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Ryan Blair, CGCS, recalls his journey to becoming super at Holston Hills CC

By |  May 24, 2023 0 Comments
Graphic: Golfdom Staff

Graphic: Golfdom Staff

Ryan Blair, CGCS, superintendent at Holston Hills CC in Knoxville, Tenn., is a golf lifer.

Blair’s career began at Dayton (Tenn.) G&CC, the home course of his high school golf team.

“The superintendent there was looking for someone to help, and I’m like ‘Yeah, I’d love to,” he says. “That’s where I worked all through high school and then for a while after graduation. I loved it so much that my parents encouraged me to consider making it a career.”

While in college at the University of Tennessee, Blair worked on superintendent David Stone’s staff at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., where he witnessed events such as Tiger Woods’ 1996 NCAA Championship victory.

Blair credits Stone for opening his eyes to what the industry could be.

“You just have to keep going for it,” he says. “I think that’s the hard thing in our industry. People don’t realize all of the opportunities that are out there. I think when he started to tell me about all of these things that were available, that’s what got me hooked.”

Holston Hills’ bentgrass greens are the lone cool-season turf on the course,S says Superintendent Ryan Blair, CGCS. (Photo: McConnell Golf)

Holston Hills’ bentgrass greens are the lone cool-season turf on the course,S says Superintendent Ryan Blair, CGCS. (Photo: McConnell Golf)

Onward to Knoxville

After graduating from Tennessee, Blair moved an hour and a half northeast of The Honors to Cherokee CC in Knoxville, where he took an assistant position. After a short stint at Cherokee, he became superintendent at Holston Hills in 2000.

Blair says his love for golf course history sprouted during his time at Cherokee, a Donald Ross-designed course built in 1907.

“He built (Cherokee) and then came back (to Knoxville) a few years later to build Holston Hills in 1927,” Blair says. “So, when I came here, I knew we had to promote our Ross history wherever we can.”

The walls in Blair’s office promote the club’s history — adorned with old photos of the course from newspapers and magazines.

Behind his desk sit dozens of golf course architecture books, as Blair, not only an aficionado of golf course history, is a self-proclaimed “architecture buff,” something he picked up during his time at Cherokee.

Tournament history

The club’s tournament history is a long one, and Blair is an expert on the topic. When asked to recount it, he rattles off a list including the 1945 Knoxville Open, the 2007 Tennessee PGA Championship and the Rebel Yell Open — a PGA Tour satellite event held opposite the Masters in 1968.

The one Blair is most fond of is the 1982 PGA Cup. The then-annual competition between club pros in the U.S., Ireland and Great Britain, welcomed golfers — and plenty of other guests — to the club during the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville.

“It wasn’t filled with big-name golfers, but it’s still kind of neat that we had all of these people from overseas coming here to the course with the World’s Fair also in town,” he says.

Ryan Blair is proud of Holston Hills’ tournament history, which includes the 1982 PGA Cup held in conjunction with the Worlds’ Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. (Photo: McConnell Golf)

Ryan Blair is proud of Holston Hills’ tournament history, which includes the 1982 PGA Cup held in conjunction with the Worlds’ Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. (Photo: McConnell Golf)

A race to the finish

The 2023 iteration of the Visit Knoxville Open will be the third consecutive hosted at Holston Hills.

This year’s event offers Blair and his staff a bit of a reprieve as the Korn Ferry Tour moved the tournament back two weeks to May 25. Blair says that’s a relief as Holston Hills has warm-season turf (bermudagrass) everywhere except for its bentgrass greens.

“It’s hard because you’re out there week after week, and you’re thinking, ‘Man, this tournament is inching closer, but everything is dormant,’” he says. “Those last two weeks before the tournament, everything starts to grow, and you just hope everything greens up.”

On the bright side, Blair says his putting greens will be in tip-top shape.

“Ask any superintendent, and they’ll tell you. The putting surfaces are the No. 1 priority,” he says. “The one thing I’ve learned from having (the tournament) here the last few years is how good the players are. We don’t have to worry about the rough not being grown up, because they aren’t going to hit that to begin with.”

This article is tagged with , , and posted in From the Magazine, Tour Guide

About the Author: Rob DiFranco

Rob DiFranco is Golfdom's associate editor. A 2018 graduate of Kent State University, DiFranco holds a bachelor's degree in journalism. Prior to Golfdom, DiFranco was a reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio


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