Why this rural 9-hole course was my favorite I played in 2022

Sweetens cove fall

Sweetens Cove provides a multitude of ways to navigate it, but it's the expansive greens that dictate the best route and challenge you to be bold.

Ryan Barath

At GOLF.com, our hobby is also our job. That means, just like you, we spend much of the year teeing it up high, swinging hard and trying to avoid double bogeys. But some courses we stumble upon are simply more memorable than others. Here, for the second straight year, we unveil our favorite public courses we played in 2022.

ICYMI: Why this simple Scottish course was my favorite I played in 2022


I realize this is going to sound crazy but I don’t play a lot of golf outside of my geographical location, so any chance I get to play someplace special I jump at the opportunity. For 2022, that opportunity was to play at Sweetens Cove Golf Club in South Pittsburg, Tenn.

Sweetens cove sign
The famous sign that welcomes golfers. Ryan Barath

The opportunity to play came thanks to an invitation to a multiple-day event from my friend Peter, and it took no time for me to reply: “Yes!” And although it was by invitation, there is no need to worry, Sweetens of course is public.

For those still unaware, Sweetens Cove is the darling of the golf course nerd world thanks in part to its extremely interesting set of greens, off-the-beaten-path location, simplicity and expansive ability to enjoy the course in so many different and imaginative ways.

Before I made the 14-hour drive from Toronto to South Pittsburg, a lot of my regular golfing buddies asked if I would get bored playing a 9-hole course for three days straight, but the truth is you could probably play it for a week and still not quite understand it in its entirety.

What separates Sweetens from any golf experience that I have ever had is the contrast between the seriousness of the way the game is enjoyed to the relaxed atmosphere that the course presents. Everyone there wants you to have fun, and they are there to facilitate the experiences from sun up to sun down, even if you walk off with more three-putts than you’d like to admit. Wait, is three-putting fun? It is at Sweetens.

Sweetens Cove Golf Club in South Pittsburg, Tenn.
The view from behind the 3rd hole. Christian Hafer

From tee-to-green, the course provides a multitude of ways to navigate it, but it’s the expansive greens that not only dictate the best route to take but challenge you to be bold. Depending on the pin placements, they are some of the most diabolical you can imagine, but don’t ever call them unfair.

To be unfair means to be deceitful, but the challenge at Sweetens Cove is right there in front of you — you just have to figure out how you are going to design your own adventure on every hole.

8th green sweetens
The approach to the 6th green. Ryan Barath

For me, the best and worst is the 6th hole, a Road Hole template based on the 17th at St Andrews that asks the question of how close to do want to put yourself toward the hazard to make your next shot easier? The hazard in this case is a pond that guards the left side of the fairway and temps you to take it on, and even then the pond still guards the front of the green. I loved every part of the 6th hole — even though it ate my lunch every chance it got.

Having fun playing golf to me isn’t about shooting a career score or collecting bag tags from Top 100 courses (although I’m always open to an invite), it’s about overcoming the challenge you are presented and having fun with friends along the way. For that reason playing Sweetens Cove with so many great people makes it my favorite place I played all year.

Ryan Barath

Golf.com Editor

Ryan Barath is GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com’s senior editor for equipment. He has an extensive club-fitting and -building background with more than 20 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. Before joining the staff, he was the lead content strategist for Tour Experience Golf, in Toronto, Canada.