(This article was originally published on 5/20/09)
A trip to Tennessee in the fall is a splendorous thing. The leaves are brimming with gold and red, the weather is crisp, the faces friendly.
We took a trip on the back roads of the central and southwest area of Tennessee recently and discovered great golf and fascinating crafts.
We flew into Nashville and checked into the glorious Union Station Hotel (www.unionstationhotelnashville.com). It opened as a train station from 1900. In 1986, it reopened as a hotel with 125 guest rooms, no two alike. The lobby is stunning. Marble floors, 128 original stained glass panels, and a soaring, 65-foot-high barrel-vaulted ceiling make it unforgettable.
You can't go to Nashville without a trip to Honky Tonk Row and we loved the live music pouring forth from Tootsies', the Orchid Lounge and The Stage. Don't miss dinner at Chappy's on Church Street. (www.chappys.com). Those of us on the Gulf Coast will so appreciate the affable host, John “Chappy” Chapman. Chappy owned a restaurant in Gulf Shores, Ala., from 1984 until August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina completely demolished Chappy’s restaurant and his home. In June of 2006, Chappy's Seafood Restaurant reopened in Nashville, giving all the New Orleans lovers a taste of home.
Our real purpose was to discover the back road charms between Music City and Memphis.
The next morning we set off to see what treasures Tennessee has to offer. Our first stop was Beans Creek Winery (www.beanscreekwinery.com), located in Manchester. Owner Tom Brown turned a longtime hobby into a career four years ago. Brown uses grapes and fruit that thrive in Tennessee. In addition to offering great wines, Beans Creek has a monthly evening of free music on the lawn from April through October.
After kicking off our morning with wine, we headed straight for the hard stuff with back-to-back tours of Tennessee whiskey.
In 1870, George Dickel used the pure water from nearby Cascade Springs to distill his first bottle of Tennessee whiskey. Today the George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma still creates whiskey in the same unique way George did more than 130 years ago? because George thought whiskey made in the winter was smoother, this is the only Tennessee whiskey to chill before it goes into the charcoal mellowing vats.
We slipped into Tullahoma for a delightful lunch at the Cornerstone Bistro (www.tullahomabistro.com). Darling owner Natalie Watson served some incredible homemade potato soup and the best potato rolls ever.
World famous and the number one selling in the world, the Jack Daniel's Distillery has been making whiskey since 1866. Every drop of this world-famous spirit has been made in Tennessee for more than 140 years?making Jack Daniel’s Distillery the oldest registered distillery in the U.S.
The distillery, in Lynchburg, is a much more formal tour than the Dickel one. The process is similar.
Tennessee has the second highest growth of Amish in the U..S. with an 18 percent gain in 2007-08. Amish seek low-cost land to farm and the hills of Tennessee offer a slow pace of life and friendly soil. They often supplement their incomes by making simple, yet high quality goods such as furniture, quilts and tools. For the last decade, David and Lorie Williams have offered fine local Amish goods at their Amish Country Galleries ranging from furniture, baskets and handmade quilts to wooden crafts only available in Middle Tennessee. The prices are extremely affordable.
The morning we spent at the Bonnie Blue Goat Farm, opened in April 2006 by Jim & Gayle Tanner, was enchanting. Formerly from California, this down-to-earth and charming couple operate the only goat dairy in Tennessee, Waynesboro to be exact. They work from dawn to dusk taking care of the herd, milking them and creating delicious cheeses. They have a cabin available for rent for only $95 a night where you can sit on the porch and watch or help with the work. With 23,000 casualties, the Battle of Shiloh was the largest engagement in the Mississippi Valley. Today, the park showcases the Shiloh Battlefield, including significant sites such as Grant’s Last Line, the site of former Texan commander Gen. Albert Sidney Johnson’s death, as well as the Shiloh National Cemetery, holding 3,584 Civil War dead, 2,359 of whom are unknown, and the Shiloh Indian Mounds dating back to 1200 AD. We checked into the hotel at Pickwick Landing State Park (www.tnstatparks.com). The hotel is plain but friendly. Windows everywhere allow great views of the dam and lake. The breakfast buffet is a bargain.
Probably the most fun we had was dinner on the Pickwick Belle (www.pickwickbelle.com). The paddle boat docks right outside the hotel. Cruise the Pickwick Lake and down the Tennessee River while enjoying one of their many special events such as the fall foliage, classic legends, gospel or Civil War adventure cruises.
Get swept away at Hockaday Handmade Brooms (www.hhbrooms.com) and experience folk art at its finest. Established in 1916, Hockaday Brooms is a family owned and operated business. The first broom was made by Will Hockaday in the early 1900s to provide an extra source of income for the family during the winter. From that time on, broom making became part of everyday life. Today, Jack Martin continues the family tradition and was chosen as one of the Top Twelve Folk Artists in the Nation to perform at the 1996 Olympics and has also appeared on HGTV.
Tour the Tennessee Pewter Company (www.tnpewter.com) in Grand Junction, Tenn. and the beautiful young owner, Kathleen Armour Walker, will greet you at the door and take you through her shop. The company’s handcrafted pewter coffee service and water pitcher have received first-, and second-place honors in a national competition, and are part of a permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Tennessee Pewter's products are the best – handmade and polished, made with loving care.
My granddaddy owned bird dogs so I was particularly interested to visit a museum devoted to them. Once you tour the National Bird Dog Museum and Field Trial Hall of Fame (www.birddogfoundation.com), you will have an appreciation of this lovely creature and the lavish devotion paid to them by their fans. The museum highlights more than 40 breeds of bird dogs and more than 100 years of sporting tradition.
We checked into the gorgeous Peabody Hotel where the world-famous ducks greeted us with splashes from their marble fountain in the lobby. Next time we will be sure to try the Madison Hotel. We had cocktails on the rooftop where we were entranced with the spectacular views of the Mississippi River and downtown Memphis. Dinner at the Grill 83 could not have been more perfect. Executive Chef Chris Windsor started with one of the best appetizers I've ever had. Jumbo honey-chipotle glazed shrimp were served in a small cast iron skillet filled with a crispy sweet corn pudding. Outstanding. The 16- ounce filet was perfect. The crème brulee stack, nestled in a pool of whipped cream and fresh strawberries, was thrilling. We peeked into a guest room – divine.
Since we began our trip with Nashville's music scene, it was only fitting that we ended the trip on Beale Street. We toured the Smithsonian’s Memphis Rock n Soul Museum and the Gibson Guitar Factory Tour.
Surprisingly, the Memphis Mojo Tour (www.backbeattours.com) was a true highlight of our trip. There are several tours offered each day, including a walking ghost tour in the evening. Memphis Jones, a captivating and energetic musician, gave us the performance of a lifetime showing us Beale Street, the Stax Museum, the Civil Rights Museum and obscure places such as Elvis Presley's first Memphis apartment – in a housing project, the church where Aretha Franklin learned to sing and WDIA, where BB King got his start, all while we rode in 'Miss Clawdy,' a fully restored climate controlled 1959 GM bus. Jones sang the songs to accompany the history and when I got off the bus, I had a real appreciation of the role Memphis has in musical history. At the tour's start, tambourines, bongos and shakers are distributed.
Over the course of three days, we enjoyed six different golf courses, each nestled in some of the most spectacular scenery in the state. The Blackberry Ridge Golf Club (931-437-2343), located in Shelbyville, is a owned by the Jarrell family who is dedicated to creating a lush, first-class facility. The course has a unique layout for Tennessee, which is typically flat. It is carved into the side of a ridge, with a variety of elevation changes. The course was built in 1999 on an old cattle farm. The signature hole is No.8, a 218-yard, par 3, featuring a raised tee that ends in a valley. The public course was designed by Gary Baird. No driving range or caddies. Green fees begin at $32.
The Bear Trace At Tims Ford (1-888-558-2327) features 18 challenging holes on the shores of Tims Ford Lake. This course is quiet, out of the way and tucked into some of Tennessee's loveliest scenery.
The third of the five Bear Trace golf courses on the Tennessee Golf Trail, it is a Jack Nicklaus signature designed course and was named one of the “Top 10 Places You Can Play” by Golf Magazine in 2000. Located in Winchester, it is a short course with fast greens well worth the time to get there. Green fees include carts. Weekdays $32; weekends and holidays $42.
The Clax Branch Golf Course (931-853-4653) is located in Loretto, 90 minutes south of Nashville, and boasts a 6000-yard course with the feel of history and nature all around. The fairways are lined with century-old oaks, hickories and maples, and a spring creek lazily edging the course. Weekday green fees are $10-$16; weekends and holidays are $18-$22.
The fifth and newest (it opened in 2001) course on the Bear Trace is Bear Trace at Ross Creek Landing (931-676-3174). While the course was being built, special care was taken to preserve stream corridors and existing woods and meadows. In 2003, it got great praise when it was ranked as “the best public access course in Tennessee” by Golfweek. The course is located near Clifton on the banks of the Tennessee River, it features spectacular scenery. Fees range from $25-$39; no driving range.
We started our third day of golfing at the Pickwick Landing State Park Golf Course (1-800-250-8615) in Pickwick Dam, Tenn. Opened in 1973, this course has been a golfer's favorite for years. Pickwick Landing was a riverboat stop as early as the 1840s. During the Depression, a dam was built here by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Today, the golf course is located in the state park. The holes are tree-lined with a variety of water hazards and bunkers to keep your interest. We were warned to “keep an eye out for the signature hole?Hole No.2 a 4,396 yard par 4 with a tight dogleg right and out of bounds protecting the entire right side of the fairway.” Luckily, some of us made it just over par. Green fees on weekdays are $20; weekends $23 with cart fees extra.
We saved the best for last. Shiloh Falls Golf Club (731-689-5050) overlooks the Tennessee River. The course was designed by Fred Couples and Jerry Pate and is located in Pickwick Dam inside a gated community. Hazards include sand bunkers, changing elevations, creeks and lakes, and wildlife which often is seen serenely eyeing the passing golfers. Hole No.15 is the signature hole and features a breathtaking 55 foot natural waterfall which gives the course its name. Shiloh Falls has fine dining and a casual restaurant, and a stunning clubhouse with all the amenities. Green fees range from $34-$49.
For complete information on south central and southwest Tennessee, call 1-800-GO2-TENN or visit www.tnvacation.com. Photos by Larry Shiflet.