a fairway. Workers would clear rocks and boulders off the fairways as best they could by hand, but without the help of machinery like tractors and trucks, piles of rocks were sometimes left on fairways. Since aesthetics weren’t a priority, the mounds were covered with dirt and left as-is on courses.

Today, the now-grass-covered mounds are those iconic chocolate drops. 

During the Golden Age, course pros utilized the mounds as best they could by touting them as intentional hazards meant to challenge golfers. Indeed, challenge mounds still pop up in modern golf play, but they’re distinct from Ross chocolate drops. “These days, mounds aren’t found in the middle of fairways like chocolate drops,” says Richard Mandel, the architect responsible for the Country Club of Asheville’s reconstruction and an avid Ross historian. “Most mounds are on the sides of fairways or around bunkers. But at Holston Hills, original chocolate drops are in the middle of fairways because it wasn’t possible to put them anywhere else.”

Ross stopped using chocolate drops in the late 1920s, and Holston Hills Country Club was one of his last projects with the trademark chocolate drop design. Within the McConnell Golf portfolio, Holston Hills is the only Ross course with chocolate drops, most likely due to differences in terrain at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro and Country Club of Asheville. While these three courses were all constructed in the mid-1920s, Raleigh Country Club was built twenty years later with more advanced means to remove debris. They’re a unique piece of Ross history that you’ll just have to play to fully appreciate.

Special thanks to Holston Hills member Joe Sponcia for sharing his expertise and the photo included above! 

Read More

Experience of a Lifetime

by Tom Seymour

 Jul 01, 2016 at 4:22 PM

Holston Hills Country Club golf shop manager Tom “Tee-time” Seymour recounts a memorable Masters

"One of my Bucket List items was to be at a Sunday round in Augusta. I didn’t know I was going until the Tuesday before the Masters — tickets fell into my hands. Our head golf pro, Chris Dibble, encouraged me and assistant golf pro Jordan Fairbank to go. We stayed about two hours away the night before and drove in on Sunday morning. I didn’t sleep at all the night before, not a wink. I was so excited. I’m 55 years old and I’ve played golf since I was five. It’s always been my passion. I grew up watching Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer at Augusta.

On Sunday, we had been following the crowds all day; but right as Jason Day teed off, I decided to go over to hole 16. I got there five minutes before Shane Lowry knocked his hole-in-one in. He hit it exactly where you need to hit it on Sunday in Augusta. At the time, there were probably only 300-400 people around the hole. It wasn’t super crowded. Of course, by the time Louis Oosthuizen came later, people were going insane.

But first Davis Love came up. When he hit his hole-in-one, he hit it behind the hole. Everybody thought it was going to be 10-15 feet away, but the ball stopped for a second and made a U-turn by the water. Nothing can compare to Louis Oosthuizen hitting his ball off of J.B. Holmes. I almost missed the hole- in-one because after Oosthuizen hit Holmes, I looked over at Jordan to get his reaction. He screamed at me to look back at Oosthuizen and I saw the last six inches of the ball go into the hole. The crowd was going absolutely crazy.

All I wanted was to hear that roar of a crowd on a Sunday at the Masters, and I got to hear it three times. It was incredible. What are the odds on this? They’ve got to be in the billions and trillions that there are three hole-in-ones, on the same hole, and I get to see them all because I’m at the Masters on a Sunday. It was almost a religious experience.

The next day at work in Knoxville, it was all Jordan and I could talk about. I’ve probably told the story to every member at the club. I’ve been there 17 years now, and the people at Holston Hills have become my family: It felt like coming home to tell all my brothers and sisters what had happened.

The only thing that would be better than this is if I actually get to play the course one day, which I know is never going to happen. Although, I never thought I’d get to be at a Sunday round, either — never say never in golf. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. I will definitely try to get down to Augusta again. If I don’t, it’s all good. I just wanted to be there one time for that final round. It was amazing.”

Read More