CORRECTION: This story was corrected to say that Marianne Eaves was the "world's first female Master Distiller" and to change the remaining Bourbon release date to Tuesday, Sept.8. The initial story incorrectly stated that she was the "world's first Master Distiller" and that the release date was Saturday. Updated Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, at 10:22 a.m. with more information.
Mark Rivers is a New York-based Realtor who understands the importance of location. He also knows a good story when he hears it and he would argue that the really good stories, the ones that people truly get behind, have more than a little truth to them.
"You can't beat a good, honest story," he said. "You can't fabricate it. It has to be authentic and this has a great soul and spirit. You can't fake it and like people have said, 'It's 'Field of Dreams' meets 'Tin Cup.'"
If you build it, they will come, and play golf and drink bourbon.
He's talking about Sweetens Cove, the nine-hole golf course in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, that was named one of the 50 best 9-hole courses in the world by golf.com. It ranked No. 7 with the editors describing it as "A 9-hole course that truly packs a punch! While the track itself is interesting and keeps a golfer intrigued from start to finish, the vibe that surrounds the course is perhaps even more noteworthy and memorable. There are no rules at Sweetens but to have fun, and the experience is consequently unmatched."
Part of that fun, and lure, or is it lore, is that there is no clubhouse, but golfers for years would take a shot of bourbon before teeing off of No. 1 and would then leave the bottle in a nearby shack for the next guy. Rivers loved the story, and the course, so much he bought the course in 2019 with some friends and fellow backers, including some high-profile celebs such as football great Peyton Manning, former No. 1 ranked tennis great Andy Roddick and musician/Moon River festival founder Drew Holcomb.
They all liked the story of the bourbon so much, they decided to take things to the next level and create their own special blend, and when they went looking for who and how to make that happen, they stumbled across two other serendipitous opportunities.
They discovered that 100 bottles of bourbon, which conveniently had been created in Tennessee 13 years ago, had been sitting untouched in a Kentucky distillery. Then they found Marianne Eaves, the world's first female Master Distiller.
"When we found out she was actually born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we knew," Rivers said.
Eaves was charged with creating the perfect bourbon blend that would be equal to the uniqueness of the course and represent everything about Sweetens Cove. The result is five batches of an ultra-premium, limited-edition blend that is uniquely Tennessee. It was hand-blended in Columbia, Tennessee, by Eaves.
Only 13,500 bottles were made and the first batch release sold out almost immediately in May and the second batch was released in July. The remaining batches, which retail for $200, will hit retail outlets across the South on Tuesday, Sept. 8.
Like the golf course, Eaves said the bourbon is about the full experience.
"I always like to see that the product is complex and balanced and nuanced, but that each one of the five batches will have a different flavor profile but always focusing on the mouth feel and the experience has been just important as the flavors themselves."
Roddick, a Texas resident, said the principals involved are mostly friends or friends of friends who want to focus on Tennessee.
"Had this been outside of Tennessee, I don't think Peyton would have been interested at all," he said.
He added that having celebrities like himself, Manning and Holcomb involved "can be a double-edged sword, but it can be a real opportunity if made right. The quality has to be there and you can't get too far over your skis."
Rivers said it has been clear from the beginning "That this has not been a celebrity vanity project for anyone involved. We are all very involved and have always intended it to be exceptional."
Which to him means keeping what makes Sweetens Cover special, special. He said he heard from many people after buying the course that they had heard the intent was to drastically change things by adding a club house and even maybe nine more holes.
He even heard from some who wanted such grand changes.
"We are not going to change the social fabric," he said.
Some changes have been made, however,
"Like plumbing," Roddick said with a laugh.
"I do think I said, 'Why don't we start with plumbing a bathroom? That wouldn't be a bad start."
An observation, or what Rivers calls a "heckling," deck was also added so that friends could watch comrades tee off or putt out the last hole.
"All of the improvements have been made based on socialization."
Eaves, who lived in Chattanooga, for about a year after she was born before moving to Kentucky, said that the Sweetens Cove spirit was very much on her mind as she sampled each of the 100 barrels of bourbon.
"Absolutely," she said. "I was determined to make the most delicious product that I could out of those barrels.
She also said while she was given total control of the product, the principals did want to be involved as much as possible.
"They wanted to be a part of the process, but they didn't put any restrictions anything like how many batches or anything like that. It was really fun for me and really gratifying."
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.