NB3 Consulting photo
PGA golfer Notah Begay offers his expertise with Native American junior golfers.
For centuries, the Cherokee game of choice was the sport of stickball, a rougher version of today’s lacrosse. Over the last decade, Cherokee, N.C., has become a destination for tourists looking for games at its Harrah’s Casino. Now a different kind of game is coming to town.
Sequoyah National, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ 18-hole public golf course is scheduled to open on the last weekend of August. According to Sequoyah National golf superintendent Jeremy Boone, this facility is the first public course to open in the region since Broadmoor Links in Asheville, N.C., in the 1990s.
“There are lots of world-class golf courses in Western North Carolina,” Boone said. “But the average player can’t get in the front gate of most of those courses. Not only will we let you in the front gate, but [we’ll] pay your fee, and you can play this spectacular course.”
The course was brought to fruition through collaboration between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribe, NB3 Consulting, golf course architect Robert Trent Jones II, and Landscapes Unlimited. Troon Golf will manage the course with oversight by the tribe. With a slew of new jobs for local residents and tribal members, Sequoyah National will provide golfing opportunities for tribal members and area residents as a stand-alone destination or couple it with packages from Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and other area lodging.
Golfer Notah Begay III, founder of NB3 Consulting and the only full-blooded Native American on the PGA Tour, jumped at the chance to be a part of Sequoyah National.
“There are a lot of golf course development firms out there,” Begay said, “but we approach projects with the best interest of the community in mind. In addition, we stay involved well past the grand opening of the course through junior golf programs that have been designed by Native Americans for today’s Native youth.”
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Vice Chief Larry Blythe said tribal officials met with Begay and NB3 president Mark Freeland at the Verizon Heritage PGA tournament in 2004. “We listened to Notah talk about his vision,” said Blythe, “and we liked what we heard. We run a tribe; we don’t build golf courses. But with Notah as our agent, we were comfortable that we would get a golf course the tribe could take pride in.”
Robert Trent Jones II is a world-renowned golf course architect. His team has designed more than 250 courses around the globe. Begay said that he had known Jones since his days at Stanford and had always admired his work. The terrain at Sequoyah National was going to present some unique challenges, but Jones was confident that his company would help design an attractive course.
Working with Native American tribes is often more inspiring, Jones said. “It’s more instructive to let them tell you their stories. You learn to respect the land rather than design the land.”
Landscapes Unlimited specializes in golf courses and sports-related projects. They have completed more than 800 golf and sports projects.
“Landscapes Unlimited has been nothing short of spectacular on this project,” Begay noted. “The terrain was difficult to work with, and they have helped us not only keep the project on budget but on time.”
Troon Golf, meanwhile, is the world’s largest golf management company. Founded in 1990 in Scottsdale, Ariz., Troon oversees more than 200 golf courses across 31 countries, including more than 80 U.S. courses located in 31 different states. Thirty-six Troon courses have been awarded “Top 100” status by national and international publications.
Sequoyah National will have the signature of its namesake and the EBCI prominently displayed along its 18 holes and throughout the clubhouse. Tribal officials were adamant from conception that the course have strong ties to the Cherokee community and that it reflect Cherokee tradition, culture and values. They were committed that Sequoyah National would not simply be a golf course in Cherokee, but rather a Cherokee golf course.
“Part of our goal is to continue to tell the story of the Cherokee people,” said EBCI Principal Chief Michell Hicks. “Sequoyah is a big part of that story—how one man brought language and literacy to his people.”
Vice Chief Larry Blythe said the tribe’s cultural committee and others were working on signs for every tee that would tell a unique Cherokee story that related in some way to that particular hole.
“For instance,” he explained, “the number one tee faces Clingmans Dome, and you might see a Cherokee legend regarding the mountains.”
The stories will be told using Sequoyah’s syllabary and will be translated in English. A grant from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation will help pay for the signs.
The par-72 course plays 6,595 yards from the back tees. That may seem short by today’s standards, but Jones warns it will play longer than 6,600 yards.
“We use the elevation to vary the course,” he said. “There’s a real nice mix of up, down, side and level. And we mix up the angles from the tees.”
The course is composed of five par-5’s, five par-3’s and eight par-4’s. The five different tee positions offer a course that will accommodate players of all levels.
“If you play the back tees, you’ve got a good test of golf,” Boone said. “If you play the up tees and hit the ball relatively straight, you’ll have a fun time out here.”
The tees and fairways are a mix of four different varieties of low-mow bluegrass. The roughs are a mixture of fescues and low-mow bluegrass. The greens are bent grass, and the natural areas sport a thick tangle of Jacklin Irish links—beautiful to look at, but you won’t like seeing your ball go in there.
Sequoyah National is located on Hwy. 441 North, just off the Qualla Boundary. It sits on approximately 263 acres, most of which was the former Smoky Mountain Raceway. Most of the rest of the property was a mixture of farmland and pasture.
Boone said the tribe, the architect, and the construction company all worked together to create a beautiful, challenging golf course with a minimum of environmental impact.
“No wetlands were filled, no waterways were piped or diverted, and no culverts were installed anywhere on the course,” Boone said. He noted that in the nine places the cart path crossed streams, bridges were installed bank to bank.
“Number 12 green had to be moved from its original design location because we discovered a springhead,” Boone said, “and we left areas of forest and native vegetation to serve as wildlife corridors.”
Water proved to be a challenge at Sequoyah National.
“There was no way to do a well, and there simply wasn’t enough water to capture from the small creeks on the property,” said Boone.
Developers overcame that obstacle by running nearly 8,000 feet of eight-inch PVC pipe from the single, large watering impoundment to the Tuckasegee River. A computerized system will replenish the impoundment as water is drawn out for watering fairways and greens. To further conserve water on the course, the tribe installed a computerized watering system that utilizes small sprinkler heads from the tees to the greens.
“By installing more, smaller sprinkler heads in the fairways, we are able to conserve a lot of water,” Boone said. The smaller heads allow Boone and his crew to target specific areas. Plus, by cutting the throw from 90 feet to 60, the golf course saves a lot of water that would otherwise be lost to wind and evaporation.
“One of the things I like about the course is nothing looks forced,” Blythe said. Boone credits that to Jones and his design team.
“Most golf course architects have some trait that they take with them to every golf course they do,” Boone said. “For example, crossties and Pete Dye are synonymous. The unique thing about Robert Trent Jones II is he doesn’t want the course to be a monument to him. He wants it to fit into whatever land he’s got to work with.”
Jones said what he and his lead designer do is “golf art,” incorporating the sense of flow of contour, line of sight, wind and silhouette.
“It is a game,” said Jones, “like outdoor chess, and good moves or shots will be rewarded, and bad moves or shots will be penalized.”
Tribal officials believe that by diversifying and expanding economic opportunities in Cherokee, they are helping create a more vibrant and sustainable economy.
“The course will help us draw people to Cherokee who would not otherwise come,” said Boone. Those in the area, say from Asheville or Knoxville, could drive over and play and drive home golfers from farther away or spend the night, adding to the local economy.
“Plus, the clubhouse will display authentic Cherokee arts and crafts,” Boone said. “If a golfer sees a basket he likes, we can direct them to the Qualla Arts Co-op and then they have a potential customer that they wouldn’t have if that person hadn’t come here to play golf.”
Sequoyah National will also provide numerous recreational and educational opportunities. Fees at the course will be on a sliding scale with enrolled members seeing the biggest discount followed by golfers from surrounding counties. Tourists from outside the area will pay full price, which, according to Boone, will be on par with other first-class public courses.
Sequoyah National will also serve as the home course for Cherokee High School’s golf team. And four-time PGA tournament winner Notah Begay will bring Native youth programs to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians that will be designed specifically for their young golfers.
“I have no idea why golf chose me,” Begay said. “There were really not any Native Americans in golf for me to look up to when I was growing up. As I progress throughout my career and continue to try and positively impact my people, I am so honored to have the chance to work with these tribal communities. Our people are strong and have persevered for hundreds of years, and to be able to take my expertise as the only full-blooded Native American in golf and bring it to a community to positively impact the community is very humbling and something that will continue to inspire me.”
Sequoyah National Golf Club • Hwy 441 North, Cherokee, NC 28719
800-357-2771 • www.sequoyahnational.com