KNOXVILLE, Tennessee – To say Chester A. Massey was a golf enthusiast would be like saying the Titanic was a boat. Massey, an insurance executive from Knoxville, had a dream to build one of the finest golf courses in America, right here in east Tennessee. He spent several years and a lot of miles researching the project, country club planning, and management. Massey visited dozens of properties and spoke to many club managers and head professionals before selecting a piece of property west of Knoxville on which to build his dream course and master-planned community.
Renowned golf course architect William Byrd was selected to design and build the course and felt that Fox Den was one of the most beautiful pieces of land he’d ever worked on, with features everything like rolling hills, beautiful wooded areas, and long fairway stretches, all with the Great Smoky Mountains serving as a backdrop. He felt that “It will be one of the most exacting and exciting 18 holes in America.” The first nine holes opened for play on May 15th, 1969.
With the construction of the golf course underway, Massey set out to remodel the old Oliver Kermit Everett farmhouse into the club’s first clubhouse and pro shop; it opened in March of 1969. The second clubhouse – which is now the Fitness Center – opened in May 1971. The clubhouse that you see today was the result of a $4 million construction project approved by the membership in 1994. I guess you could say that Chester Massey’s dreams did come true, Fox Den is truly one of the nicest facilities in the Knoxville area.
In 2004, Bill Bergin completely redesigned the golf course, significantly enhancing an already outstanding layout. During the renovation, Bergin resurfaced all the greens and reshaped most of them, added several new bunkers, updated the drainage system, and installed new cart paths. In 2011, Bergin was back to rebuild all 56 bunkers on the course.
From the back tees, Fox Den plays 7,110 yards with a course rating of 74.7 and a slope of 137. This is where the pros played from for the 21 years the course hosted the Web.com Tour’s Knoxville Open event. From back here, you’ll find a lot more forced carries and more difficult angles into the green. Most members typically play from the White (6,434/71.5/132) or the Green (5,836/68.7/128) tees. Ladies will have an enjoyable time from either the Blue (5,279/71.1/123) or the Silver tees (4,718/68.1/1200). There’s also a “combo” tee on the scorecard called the “Partners” tee. Chose the distance that best suits your game and you’re bound to have a good time. When it doubt, “Play it Forward!”
I recently had an opportunity to play a round of golf at Fox Den. Not being able to find three friends that could play during the week, I was paired with three members and things couldn’t have gone better. One thing that they pointed out was that, other than the par 3’s and a couple of other holes, you can’t see the green from the tee box. The tee shots aren’t necessarily blind, you can usually watch them land, but course knowledge out here is everything. Two of my playing partners have been members for 40 years, the other for 5. I asked them what made membership so special, expecting to hear the standard answer, “the members.” I was pleasantly surprised when each one replied “The golf course, it’s just fantastic.” That’s a hard point to argue.
Just as Willard Byrd promised when he built the course originally, there are plenty of rolling hills and beautiful wooded areas, unless you’re in them. Then they’re not so beautiful. Water comes into play on several holes, but not in areas where you can’t see it. In other words, no blind shots where you could find the water if you didn’t know it was there. Fairway bunkers have been strategically placed and for the most part, are reachable regardless of the tees you’re playing. Most of the fairway bunkers, although on the peripheries of the fairway have large lips and are fairly penal in nature. The Bentgrass greens are moderately fast and roll true with subtle undulations.
Fox Den Country Club has several memorable holes but for me, it all begins with the first three. The first hole is a dogleg right, par 5 that plays 482 yards from the White tees. Tee off from an elevated tee box downhill to a landing area with a large deciduous tree on the right and fairway bunkers left. Longball hitters can most likely carry the tree, giving themselves an opportunity to go for the green in two, perhaps jump-starting their round. The green is elevated and well protected with deep-lipped bunkers.
From the White tees, the par 3, 2nd hole plays 162 yards, slightly downhill and over water to an angled green protected by bunkers front left and behind. There’s a bailout area right of the green if you feel the need!
The third hole is a gentle dogleg right that plays 356 yards from the White tees, although because it’s uphill, plays a little longer. Trees guard the right side off the tee with out of bounds on either side. You’ll need to carry your approach shot on to the green because of the positioning of the deep-lipped bunkers around it. Par is a good score here.
Number 18 is an awesome finishing hole. It’s a 556-yard par 5 that doglegs slightly to the right and for most players, will take three of the day’s best shots to get there. There is water to the right of the green as well as in front, making it necessary to carry it on. Two good shots will leave a short pitch over water into the green which features modest undulation.
The Teaching Center is one of the top golf club fitting studios in Tennessee and helps Fox Den members get the most out of their golf game by analyzing and comparing different club heads, shafts, etc. They use the TrackMan 4 video system for custom club fitting and teaching. TrackMan can measure ball speed, clubhead speed, launch angle, clubhead angle of attack, and path, just to name a few. There are two indoor hitting bays so members can work on their swing year-round.
Fox Den has the practice facilities for golfers to work on every facet of their game. There’s a full-length driving range with multiple target greens. The short game complex has areas for golfers to practice green side and bunker shots and the 10,000 sq. ft. putting green has all the undulations to get you ready for the course. There’s a second putting green adjacent to the first tee which many members use to practice short putts and chip shots.
The golf pro shop is run by PGA Professional Danny Ackerman who stocks a good variety of clubs, clothing, and accessories. You’ll find brands such as FootJoy, Under Armour, Polo Ralph Lauren, Cutter & Buck, and the latest golf club technology from companies like Titleist, Ping, and Callaway. Both beginner and seasoned golfers will find solace in knowing that the Professional Staff is always there to assist members and their guests and help them work through any problems they may have.
Fox Den Country Club offers several membership options with the most popular being the Full Membership. With a full membership you have access to pretty much everything Fox Den has to offer: The golf course, driving range and practice facilities, the teaching facility and use of the Trackman system, the tennis center, junior Olympic and Children’s swimming pools, fitness center, dining facilities, member events, and ClubBenefits at over 350 country clubs and entertainment venues around the world. A Full Membership applies to everyone in the immediate family 23 years of age and younger.
Fox Den wants to be known as a family-friendly country club and offer something for every member of the family. While golf, racquet sports, and the fitness center will most likely be enjoyed by all members of the family, things like Family Pool Activities, Red Foxes Swim Team, and Kid’s Camp attract the younger crowd. Fox Den has a good variety of events and activities for the kids throughout the year. The Casual Care Center is the perfect place to leave the little ones while mom and dad go out and play a few holes or sets.