The Honor Course has turned 40 in a fitting fashion: a quiet tribute


In the year On July 2, 1983, John McEnroe was about to win Wimbledon as a player rather than a broadcaster.

In the year On July 2, 1983, “Every Breath You Take” by the Police was the top song in the country, “Return of the Jedi” was at the box office and “Dallas” was ruling the TV ratings.

Also that day, Jack Lupton’s Dream Golf Course opened for business in picturesque perfection in northwest Hamilton County.

Forty years ago Sunday, the honor course took off.

No, you’d never know it if you were allowed behind the door on the unmarked driveway behind the car exchange off Highway 11 in Ooltwah.

There will be no fanfare. There will be no celebrations or rigged contests.

Not the way for The Honors, which is guided by two main principles: golf as intended and the golf club Lupton, who died in May 2010, maintains.

“It’s absolutely zero planned,” the course’s director of golf, Henrik Simonsen, said in a phone interview last week. “And that’s similar to Mr. (Joel) Richardson’s philosophy. They haven’t even talked about it much, to be honest.”

Pardon the golf analogy, but that approach equates to honoring the amateur golfer for the course built under the grounds to play golf and the course’s high-profile events.

That belief was emphasized by Lupton, an amateur who joined four partners in the late 1970s – Richardson, Lew Boyd, Bill Healy and Bill Taff – to shape, form and create this vision.

Here’s Lupton’s amateur creed taken from the course’s website: “My work is for amateur sports, and I hope you don’t mind me giving up on my amateurism. Amateurism should, after all, be the backbone of all sports—golf or otherwise. In my mind, amateur is the joy of playing a competitive sport; It’s for companionship, health-giving exercise, and relaxation from serious matters.

Major changes, minor impact

The late Pete Dye, the late World Golf Hall of Famer who designed The Honors masterpiece, once famously said, “Honoring is the only project I have that doesn’t have a budget.”

“And we still went over budget.”

In honor of the game, the grounds are clean. It’s 18 holes and associated grounds – this isn’t a country club, mind you, but a golf club, so there’s no pool and the rest – are focused on the game’s original treasures.

“Our biggest goal today and moving forward is to continue Jack Lupton’s vision and keep the game clean and the way it was meant to be,” said Simonson, who has held the title for 16 years. He is only the fourth director of golf in the course’s four decades. “Above all, we are determined to respect the game. We don’t allow music, we don’t allow pictures on social media, we don’t allow mobile phones.

“When a member comes through these doors and plays golf the way it’s meant to be played, it should be a golf resort.”

Those principles have attracted an all-star roster that includes current or former professional players such as Harris English, Keith Mitchell, Brooke Pancake and Charlie Reimer.

It includes famous names from other walks of life, including former University of Tennessee and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, who told the Times Free Press a few years ago: “I’m honored to be an honorary member.

“We all have to thank Mr. Lupton,” said the two-time Super Bowl winner and Pro Football Hall of Famer, “for his gift to members, Ooltwah, the region and the country, and there are many national members thinking about it and to the game of golf.”

Of course, the years – and life – have brought headaches and setbacks to his glory.

The perfect covid-19 pandemic and 2020 Easter Sunday storms pushed the previously planned course renovation into full gear.

Everything was moving in 2019, and Gil Hanse went out and made a few visits to create the master plan and get things moving, Simonsen said of the course renovation. “Then wham, COVID hit and the following April 13th – it was Masters Sunday – at midnight, and that changed everything.

The storm’s damage was extensive and ubiquitous. Due to the outbreak, golf courses, including Hamilton County, were closed as were most things, but downed trees and debris and storm damage were everywhere.

Every honors course worker spent the next six weeks cleaning every day and every working hour. Simonson called it a “team-building experience” and “on back-to-back sentences.”

But a much-needed job allowed famed course designer Hans to step in and get straight to work.

While making significant changes to a few holes – the 10th and 11th greens, an added stream in front of the 18th green and the tees between 15 and 8 – the course works, just like everything else under Richardson and Honor’s management. In “WWJD” there was a firm determination: what will Jack do?

“For all the money we spent, the amazing thing was members saying, ‘Well, you didn’t do anything,’ and that was the biggest compliment they could give us,” Simonson said. It is exactly one type of property with new infrastructure.

Moving forward

The history of The Honors is undeniable.

It has hosted more high-profile golf tournaments than any other facility in the state, and from an amateur perspective, it’s up there with any course in the country over the past three decades.

That same commitment and hands-on approach is the guiding principle as The Honors looks beyond its 40th birthday, Simonson said.

The Southern Amateur returns at The Honors later this month, the U.S. Senior Amateur in 2024, the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2026 and the U.S. Amateur in 2031.

Simonson says he’s right in the “wheelhouse” for glory, and it’s hard to argue.

40 years ago, the first four amateur players on Sunday’s first tee were Jack and Alice Lupton and Pete and Alice Dye. Simonson said it was important to Lupton to make sure women were welcome to play.

The memories mark the passage of time, and if proven by his greatness, the reasons for adding to that legacy are obvious.

Because that’s the way on The Honors.

Contact Jay Greeson at

Photo Staff file photo / Shown is an aerial view of the Honors Course in Ooltewah.

Honors course

Opened. July 2, 1983

Designer Pete Dye, first; Reproduced by Gil Hanse in 2022

Premises: 7,635 rear tees; 6,700 from member tees

Notable events: Several USGA National Championships, including the 1991 US Amateur, as well as the 1996 NCAA Championship (with Tiger Woods as an individual winner) and 2010 (with Patrick Reed winning the team title with the Augusta State Jaguars).

Rating: No. 31 in America by Golf Digest in May 2023; It has been number 1 in Tennessee since 1987

What are they?

After playing The Honors, famous newspaper columnist and Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard said: “I didn’t know ‘oltwah’ was a Cherokee word for double-bogey.

World Golf Hall of Fame architect Pete Dye, the course’s lead designer: “This is the only project I’ve ever worked on that was under budget, and we still went over budget.

Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning: “I’m honored to be inducted.


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