The Joy of Sharing

by M. Linda Lee

 Jul 16, 2019 at 6:11 PM

A sister club exchange program allows McConnell Golf chefs to mix things up

There's wisdom in that old adage, “two heads are better than one,” especially when it comes to dining programs at McConnell Golf. “We asked our chefs to take a turn both hosting a chef and visiting a chef during the year,” says James Patterson (aka JP), the company’s corporate executive chef who oversees the culinary programs at Sedgefield Country Club and The Cardinal by Pete Dye. “It could be any type of event, a beer dinner, a wine dinner, a farm-to-table dinner, even a member-guest.”

Visiting other clubs expands each chef’s knowledge and skills, while giving them a feel for a club other than their own. “When I go to Sedgefield, not only do they have a bigger membership base than we do and they’re busier than we are, but they have more staff. So you have more people and ideas,” explains Patrick Budniewski, executive chef at Holston Hills Country Club in Knoxville, Tennessee. He especially enjoys looking over other chefs’ menus and seeing how that membership responds to different dishes.

This, in turn, gets the creative juices flowing. “Just talking with other chefs gives me new ideas and perspective on new things to do,” says Budniewski, a New York native who likes to reinvent Southern classics. He recently did a Sunday brunch at The Country Club of Asheville with Chef Bruce McIntosh, to which he brought local cheeses and Benton’s bacon from East Tennessee. “We used the bacon in three ways — we even made coconut, chocolate chip and bacon scones.” At the suggestion of one of the Asheville line cooks, they also made a bacon-maple glaze to drizzle on the scones. “I had no idea how the membership would respond to it,” Budniewski admits, “but we ran out of scones about halfway through brunch that day.”

Yet the chefs aren’t the only ones who find value in visiting other clubs. Members also benefit from having exposure to different styles of cuisine. “It keeps dining exciting,” Budniewski says. “When Bruce came up [to Holston Hills], we did a health and wellness dinner. He did a demo of an Asian-style gluten-free noodle bowl. It was fun for members to see, and it was something we could do here, too. Every chef has a different style to show off.”

Read More

Passion for the Course

by Chad Flowers

 Jul 04, 2019 at 4:21 AM

When discussing the golf course at Holston Hills Country Club with Superintendent Ryan Blair, the first word that comes to mind is passion. After serving more than 18 years as the man responsible for keeping the greens and golf course in top condition, Blair enjoys coming to work every day and feels truly blessed to do what he loves as a career.

Ryan began working in the golf course industry as a freshman in high school at this hometown club, Dayton Golf and Country Club in Evensville, Tennessee, about an hour and half southwest of Holston Hills. He played on the golf team in high school and worked on the course each summer.

After high school, Ryan attended Chattanooga State Community College and continued working at private clubs. His work included a stint at the prestigious Honors Course just north of Chattanooga, under the tutelage of David Stone. “It was there that I was introduced to a totally different view of golf courses and the opportunities available to those who were willing to work,” Blair says.

Blair then transferred from Chattanooga State to the University of Tennessee to pursue a four-year degree, and was fortunate enough to begin working under Chris Sykes, then the new superintendent at Cherokee Country Club in Knoxville.

“I had the opportunity to return to the Honors Course, but going to Cherokee and working with Mr. Sykes was one of the best decisions I have made,” says Ryan. “It gave me the opportunity to be involved with every aspect of the course as Sykes and I built a staff from four people and totally changed the course. I was fortunate to be involved in so many aspects of the course while at Cherokee, and that is the experience that paved the way for me to come to Holston Hills.

“While at Cherokee, I had the opportunity to learn about design as they were in the early process of picking an architect to draft a master plan for the course,” according to Blair. “I was so involved with the architects and design side that when I came to Holston I was ready to take on the challenge to restore the course to its traditional architecture design.”

“I also got to be heavily involved in all aspects, not only in turf but also in how the course operated. From budgeting to board meetings, for a guy right out of school, I was pushed right into everything. It was a real crash course,” says Blair. “Sykes was a great mentor and we still talk all the time. I was his first assistant to move into a superintendent position, and I can think of another five or six guys around Knoxville that got their start working with Sykes as well.”

Blair’s favorite thing about not just Holston Hills, but the job in general, is the opportunity to both teach and learn every day.

“Each day is different and there is by no means a guarantee in anything. I always love looking over the course at the end of the day and seeing all the things that we have accomplished. I have seen many sunsets and sunrises over the years and every time I am amazed at the beauty of nature.”

Read More

Pickleball Takes Center Court

by Martha-Page Althaus

 Mar 22, 2019 at 7:00 PM

It’s the fastest growing sport in the country, and McConnell Golf members have home-court advantage.

Pickleball is a paddle sport, similiar to tennis or badminton, but with fewer rules and, some would say, even more fun.

“This year is our test year for pickleball,” says Kyle Thortsen, McConnell corporate director of tennis. “We’re educating our tennis pros on how to play and running demos at clubs, so be on the lookout for more details from your pro shop on upcoming pickleball socials this year.”

Holston Hills Country Club and Country Club of Asheville have seen a big interest in the sport; both clubs have a regular group of players who meet weekly.

“The biggest fans of pickleball are usually those who are aging out of tennis,” says Thorsten. “It’s a slower-paced game with an underhand serve, played on a smaller court. It’s great for tennis players who may have had injuries or can’t take the wear and tear of covering a full tennis court.”

At CCA, Director of Tennis Bill Barber says pickleball is bringing new people to his indoor courts.

“I’m seeing new people out here, which I love. It gets people active, and that’s a great thing. I’ve been shocked at the interest. There’s a very quick learning curve and it’s an incredibly social game. People are watching and laughing at the good, the bad, the ugly shots. It’s almost like adult ping-pong. I love when I hear members say ‘I haven’t laughed this much in years.’” 

CCA member Wayne DiCastri recently moved to Asheville from Minnesota, where he and his wife, Ingrid, played the sport regularly. They didn’t miss a beat when they joined CCA last fall.

“We have a great core group that plays regularly,” he says.

“It was a great way for us to meet new people and get some exercise. There’s less area to cover on the court and all the equipment is here. You just show up and start playing.”  

Read More

On the Big Stage

by Casey Griffith

 Jun 21, 2018 at 8:57 PM

Former Holston Hills intern AJ Newell reminisces on her time at the club.

AJ Newell was a little out of breath when I caught up with her for an interview.  

“Sorry,” she says. “We were on the course and got rained out, so I decided to squeeze in a gym workout.”

Such is life for a pro on the LPGA Tour.

But before her current eight-week jaunt on the road, and before joining the ranks of the LPGA, Newell enjoyed a slower-paced period of life as a golf operations intern at Holston Hills Country Club in Knoxville.

“AJ reached out to me shortly after she graduated from the University of Tennessee and was looking to make her way back to Knoxville,” recounts Holston Hills Director of Golf Chris Dibble. “I thought it would be great to have a female golfer on staff and knew that members would gravitate to her as a good player. AJ displayed an incredible work ethic and took time to play with the members whenever she could. In her short time at the club, she made a lasting impression.”

Though she grew up in Tampa, Florida, both of Newell's parents attended UT – her Dad threw shot and discus for the Volunteers. Their eldest daughter however didn’t necessarily have her heart set on attending her parents’ alma mater.

“I’m a bit of a homebody so the idea of going to college so far away from family didn’t appeal to me at first,” she remembers. But that all changed after a campus tour.

“It was fall when I visited and I absolutely fell in love with Knoxville. The beautiful scenery and something about it being football season added an energy to the city. It was an easy decision for me to attend the University of Tennessee.”

A few years later, her younger sister Anna would join Newell to play golf for the Lady Volunteers during Newell’s senior year.

“That year is probably my favorite memory of golf. I was recovering from back surgery so Anna helped me through that, and I in-turn helped her adjust to college during her freshman year. I won my first college tournament that year and we were both All-Americans.”

Supporting and encouraging an interest in golf is important to Newell. “I had so many women that mentored me and helped grow my interest in golf. The game has opened many doors for me and it’s made me a more comfortable person in talking to people and relationship building.”

During her time at Holston Hills, Newell helped with Kid’s Night Out events where she talked up the sport to the club’s youngest members — most of whom hadn’t yet taken an interest.

“It’s so much bigger than just working at a club,” she says. “It’s truly making a difference in someone’s life, and to be able to influence a young person.”

With 12-year-old Anna Claire Gibson, Newell made a lasting connection and to this day sends her postcards from every city she visits on the Tour.

“I happened to be in Hilton Head recently and knew the Gibson family was also in the area,” she says. “I was able to surprise Anna Claire in person. She was so happy that she cried!”

While Newell may have passed through the ranks of McConnell Golf employees rather quickly, the club will always have a place in her heart.

“I miss Holston Hills, it was such a family there. Chris really made me feel like part of the team, and it was an environment that supported me every step of the way. Several staff and members would text me encouragement before tournaments, and I still keep in touch with many of them. I feel like I could stop by any day and it would be like I never left.”

Read More

Home Course Heroes

by Matt McConnell

 Jun 20, 2018 at 9:14 PM

Meet one of McConnell Golf’s top players.

For Holston Hills Country Club Member Todd Burgan, the game of golf is more than just a leisurely way to spend a few hours on the weekend. This 49-year-old pharmacist played for the University of Tennessee before being known as one of the state’s best golfers. What makes Burgan one of the best? He’s a five-time Tennessee Golf Association Champion winner, and was named TGA Player of the Year in 2011. I spoke with Burgan about his passion for the game.

Matt McConnell: When did you learn to play?

Todd Burgan: I was introduced to the game by my stepfather and a friend’s father when I was 11 or 12. There were a
lot of boys around that age in my hometown, and we all kind of fell in love with golf and played for years at a little nine-hole course in LaFollette, Tennessee. It wasn’t uncommon for ten or 12 of us to play up to 36 holes a day in the summer, almost every day all the way through high school.

MM: What’s been your greatest personal victory?

TB: My first individual State Championship in our state match play in 2009 at Legends Club in Nashville. Not only was it special because it was my first state individual title, but the final match was against Danny Green, who is one of the most accomplished players ever in Tennessee. I won in 19 holes by holing a 20-foot birdie putt to win.

MM: What’s your favorite thing about being on the course?

TB: I enjoy the competition of tournament golf the most. I rarely play leisure rounds, but I do enjoy the camaraderie
of being with my friends when I get the chance to play with them either at Holston Hills or on a golf trip.

MM: Is there a favorite Holston Hills moment?

TB: When I won my first Club Championship in 2007. It was a 72-hole event, and I shot 64-66 the last two rounds to
catch Steve Golliher, one of our club’s best players. I won with a birdie on the first playoff hole.

MM: And do you have any favorite Holston Hills memories?

TB: My favorite memory of Holston is, and always will be,sitting up in the old 19th Hole after another great “Friday
game,” talking trash and reliving the round with 16 or so guys. Those guys, some of whom we have lost in the past
few years, and those days, are what I’ll always remember about Holston.

Read More

Ask a Member

by Casey Griffith

 Mar 14, 2018 at 1:29 PM

Not every sport loves you back throughout your life, but golf — as it often does — proves to be the exception. From Juniors first developing their skills to the fine-tuning and frustrations of adulthood and on into the golden years, our clubs teem with enthusiasts of all ages.

Ken Reed, Holston Hills Country Club

Shooting your age just one time is quite a feat. And doing it again? Incredible! So how do you describe someone who has shot their age 363 times? (That’s not a typo!) A member at Holston Hills for 47 years, Reed shot most of these scores on its Donald Ross track. He also has seven aces to his name — so far.

How did it feel the first time you shot your age?

I was sure it was something unique because I’d been trying for some time. I was getting close in May of 2005 and my birthday is in August. I saved that card and still have it. I’ve saved nearly all of them.

What keeps you playing, even after tough days on the course?

Simply my love of the game keeps me playing, and being outside with friends is always enjoyable. At my age it’s a little more difficult, but I’ve managed to do it since I turned 87 last fall.

What advice do you have for aspiring age-shooters? 

Practice and improve your short game!


Read More

Holding Court!

by Matt McConnell

 Mar 08, 2018 at 12:47 AM

Game, set, dinner!

Exhibition matches have long been a celebrated occasion across the tennis facilities of McConnell Golf; however starting last year, a new twist was added — members can enjoy great food, service, and entertainment right on the court.

“What can be better than dining under the stars while watching local collegiate and professional tennis players compete?” asks Kyle Thortsen, director of tennis operations. “These Dining on the Courts events are a night for the entire family to enjoy.”

Likely the most competitive tennis-and-dinner combo took place in Knoxville. The main event included the University of Tennessee tennis teams playing, which brought a large crowd of Volunteer fans – including the most excited person to be there, Rachel Waddell’s son Corbin, who got to be the ball boy.

“The dinner on the courts was a very fun evening,” says Waddell. “The food and decor was wonderful, and watching the teams play was a highlight of the night. Corbin was so excited to be the ball boy — he just had tennis camp at the club a few weeks before! He really enjoyed the camp, and watching the University of Tennessee tennis teams made him want to play more.”

Read More