Nestled in the scenic shadows of the Smoky Mountains, Bent Creek Golf Course's 18-hole layout stretches across 6,182 yards of fairways that rise and fall among rolling foothills and pristine valleys. Golf legend and course designer Gary Player made deft use of a babbling mountain stream by running it through the course and seamlessly uniting two distinct nines: a front nine that sprawls across the valley floor and a back nine that roams the hilly mountainside like a forlorn sasquatch. The overall effect is a course that does justice to both the sheer scope of the rising peaks with bottom-up views and the panoramic splendor of Great Smoky Mountains National Park when seen from the cresting hilltops of the back-nine. The inventive layout is perhaps best characterized by the 11th hole, a 362-yard par 4 where a 90-degree dogleg-left plays into a green completely surrounded by the creek's rippling waters. A blend of bent and bermuda grasses grows resiliently for golfers striving to play all year-round, and fragrant wildflowers blossom at every tee to warm the hearts of world-weary nine-irons.
Bent Creek bolsters the pin-hunting prowess of its golfers with a staff of PGA-certified instructors that conducts lessons and presides over the domain of their full-service pro shop. A practice putting green helps players trim their score by reading dicey slopes, and the Creek Side Grill hosts postround revelry and community gatherings to decry the historical hardships of the mashie niblick.:m]]
Course at a Glance:
Sean P. Kicker's long career on the links has included 20 years as a Class-A PGA member and six professional tournament victories. His golf virtuosity began to flourish at an early age—as a kid he was named Youth of the Year by the Boys & Girls Club of Palm Beach County—and today he gives lessons that grant amateurs the benefit of his hard-earned course savvy. As students play rounds with Sean, he punctuates play with detailed advice on how to straighten errant swings, avoid bunkers, and stare down the ground squirrels that frequently steal golf balls.
Sean's instructional expertise also encompasses off-the-links education that uses computerized video equipment for swing analytics and a full-swing golf simulator. After a few half-hour sessions with the seasoned pro, students often feel an increased level of confidence and renewed gusto for their game. Currently, Sean is in the process of attaining PGA Master Professional status, a title bestowed only upon elite players.
The golfing gurus at Edwin Watts Golf Academy diagnose and correct their students' poor swing and putting habits in an effort to help them improve their shots and lower their scores. In one-on-one swing-analysis sessions, students learn a repeatable swing that eliminates tendencies they may have to slice, hook, push, or pull the ball. A special laser attaches to the end of the player's club and tracks the swing path while JC Video swing-analysis software records the session from two separate angles, lest analysis be thrown off by only looking at the golfer's good side. Putting analysis employs Tomi technology to measure eight separate parameters of the putting stroke, from clubhead orientation at address to swing path and tempo. After swing and putting lessons, students may access the recordings on a password-protected website, so they can forward videos to friends or sports-documentary filmmakers.
Run by a staff of alligator gurus that has been featured on Animal Planet and The Learning Channel, Gator Golf combines the civilized sinking of putts with the visceral carnage of live alligator feedings. Glass walls line the 18-hole mini-golf course, which sees putt-putt posses walking over turbulent waters churned by the chomping jaws and thrashing tails of more than 200 live alligators. To foster interspecies harmony, players can purchase special gator food to toss into the gallery of scaly spectators, who express their gratitude by passing on ancestral tales about life on earth 20 million years ago.
A fearless coterie of gator wranglers enter the lagoon during shows and impart wisdom about how to handle the predacious reptiles in Alligator Academy classes, during which students can personally grapple with the gators. Guests of all ages can pose for pictures with smaller gators whose snouts have been taped shut to prevent biting and to preempt quips about players' putting form.
Shula’s Athletic Club—named for Don Shula, the NFL Hall of Famer who coached the Miami Dolphins to a Super Bowl trophy in 1972—doesn’t find it hard to fill its sprawling 40,000 square feet of space. A cardio room with more than 50 pieces of equipment, a spinning center, weight rooms, fitness-class studios, and basketball courts spread through the facility, luring athletes for independent workouts and personal-training sessions. Dozens of weekly fitness classes range from calorie-burning Zumba workouts and Vinyasa-yoga sessions to spin classes that help students practice for the day they have pedal-powered cars.
The athletic club also accommodates older exercisers with aquatic aerobics and seated Silver Sneakers workouts, and it keeps kids busy with confidence-building youth sports programs. Young legs run over a new 60-yard athletic field or nine lighted tennis courts where kids whack tennis balls and low-flying hot-air balloons with rackets.
Golfers drive, chip, and putt their way across Hilaman Golf Course, a 30-year-old, par 72 layout that spans 6,333 yards of player-friendly terrain. On most holes, players look out onto wide, unobstructed fairways that invite them to swing freely with their driver or steer their golf cart blindfolded. Water comes into play on multiple holes—a small pond sits directly in front of the fourth green, and holes 11–16 strategically wrap around two large water hazards to make the back nine slightly more challenging. The course complements its 18 holes with a restaurant that serves up sandwiches and salads, a driving range for golfers to hone their game, and four tennis courts where players can learn how to hit short irons off of asphalt.
Course at a Glance:
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