Golf development is as hot as it’s been since the late 2000s. For the past five years, and particularly since the spike of golf rounds during the pandemic, clubs large and small have been investing in upgrades. Some areas around the United States are becoming intensely active in remodels and new courses, many of them in the Southeast.
One unique pocket of action is Lookout Mountain, on an elongated plateau that rises nearly 2,400 feet above sea level in the northwest corner of Georgia, where two notable projects are underway.
When Bill Bergin and Rees Jones were hired in 2018 by the group of investors who had purchased the old Canyon Ridge development on Lookout Mountain—redubbed McLemore—they assumed their work would be a standard improvement of a course with some nice views but also limited in potential due to the way the holes jumped around the property demanding several extended cart rides.
That changed when Bergin began exploring a section of the property below the existing 18th hole. His discovery of a densely treed ledge running parallel and extending out to a drop-off that plunged hundreds of feet below into a valley was a game-changer. It was the perfect width for a golf hole.
When that cliffside hole debuted the following year, McLemore’s new 18th (as the development and course were renamed) immediately became recognized as one of the most visually arresting holes in the nation. Golf Digest named it the Best 18th hole in America built since 2000, and golfers around the country who otherwise never would have heard of McLemore suddenly wanted to know more about it. Experiencing it firsthand, along with the other nicely renovated holes, will become easier when a new 245-room lodge opens in early 2024.
Finding the 18th might have been a stroke of luck, but it clued the ownership group into the full potential of the land they owned. The greater development consisted of several hundred more acres, including more forest land poised along an upper stretch of rocky ledges to the south of the first course, offering the potential for even more breathtaking holes.
The new course at McLemore, called The Outpost and located 16 miles south of Lookout Mountain Club with the same eastern overlook, broke ground this fall and will occupy this section of the property. To the developers’ credit, they’ve reserved the entire site for golf. Many real-estate-focused entities would have cashed in upfront on the million-dollar views and reserved the frontage for homesites, but McLemore realized that placing the course along the ridgeline, which looks directly down over a cove 400 feet below, could pay indefinite dividends
To the developers’ added credit, they retained Bergin and Jones to design the course. For the past 20 years, properties with this kind of visceral power have been reserved for Bill Coore, Tom Doak, Gil Hanse, or maybe Tom Fazio or Jack Nicklaus. It will be refreshing to get a different perspective of golf design on a site with such rare perspective. Bergin, who lives in the Atlanta area, has taken the lead role on the project and routed The Outpost with two looping nines that each reach soaring crescendos along the clifftop.
Five holes—one, nine, 10, 11 and 18—will engage the mountain’s edge, and most holes will have views off the mountain into the valley. It remains to be seen how the course will be finished—rough shaping will begin in early 2023—but Bergin envisions a design with varying textures and holes bordered by longer fescue grasses. He’s known to prefer a cleaner style of bunkers featuring a floor of sand and a defined, rolled-down grass face, but it’s possible something different will be required to harmonize with the size and openness of the property.
Creating one can’t-look-away golf hole several years ago did wonders for putting McLemore on the map. When a second course opens sometime in 2024 with five similar ridgeline holes, no housing to interrupt the flow and a new hotel could make McLemore a national golf destination.