“Rocky Top, you’ll always be…home sweet home to me!”
I giggled to myself as I heard Ben singing in the shower. “You ready to go, Rocky Top? We’re meeting Emily and Michael at 8.”
We pulled into the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Knoxville-Farragut right on time; it’s a quick 2-hour sprint down I-81 and I-40 from Bristol. As if we weren’t already pumped for the weekend, Ben and I were thrilled to see the hotel decked out in orange and white for the University of Tennessee Homecoming weekend. Banners, streamers, flags, lights, balloons…home sweet home, for sure!
We checked into our luxury guest room: microwave and refrigerator; check! Keurig machine; check! And YES, the pillow-top bed with a down comforter—perfect warm-up after a chilly football game! Equally comforting, would be a quick dip in the heated indoor pool later. The amenities of home, and more.
Just then, a knock at the door: “Good Old Rocky Top, WOO!” I could hear Emily and Michael chanting. We’ve chanted the Tennessee fight song so many times, I could sing it in my sleep. As I opened the door, “Rocky Top, Tennessee!” We all shouted, laughed, and embraced each other.
We grabbed our jackets and headed to Admiral Pub, a 5-minute drive from our hotel. It’s one of the local hot spots, close to everything, and always great for lunch, dinner, date night, or an evening out with friends or family.
“Perfect night to catch up under the stars, yeah?” I said as the four of us settled in on Admiral Pub’s outdoor patio. “Ben, Michael,” I kiddingly snapped my fingers. “Get the ladies’ favorite brews while we catch up, please?”
“Mel, I’m so glad we’re doing this. It’s great to see you guys. Hoping for a big win Saturday on the field, for sure, but more importantly, a re-match of guys vs. gals on the golf course for us!”
“One Fanatic Blonde and one Yee Haw Dunkel,” Ben said as he and Michael brought us tall draft beers.
“Blanton’s for you boys?” I asked, already knowing the answer. They can put down two or three bourbons in the time Emily and I finish off a tall draft. “Let’s order up some food and get this party started. CHEERS: to a weekend of making new memories with old friends!”
We ordered the usual: a dozen wings, half with Tennessee BBQ and half with Lemon Pepper rub and a wood-fired buffalo chicken pizza. We couldn’t stop reminiscing about old times at UT. Before we knew it, it was after 11 pm, and we had a tee-time at Willow Creek in the morning.
“Mel, we should head back soon,” Ben said, “I know how you’ll be in the morning if you don’t get your eight hours!”
“You’re right. The girls have a competition to win tomorrow. Need to be ready,” I mockingly answered as I winked at Ben from across the table.
With tee-time before 9 am, we quickly hit the hotel breakfast buffet: fresh pancakes, eggs and omelets, meats, cereals, and more. Then off to Willow Creek Golf Club, just about 5 miles south. Willow Creek is highly rated for course conditions and friendly, professional staff. We especially loved the blind tee shot off hole #1 to get the friendly competition going right from the start; then, of course, the double dogleg rise and fall of hole #10 to put our egos right back in check!
“Oh my goodness, Mel, I thought you rested up and were ready for this today?! You’re not even showing up the squirrels with that 6!” teased Michael. “I’m just getting warmed up…those squirrels better….take cover, actually!” I answered, and we all laughed.
After 18 holes of pure embarrassment, I was ready to take a “mulligan,” get cleaned up, and take in some good food, drinks, and conversation. We headed to Daddy Mac’s Down Home Dive for an early dinner where everything is made from scratch, including smoked meats, mac and cheese skillets, and shareables for the table.
We started with Doc’s Down Home Eggs Rolls, filled with pulled pork, fried, and served with hot honey mustard. Nothing says “comfort” like pasta, so I ordered the Burnt Ends Mac and Cheese: the original cheddar mac topped with brisket burnt ends, cheese, and pickles. The kicker for me was the BBQ kettle chip crust–melt-in-your-mouth delicious! Just as I regained some confidence from the day, Ben brought up how much time we collectively spent out of bounds or in penalty on the course earlier in the day.
“The best was when Caddyshack here finally dropped her ball in the center of the fairway, and one of those “nuts for nuts” squirrels picked it up and ran with it! You can’t write that kind of stuff!” Ben laughed. “He was doing me a favor! I do think I’d like to challenge you guys to some putting practice tonight; what do you say?” I asked as I raised my glass. Nothing clinches a second chance on the green like a Daddy’s Caddy IPA.
“Sure thing, Mel, but there are no squirrely squirrels to take the blame for your shame!” Michael teased again, and we all clinked glasses.
With some time still in the evening, we headed to Farragut Golf & Games for some just-for-fun “shots and giggles.” They offer a flat fee for one mini golf course or an all-you-can-putt option on all three of their 18-hole courses. I do believe I redeemed myself on the short course!
Nothing says Homecoming quite like Admiral’s Dough Joe: a variety of fun (and delectable) donuts, pastries, bagels, and locally roasted coffees. Every town needs a place like this: always fresh donuts, always kind service, and always selling out!
“Here’s to ole Tenn-essee,” I said, “we’ll pledge our loy-al-ty to this giant cinnamon roll breakfast!” “And to a win for UT today! Let’s do this!” added Michael.
The guys took off for the football festivities and game. Emily and I polished off the scrumptious breakfast and then strolled around the Turkey Creek shopping area. We hit several small boutiques and stocked up on everything orange, then met up with some other UT girlfriends. With a few kids in tow, we spent a large portion of the day at Sir Gooney’s Family Fun Center, challenging them to go-karts, paintball, and mini-golf games. It was wonderful catching up with the girls and dipping back into our younger days.
We met Ben and Michael back at the hotel after the game. With winning grins and still loaded with team spirit, the guys suggested we walk over to Topgolf Knoxville for some celebratory game-day food and another attempt at showing off some golf skills. Whether you’re a pro or a flop, the Topgolf experience offers an energy all its own. Private hitting bays with music or the local game on tv, paired with taking aim at giant outfield targets while high-tech balls score themselves. The only real decision we had to make was what to eat while we played. We filled the table (and our bellies) with shareable wings, flatbreads, chips, and more from the “Pick 6 Bundle”. Throw in a bucket of beers, and the afternoon was set. So. Much. Fun.
We took advantage of late checkout the next morning and headed to Season’s Innovative Bar & Grille for Sunday Brunch. This bistro prides itself on FRESH–quality preparation and distinct presentation in a comfortable yet sophisticated environment. Like always, I was tempted by the Brunch Burger: hand-pressed beef patty, pesto mayo, shaved onion, yum. But I’ve never been able to order anything here but the Black Angus Benedict: poached eggs, flaky biscuit, tender sirloin slices–no one else can do Benedict like Seasons.
“I can’t believe the weekend is already over,” Emily wistfully acknowledged. “Aw, Em. No need to mope. We’ll be back for all new memories again next year. Ain’t no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top,” Ben began and hung an arm over Emily’s shoulder.
“Good ol’ Rocky Top,” I chimed in, hugging Emily and Ben. Michael joined us and chanted: V…O…L…S! Come on, guys; we’ll be back for all new memories again next year. Same time, same place–what do you say? V, O, L, S! V-O-L-S!”