The mountaintop community of McLemore in Rising Fawn, Georgia is a vibrant, robust community with about 200 homesites that is best known for one thing, soon to be two: a mountaintop golf course that needs to be played at least once by any golfer who enjoys a challenging round of golf.
According to folklore, McLemore gets its name from John McLemore – a Cherokee Chief and Captain in the US Army during the War of 1812 – who was fresh off a visit to his ancestors in the Scottish Highlands. When he looked at the cove that lies below the golf course, it reminded him of his Scottish homeland, and named it McLemore.
Both the golf course and community are situated on the backside of Lookout Mountain and, at a base elevation of 2,300 feet above sea level, you can find yourself playing golf in the clouds when the weather is just right! In addition to traveling up and down the mountain, the golf course winds its way through dense woods, rocky outcrops, native stream beds, and open meadows. Many of the significant elevation changes play downhill with cart paths that serpentine down the mountainside.
The Highlands course is built on what used to be the Canyon Ridge Club, which opened in 2005. When Rees Jones and Bill Bergin were commissioned to redesign the course, they do so with a few subtle differences. The design team’s first priority was to expose the natural elements of the course while making it more enjoyable for all levels of golfers. While discussing possible scenarios on how to end the layout developer Duane Horton and designer Bill Bergin explored the mountainside and found a shelf suitable for the 18th hole lying below the site of the old 18th hole. Today’s 18th hole sits perched on the edge of the cliff on that lower shelf and a newly constructed clubhouse allows members and guests to enjoy the view from the top of the mountain.
The remaining seventeen holes use many of the existing hole corridors, however, green complexes have been reworked to optimize angles into pin locations. The fairway and greenside bunkers have received facelifts and the areas around the green complexes have been enlarged, allowing for a variety of recovery shots.
McLemore offers guests and members six tee boxes to choose from, plus a hybrid “Members” yardage on the scorecard. From the back tees – Tee I – the course plays 7,005 yards with a course rating of 72.4 and a slope of 140. I chose Tee III (6,101/70.4/ which provided a good challenge and let me leave with a little dignity! Before my round, Eddie in the pro shop had some very sage advice: “Long here is not good; do not go over the green or you’ll pay the price.”
PGA Golf Professional turned Golf Channel TV analyst Charlie Rymer has classified each hole at McLemore into one of three categories: Canyon, Highland, and Cliff holes. The Canyon Holes (#2, 3, 6, 7, and 9) play along the canyon walls and sometimes over an elevated ridge line on the eastern side of Lookout Mountain. They sit amidst a wall of deciduous rainforest and natural areas, with ancient boulders poking through into the fairway and causing some interesting caroms should you hit one. The Canyon holes are centered around a lake with views that stretch for miles. They feature the most elevation change and are considered some of the more challenging – and memorable – holes on the course. Number 2 is a gorgeous golf hole that plays 409 yards from Tee III. The water on the left is reachable although it’s farther than it looks. A good drive that finds the fairway will still leave a long approach shot over water into a long, skinny green that is flanked by bunkers on either side, water in front, and a creek on the right. Play it and you’ll soon find out why it’s the #1 handicap!
The Highland Holes (#4, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16) are the most common at McLemore and sit perched on the plateau of Lookout Mountain. The Highland holes are as close to “regular golf holes” as you’ll find at McLemore although the views they yield are anything but ordinary. The 16th hole is a long, dogleg right par 4, that plays 410 yards from Tee III. A good drive that avoids the fairway bunkers on either side will leave a long iron or hybrid over a creek and rocky waste area that is not visible from the tee or the fairway. This is where a rangefinder with slope comes in handy, you want to be sure to take enough club to get it onto the green with the creek in front of it and a large bunker behind it. Large bunkers guard the front right and backside of the green.
The Cliff Edge holes (#1, 17, and 18) are situated along the eastern cliff edge of Lookout Mountain and overlook historic McLemore Cove. These 3 holes offer dramatic views that can only be understood by playing them. The 18th hole features the cliff on the left with a lot of mounding on the right and a fairway that slopes towards the cliff. A good drive that finds the fairway tends to come to rest on the left side, leaving an approach shot over the cliff’s edge into an elevated green. You’ll find it takes an extra level of concentration to hit your approach shot on what Links Magazine has referred to as “One of the Top 10 Finishing Holes in the World”. Golf Digest has named it the “Best 18th Hole Built Since 2000.” It truly is something to be experienced.
McLemore attracts golfers from many different places. Rising Fawn, GA is located in the northwestern part of Georgia, about 15 miles from the Alabama state line and 27 miles from Chattanooga, TN. That puts it about 2 hours from Nashville, Knoxville, Huntsville, Atlanta, and Birmingham.
The way I see it, The Highlands Course at McLemore is a “must-play” for any serious golfer who lives within 200 miles of the community. But according to Bergin and Jones, the best is yet to come. In 2024, a second course and a new Hilton Curio Collection hotel, Cloudland Lookout Mountain, are scheduled to open. This new project is referred to as The Outpost and will feature a (yet-to-be-named) walkable, mountaintop golf experience designed with five cliff-edge holes. Jones feels that this new course “could host a major,” and from all indications, it will be one of the most scenic and enjoyable courses in the southeast. The golf course will be located along the eastern cliff edge of Lookout Mountain. When this work is completed, McLemore will likely become a national golf destination along the lines of Streamsong in Florida.
Currently, there are three ways for you to play McLemore. The first is to become a member of the Highlands Course or join as an equity member of The Outpost. Memberships are available for both residents and non-residents. As a Resident Member, you’ll enjoy green fees for both the 18-hole championship course and the practice facility with special pricing for cart fees and merchandise. Friends that play with you will receive a 50% discount on published green fees. Family members are included, too.
The second way to play the course is as a Stay & Play guest. You’ll experience the unforgettable Highlands course and relax in one of the many homes within the McLemore community. These homes are completely furnished and can accommodate anywhere from two to eight guests in a single home. They have all the comforts of home and are the perfect place to put you at ease after a day on the mountain. Residences include golf cottages, villas, and single-family homes. The golf cottages are located next to the driving range; the villas and homes are located throughout the community.
The third way to get on McLemore’s golf course is to become a “Friend of McLemore,” which will afford you the opportunity to play once each season, book tee times online, and participate in Friends-only events throughout the year.
Once you figure out which of these three options is best for you, everything else can be done through the McLemore website. Stay & Play packages can be customized through the Golf Packages link, or you can follow the “Explore Vacations” link to plan a non-golf-related trip. If you simply want to play a round of golf, check out the self-booking options. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way and give them a call at 800-329-8154 or visit them online at www.themclemore.com. No matter which option you choose, you’re sure to be amazed by the spectacular golf facility.