While most people move to the foothills of upstate South Carolina’s mountains to settle down, Matt Jennngs can’t stop moving. Spending one afternoon with Jennings at Cherokee Valley will tell you that Jennings is one of the golf industry’s top young visionaries – and that Cherokee Valley is a “must visit’’ for golfers and families.
Whether it’s deciding to build a restaurant instead of a cookie-cutter golf clubhouse; install “Bluemuda’’ grass on the tee boxes, fairways and rough of Cherokee Valley’s P.B. Dye-designed golf course; or create an amphitheatre near the ninth and 18th greens, Jennings is a man on a mission. That is, to make Cherokee Valley, located in Traveler’s Rest, S.C., into a prime destination for golf and family entertainment.
“I’ve always been an out-of-the-box thinker,’ said Jennings, a PGA Professional who holds a degree in turfgrass management from Ohio State University.
As he spoke, Jennings sat at a table outside of Core 450 restaurant. Featuring a state-of-the-art, stainless steel kitchen complete with wood-burning pizza oven, Core 450 restaurant – 7,000 square feet including a downstairs pro shop – is the hub of Cherokee Valley’s lifestyle for members, guests and homeowners.
“I didn’t want a traditional clubhouse,’’ Jennings said. “I’ve always been a fan of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, so I used him as sort of an inspiration for Core 450.’’
Jennings’ inspiration for Core 450 – and the entirety of Cherokee Valley – actually began in northwest Ohio, where he was part owner of a public course – Oak Harbor Golf Club.
When the opportunity arose to buy all of Oak Harbor, Jennings balked. Northwest Ohio’s economic future, he believed, was stagnant at best.
“I wanted to be in a more stable market,’’ said the father of two daughters.
So, Jennings – along with his Uncle Teddy Levine – scouted golf course properties as far south as Florida. They eventually acquired 170-acre Cherokee Valley for a reported $900,000.
“This is a stable growth market and a great place to raise kids,’’ Jennings said of the Travelers Rest area, which is only 39 minutes from from Greenville S.C., and less than one hour from Clemson University. “We hit a home run here.’’
And the hits keep on coming. Three of Cherokee Valley’s four guest cottages each have four bedrooms and can sleep up to eight guests. The fourth cottage – two stories – can accommodate up to 16 guests. Each cottage features wood floors, a large living area and kitchen, ideal for spending a night or a week. Not surprisingly, the cottages are popular for golf buddy trips and weddings.
The Cherokee Valley golf course (6,728 yards from the tips), par 72, is a terrific mountain layout, filled with dramatic drops and equally dramatic views of Glassy Mountain. Each hole has its own personality and degree of difficulty. Cherokee Valley’s par-three holes each are designed not only for beauty, but for the way Dye, son of legendary architect Pete Dye, wove them into the terrain. The best of the bunch is the 226-yard (tips) sixth hole, which drops as much as 70 feet from tee to green and offers some stunning views of Glassy Mountain.
Cherokee Valley has four sets of tees and combines the two far tee boxes and two shorter tee boxes into two sets of hybrid tees – a good way for first-time players to get to know the course.
Since he purchased Cherokee Valley, Jennings has put more money into golf course maintenance, including the relatively new strand of grass known as “Bluemuda.’’ Jennings and superintendent Chd Taylor began overseeding with Bluemuda’ earlier this year and will continue using it through 2022.
Bluemuda, Jenning said, is a concept of growing warm and cool season grasses together for a long-term year-round in the transition zone. The concept has become increasingly popular due to the improved varieties of bluegrass.
According to the United States Golf Association’s Green Section, Bluemuda has better foot and golf cart traffic tolerance, reduced recovery time from divots and damage, increased density and year-round color. In other words, an even better overall playing experience from tee to green
“There aren’t many courses in the region that provide a naturally green playing surface year-round, and we’re all about doing what other courses aren’t doing,” Jennings said.
And there aren’t too many visionaries like Matt Jennings.