Cheekwood Golf rendering

Rendering of the proposed expansion for Cheekwood Golf Club

As they gave a presentation of expansion plans for the Cheekwood Golf Club, members of the team handling the project emphasized what it won’t be nearly as much as what it will be when completed.

Organizers insist it will not be another Topgolf, an entertainment destination in Nashville and other locations known as much for its party atmosphere as its association with the game of golf.

“It’s offensive to say that this is Topgolf,” said Franklin resident and businessman Paul Pratt, one of the local investors in the efforts to transform Cheekwood Golf Club from its current state as a 9-hole course on Spencer Creek Road to a premier golf facility anchored on the opposite side of Mack Hatcher Parkway. “This will not be a Topgolf.”

Pratt and other members of the club’s expansion team — including Todd Jester, owner of Cheekwood Golf, and Paul Springer from Nicklaus Design, a Florida firm hired to help create the new facility — provided an update on the project during the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen work session earlier this week.

“One of the things we look for in growing our business in terms of design — and we’ve designed 425 golf courses in over 40 countries and 40 states — is a partner that really embraces the game of golf,” Springer, president of the design firm led by legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, said in introducing the presentation. “And one of Jack’s philosophies is, to grow the game of golf you have to have the kids, the juniors, and some of the underprivileged kids involved in the game.

“And when we had the opportunity to join Todd Jester at Cheekwood to develop something that was truly special for the community of Franklin, we were all on board. Under the vision of Todd and the investors and Nicklaus Design, what we’re trying to do is to enhance the golf at Cheekwood.”

Located on Spencer Creek Drive in Franklin, Cheekwood has operated as a 9-hole golf course since 1993 and was formerly known as The Fairways at Spencer Creek. It changed ownership in 2015, and two years later the city of Franklin selected the golf course as the entity to develop the 54-acre property located on the southwest corner of Mack Hatcher Parkway and Spencer Creek Drive.

The centerpiece of the expansion is a par three, 9-hole course accessible to the public and capable of hosting local, state and national tournaments, along with a 7-hole par three that wraps around the driving range, according to a press release from Nicklaus Design.

Other features include:

  • Three-tier covered hitting stalls combining state-of-the-art technology with a family friendly atmosphere 
  • A driving range with soft, contained lighting
  • Uncovered hitting stations and practice areas that enable year round golf instruction and recreation 
  • The Golf Performance Center, where students of all ages will be taught by PGA professionals
  • A restaurant, golf house and club facilities, with space to host social, corporate and community gatherings
  • A public trailhead and attractive greenways connecting Cheekwood to Franklin’s park system

Jester had said earlier in the day at a media conference that the expansion would make a significant economic impact on the area.

“This could create upwards of 150 jobs,” he said. “This could generate nearly a quarter million dollars annually for the city. Nothing likes this really exists with this type of combination. So with corporations and businesses coming in, it’s hard to even quantify the impact there would be.”

However, the discussion during Tuesday’s work session focused more on the sticking points of the lease agreement being drafted between the city of Franklin and the Cherokee Golf team, with both sides expressing concern about where the development currently stands.

Doug Hale, attorney for the Cheekwood project, pointed out four key issues he has with the proposed lease, and the city’s objections to the height of the facility the tenants want to build; the hours the business would close, 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and the sale of alcohol. He also expressed concern over city staff’s proposal that the city enjoy a unilateral right of termination of this lease at any time during what would be a 50-year lease.

“To all four of these we have responded with lease proposals and in some ways compromising to the point that now we’re just kind of stuck,” Hale said. “So we’re hoping for direction on these four issues.”

An overriding concern from the city is the difference between what Cherokee Golf presented in 2017 as an expansion plan — basically expanding the golf course itself — and what now seems more like an entertainment complex, according to Franklin City Administrator Eric Stuckey.

“The inherent problem we’ve had is extremely broad language that could allow almost anything on this site,” he said. “And once we’ve signed a lease, it’s done. That’s why we need the specificity, we need the commitment. We need to know what it will be and what it won’t be. 

“That’s really important, and that’s what we have struggled with for a long time. And I will tell you, working on these types of understandings and agreements in a lot of different settings, that is always a concern when it’s that hard to get specifics out. That is what I call a red flag, and we have got to get past that. If we can’t get past that, I can’t in good faith recommend an agreement that does not lock in what this will be and it won’t be.”

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen will next meet for its work session and regular meeting Tuesday, Aug. 10. To view the most recent work session as well as the meeting that followed, visit the city’s Facebook page.

This story has been updated to correct the name of the golf club. We regret this error.

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