I’ve made two previous trips to Northeast Tennessee to golf and each of those times I’ve wanted to play River Islands but it has just been a slightly longer drive than I wanted to take on. I’ve read great things about the course and it has been on my wish list for a couple years now. However, this trip I made it happen! I picked up my friend and we caught up which helped pass the time in the car.
River Islands is closer to Knoxville than Johnson City, where I was staying but it is a convenient course to those traveling along I-40 and the southern terminus of I-81. It took us about an hour and 30 minutes from Johnson City with all of that drive on those interstates. Once you exit the interstate it is only a few miles to get to the course, which sits down near the French Broad River.
The river is the course’s defining feature and I had heard great things about the way that the course was routed to bring it into play. After playing River Islands I’ll say that the property offers a spectacular setting for golf! The course actually occupies land north of the river, an island in the middle of the river, and part of the river bend to the south!
The first two holes run away from the clubhouse down towards the river and while they are good, they could be found just about anywhere on the East Coast. The rest of the holes though are quite impressive! About half of the remaining holes have views of the river and up to four holes play across it, depending on which tees you pick! Holes 3, 4, and 5 play on an island as you head towards the other side of the river and then holes 15 and 16 are back on the island as you return to the clubhouse. You can basically pick your own signature hole from this collection!
We played the Player tees which are 72.5/142/6594. It plays as a par 72 with five par 5’s and five par 3’s, which is my favorite setup. Without a doubt the opening and closing holes are the toughest as they are tree lined and you can easily plunk a few balls in the water! I’d make sure to take an extra club on the par 3’s that cross the river (the 3rd and the 5th) because the air seemed heavier there. Also stop to take in the setting on the opening and closing holes! The river was meandering by when we were there and I got some nice pictures of the rock faced wall that is the riverbank and some submerged trees. The wildlife was out too with birds that were nesting in tree behind the 4th green.
The bulk of the holes are on the south side of the river and offer a parkland style experience. These holes are easier and the spot of the course where you should do your scoring. I had a good round and made four birdies, three of which came on this middle section of holes. If you miss a tee shot here you can generally find it and recover. Plus, you could end up with plenty of short irons.
I’m not the biggest Arthur Hills fan as he seems to create courses that are just a bit too difficult for my liking. However, here at River Islands I think he hit a home run! If I wasn’t comfortable with a shot there generally was a bail out area. Plus, Hills made great use of the land and for a flat course, it looked great! He used mounds to frame the greens and at no point did I feel like the holes were crammed onto the land. The maintenance crew has done a great job adding to the aesthetics by letting the tongues of the bunkers grow up! My ball nestled down in one of them and I was happy to hit the green from 15 yards.
The rest of the course was in brilliant shape too. While some of the courses with bent grass greens can struggle in the summer months, River Islands has bermuda greens which were thriving in the heat. They rolled pure and were very quick! The greens were on the firm side and hardly had any ball marks. My tip when putting these greens is to play half of the break that you see! I over-read every putt early on and then started making them after I made that adjustment. The fairways are zoysia, which is my favorite fairway grass because the ball sits up so nicely, and they were full. I ended up with a couple bare lies in the rough but was impressed with the overall condition.
River Islands has a lot to like and I’d recommend a stop here if you ever get the chance. The setting is great, it is convenient, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the zoysia if you’ve never played on it before. We paid $45 each which made it a great value. The only complaint that I’ve heard about the course is the pace of play. It took us 4 hours 15 minutes to get around which is just average in my opinion. Some forced carries and the setting are bound to slow down play. Even with that, I say put this one on your list!
#1 (375 yard par 4):
#2 (389 yard par 4):
#3 (175 yard par 3):
#4 (553 yard par 5):
#5 (174 yard par 3):
#6 (490 yard par 5):
#7 (415 yard par 4):
#8 (199 yard par 3):
#9 (527 yard par 5):
#10 (391 yard par 4):
#11 (367 yard par 4):
#12 (355 yard par 4):
#13 (369 yard par 4):
#14 (532 yard par 5):
#15 (180 yard par 3):
#16 (514 yard par 5):
#17 (166 yard par 3):
#18 (423 yard par 4):