They dealt with rain that made conditions – on the golf course and on its cart paths – at times a bit stressful.
Yet, also, golfers, coaches and their families found a warm embrace and no shortage of volunteer help earlier this month as the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association shifted its annual state golf championships to a single-week affair at Sevierville Golf Club.
It was the first in a triumvirate of new championship host-sites for fall 2021 in TSSAA competition; Chattanooga also was awarded the rights to host both the state's girls' soccer championships and the association’s coveted prep football titles.
The Scenic City hosts the girls’ futbol title contests Oct. 27-30; football is set for Dec. 2-4.
“We're excited about it,” said TSSAA's Emily Crowell, the association's assistant executive director and its championship events director. “Last year was a struggle across the board just getting events in [due to the COVID-19 pandemic]. It's looking up a bit this year, and we're excited to have championships happening on a normal schedule.
“I think it adds value to our championships when different communities want to host.”
Each of the new host sites receives its respective championship for the 2021-23 cycle.
For Sevierville, gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, the community is amidst a bull tourism market but likewise seeks to open new doors – and forge stronger regional and state ties.
“We were very thrilled, for the city, for the community, for Sevier County as a whole and for the golfing community here locally,” said Tony Funderburg, Sevier County Chamber of Commerce's director of sales and advertising. “We want to be part of growing the game of golf.
“And we feel like showcasing what we have here at Sevierville Golf Club promotes what we have to the rest of the state. I think it's a chance for exposing what we've got to a lot of people who will come back and play golf here after this championship, stay in our hotels and cabins. For us, it's about creating an experience not only on the golf course but a family experience year after year.”
Sevierville's unique course layout – 36 expansive holes – as well as the community's ample lodging, dining and entertainment options are elements Funderburg believes can augment the golfing experience – both during this window, and with the SCCC's interest in working to host the golf championships beyond 2022.
“I think obviously we've got a great facility; we feel like we have one of the best golf facilities in the state of Tennessee with 36 holes, our practice facilities, and the amenities we have at the golf course, so we felt like it was a great match to work with TSSAA,” Funderburg said.
For Chattanooga, the girls' soccer championships and BlueCross Bowl football title-games are returns of sorts to the city's steep tradition in hosting premiere events.
Chattanooga's history, just in the past couple decades, includes hosting the Southeastern Conference Women's Basketball Tournament, the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title game and the TSSAA's girls' soccer tournament, the last time unfolding in 2012.
“Chattanooga Sports has really stepped up and wanted to get back involved with TSSAA,” Crowell said. “They've been really great about making sure these are special events. They're treating girls' soccer just like football. They have the professional soccer team's Chattanooga Red Wolves' stadium, CHI Memorial Stadium, to host the title matches, and I think that will create a cool atmosphere for those championships.
“Chattanooga Sports has been really good about getting the community involved, and having football downtown with hotels and restaurants within walking distance will be a different experience for fans. Cookeville was always fantastic [for the BlueCross Bowl], and we're hoping this one will prove to be a good one as well.”
Tim Morgan, Chattanooga Sports' chief sports officer, stresses the community embrace is what makes Chattanooga an ideal host for both events.
“This community has always had a passion for high school athletics, no ifs ands or butts about it,” said Morgan. “Part of this for us is just timing and another part is our passion. When they both align, you know it's time to make a run at it. That's basically what we did. We kept our pulse on the desire within the community and when both aligned, we jumped at the opportunity through the last bidding cycle.
“Our best strength is within our community. We can have wonderful facilities, we can have dollars to invest, but if you don't have the controlled passion behind targeting sporting events, you're not going to set yourself up to be successful.”
While Chattanooga's passionate community embrace is an undeniable asset, so, too, are the community's facilities for these two championships.
Morgan knows the combination of the two elements can potentially elevate Chattanooga.
“We're approaching both championships with excitement, and we're approaching both championships with wanting to take it to the next level,” Morgan said. “Girls' soccer is going to be pretty cool because we are playing at three different sites for the preliminaries and then feeding into the Red Wolves' soccer-specific stadium, which seats 2,500-3,000 and will have that professional championship experience. It's going to be something these girls haven't seen in the past.
“With football, we're going into a 20,000-seat stadium (Finley Stadium, home of UTC football) with suites and a brand-new jumbotron that's just a couple years old. When the kids come into the Chattanooga market and approach any and all venues, our objective is to leave absolutely no doubt in their mind they have made it to a state championship in those sports.”
CHI Memorial Stadium