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Over the weekend, Zac Blair hosted a tournament at Sweetens Cove Golf Club called “The Ringer” with the goal of getting one step closer to completing The Buck Club. Our contributor, Jay Revell, made the trip to South Pittsburg, Tennessee to enjoy the festivities. In a couple of weeks, we will be publishing an article from him about the event. Until then, here is a post from a few months back about a previous meet up at Sweetens Cove and how Instagram is bringing forth golf’s new age.
Going down the social media rabbit hole to find golf’s newest venues for enjoying the game.
My truck was speeding around the curving streets of my neighborhood as I was rushing to get home before my wife. She didn’t need to know what I was up to and I didn’t know how to tell her. I was about to take a leap into the deep end of a pool that is the world of golf on social media.
I got through the door to our red brick home and immediately opened my computer. I pulled out my well-worn credit card and was fearful that she might walk in at any moment. I was startled when my phone vibrated; it was a text to signal that the link was live. I punched in my card numbers and purchased my ticket to the edge of the golfing world. Pay now and don’t get caught I thought, I would have to explain to her later.
I was headed for a remote place in a distant state for a golf trip with strangers. I bought a spot for myself in a low-key meet-up of like-minded golf enthusiasts. It was called The Shindig. It was forty guys with a mutual obsession for good golf and fellowship gathered at a nine-hole course in Tennessee. The Shindig was a rendezvous on the frontier of golf’s new age and it all came together because of Instagram.
Those of us who committed to attend were friends according to social media, but few had ever met in person. We knew of each other and understood each other in the sense that we all shared some common beliefs; Golf is meant for walking, course architecture matters, and stories of places that embrace these ideas should be shared with the masses.
This may sound like a cult preparing to drink the kool-aid that guarantees passage on the mothership, but it was really another sign of the arrival of golf’s future. We were part of a different kind of golf club, non-exclusive in nature yet grounded in a common ideal: play or perish.
A few months after my clandestine credit card purchase was made in the shadows of my marriage I found myself standing in a gravel parking lot in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. We were all there together at Sweetens Cove Golf Club trying to decipher which faces went with which of our favorite Instagram accounts.
Some handshakes were exchanged and nervous laughter was heard as we stood around like kids at a middle school dance looking across the lot at each other. After many months of anticipation, we were standing there at last and only golf could break the ice.
Sweetens Cove is a monument to the belief that golf can be simple and fun at the same time as being challenging and interesting. It’s a nine-hole course with no clubhouse or amenities, just pure golf. Sweetens represents the kind of golf that folks like me dream about while at work, or at the dinner table with kids, or scrolling through favorite golf accounts on social media during a wedding.
The course has wide fairways, rolling contours, bold greens, and a requirement of strategic thinking and shot execution on every hole. Sweetens is one of the most interesting golf experiences in America and by any measure, it is far outside of ordinary.
The Shindig was a gathering of golf vagabonds, some of golf’s emerging social media influencers, and many men like myself who had a hard time explaining the trip to their wives. A description of what we were doing there was hard to come by. The organizers kind of like it that way.
The Shindig was the brainchild of Sugarloaf Social Club. Sugarloaf is a self-described group of like-minded golfers dedicated to the classical preservation, enjoyment, and creation of the game. The gents behind that vision, Ian Gilley, and Harrison Lewis were our guides and Sweetens Cove was our host.
Sugarloaf and Sweetens have something in common. Each of those entities are brands that have developed a national following almost entirely by the high-speed word of mouth that happens on social media today. Instagram, in particular, has introduced folks like the Sugarloaf guys to a weird new way of being famous.
Instagram users can seek out their preferred interests with laser-like focus. This has been particularly fruitful for golfers, especially the kind like those of us at the Shindig. We all were able to find each other because of Instagram. For many golfers, Instagram has become a way to discover new places with a particular appeal. To those of us standing in the gravel, Sweetens Cove was one of those places and the Sugarloaf gang were the digital tour guides that helped us find it.
We began our rounds that morning as the last remnants of Spring were dashing away. The humidity of a southern summer was starting to settle in for a four-month stay, and after a long winter, the course was turning greener by the day. The shotgun start was initiated soon after every player was awarded an armful of gifts. Head-covers, ball marks, leather goods, and braided belts were all included in the price of admission. Players gathered their Sugarloaf branded bounty and sprang for their respective starting holes.
For the next four hours, our band of misfit golfers marched through the mix of waste areas, expansive fairways, and contoured greens that occupy the terrain of that Tennessee mountain valley. These golfers moved across those grounds like a heard of elephants crisscrossing the African savannah. Swing, walk, and repeat. That was our formula for the day.
There were hoots and hollers heard from across the course all morning long. Beer coolers were strategically placed for bottomless brews to be a convenient grab-and-go along the way and the smell of smoked pork was wafting over our heads. The golf at Sweetens Cove is as enjoyable as the mountains around the course are tall and we were experiencing a version of it that most players will never know.
When the morning rounds were completed, it was time for a fresh plate of Tennessee Bar-b-q. The plates were piled high with pork and chicken, and those meats were smothered in homemade slaw and sauces. The gravel lot got quiet while we scarfed down the reward for our morning walk, but the laughter accelerated shortly after when the “shootout” began.
To determine a champion for our outing, the boys from Sugarloaf concocted a challenge that felt like a human Rube Goldberg machine. Players earning a spot in the shootout began by pouring a fresh beer into a large glass mug and from there were required to run down the hill to the extravagant ninth green. Players had to putt across the green and hole out before running back up the hill to our bar-b-q feast all while not spilling their beer. Points were awarded for most beer left, least strokes to hole the putt, and amount of time to finish. Only the most worthy would win the grand prize of a Sugarloaf custom Mackenzie golf bag.
After a Champion was crowned, players began to tee off again for as much golf as possible. Clouds were gathering and thunder was rolling across the horizon as we began to play again. I had my persimmon woods in the bag this go round and even the ominous afternoon forecast couldn’t dampen my spirits. I was with my new friends, people who believe in golf like I do, and we were soaking up a most joyous occasion.
Somewhere on the second hole the lightning reached our mountain valley and the golf would have to end. There was a rat-race for everyone to reach the parking lot as players jockeyed for a place in the shed. The shed is a 10×15 substitute for a clubhouse and is the only cover from the elements at Sweetens Cove. It was muggy and we were wet, but the beer was cold and the conversation was now forcibly close.
By this point in the affair, twenty or so players were hanging on to hope and crammed into the close quarters of the Sweetens Cove shed. We were still committed to the small chance that the storm would pass and the golf would resume, but as the rain persisted players prepared to depart. One by one those clinging to the dream of more blue sky and a few more holes peeled off to the parking lot and headed for home.
As things were getting a bit claustrophobic in the shed, I decided it was time to make a move to my truck and hit the road for the first leg of my journey home. I shook hands with many new friends on my way through the crowded shed. The rustle of rain gear was deafening in the small space, but I managed to exchange a few phone numbers on the way out. I wanted to be sure to stay connected to as many of these lads as I could. After saying my final goodbyes and see-you-laters, I made a sprint back across the gravel through the pounding rain and loaded up the truck for the long ride I had ahead.
Sitting in my truck, I could see the remnants of this great day through the swing of my windshield wipers. The parking lot was now half full, and the porch of the shed was a little less crowded. The sunshine had been submerged in a dense downpour of rain. I wanted badly to get back out onto the course, but the time had arrived for me to turn the key, crank the truck, and leave.
The Shindig was everything I had hoped it would be. It lived up to the exciting expectations I had running through my head as I sped through the neighborhood racing to get home and secure my spot in the event. I was so happy to get to Sweetens Cove, and I was delighted by the prospects of the burgeoning friendships I had discovered there.
I am amazed that a photo sharing application on my phone has allowed me and many others like me to build and grow new networks of friends who have the same interest as I do. Wherever I travel to, I know I can find golfers with a common mind like myself that are always ready to play somewhere interesting. The barriers to connecting with adventurous and outgoing friends to play golf with are gone forever.
The Shindig was proof that golf still thrives where the experience is good, and the people are passionate. Golf needs more experiences like the one that I had with my friends at Sweetens Cove. I’m talking about experiences that are made for the golfers that are consumed with the game.
Throughout our time together at the Shindig, every player was posting photos, sharing stories, and most importantly inspiring followers to seek out the best kind of experiences that golf can offer. Golf will grow when the people who love it most can convince the undecideds that there is more to discover if you just take the next step down the rabbit hole.
The game will reach its fullest potential when we there are more advocates for it like Sugarloaf Social Club. Golf needs advocates who not only tell stories, but organize events, and bring people to the game. Golf is growing, and it will develop more when places like Sweetens Cove migrate from being an outlier to becoming the mainstream. Thanks to the internet and social media the future of golf is arriving fast, and there has never been a better time for the game to grow.
We now have entered the age of the golf-crazed vagabond, the emerging social media influencer, and the guys who have a hard time explaining to their wives why they are on the road again with their golf clubs. I’m excited to see where the game goes in the coming years and I can’t wait for the next adventure with my new friends. When I went to the Shindig, I jumped head first into golf’s new world, and I can’t wait to recruit more friends to take the plunge.