Nearly 25 years ago, Sevierville, Tennessee, was simply a town that vacationers passed through on their way to nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In the past decade, however, those traffic patterns have gradually changed as more and more athletic organizations find they like what they are seeing in this gateway community and are stopping to take advantage of the city’s event facilities, infrastructure and strategic location.
“We’ve invested in making Sevierville an attractive option not just to families but also to event producers and sports-related groups,” says Amanda Maples Marr, director of marketing for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. “Event planners are realizing that we have topnotch facilities and supporting services and can also provide their guests with an incredible range of experiences to complement their visit.”
The city is less than 13 miles from the entrance to the national park, and the tourism-driven towns that lie along that route are collectively home to hundreds of world-class attractions, restaurants, outlet malls and shops. Sevierville alone boasts more than 4,500 guest rooms.
The core of what Sevierville has to offer as a sports destination occupies a single vast span of acreage near the Little Pigeon River, just two miles from downtown. With a convention center, two 18-hole golf courses and a resort with indoor water park, this one site has become the area’s hub of athletic activity.
The Sevierville Convention Center, which opened its doors in September 2007, is capable of hosting a wide range of indoor tournaments and exhibitions, from volleyball and cheerleading (their top draws) to basketball, wrestling and dancing.
Organizations recently staging events at the convention center include the Universal Cheerleaders Association (Smoky Mountain Christmas Championship) and Showstopper (Dance Convention tour stop).
The facility’s primary space delivers a whopping 108,000 square feet and can be divided into two rooms of 66,000 and 42,000 square feet, respectively. This area is spacious enough to accommodate large-scale events and comes complete with ample seating, staging and power supply.
A nearby ballroom, which can be divided into as many as four spaces, can be set up to showcase smaller-scale events or even be used as a holding/practice area for participants competing in the main halls.
“Our on-site food operation is a seamless part of our facility and is capable of feeding any size function,” says Kelly DeBord, sales coordinator for the Sevierville Convention Center. “Our focus is on flexibility. Whatever an event needs, we always ask ourselves, ‘How can we make that work?’”
Event producers with logistics on the brain might be interested to know that the Sevierville Convention Center is only eight miles off Interstate 40 via a six-lane highway, making an easy hop for mass and large-scale transportation.
When it comes to load-in and set-up, the facility offers a large outdoor marshaling area and a 10-bay loading dock behind the building. Rear entrances to the main halls allow vehicles to drive directly onto the exhibition floor.
According to DeBord, the convention center is available seven days a week throughout the year, although the facility generally stays solidly booked about six months into the calendar.
“Right now, groups are starting to book us one to two years in advance,” she adds. “We have one gymnastics group that’s booked as far ahead as 2021.”
Sitting just across the street from the convention center is the Sevierville Golf Club. First opened in the mid-90s, this city-owned property has undergone major expansions in the last few years, doubling in size from one to two 18-hole courses and completely rebuilding its clubhouse facilities.
“We’re positioned to be a big-time player in regional golf,” says sales manager John Coleman. “In addition to our courses and facilities, there are so many things to do in this area. When the groups that have traditionally gone to Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Fairfield Glade for golf outings try our courses, they won’t be disappointed.”
Sevierville Golf Club’s two courses allow for flexibility in scheduling some 100 annual tournaments and special events, which recently have included the South Atlantic Conference collegiate championship and the Prep Extra Masters high school tournament. The site has also hosted annual corporate events for businesses like Food City supermarkets.
“We’re increasing our number of tournaments every year and are currently trying to target a PGA or LPGA event,” Coleman says.
Designed by Atlanta golf course architect D.J. DeVictor, the 7,200-yard, links-style River Course features the Little Pigeon River on at least one side of most holes. Meanwhile, the Highlands Course offers a dramatically different experience thanks to its hillier terrain and combination of six par-three and four par-five holes.
“Our maintenance and equipment crew people are all top of the line,” Coleman notes. “The course is in great shape all year and plays magnificently every day.”
Ancillary amenities include a nine-target driving range, separate chipping and putting greens, and some 130 available golf carts that come with bag service and iced-down coolers.
“We have full-service bar and beverage carts at the end of both 18s,” Coleman adds.
The club’s facilities also feature a full-service restaurant, a meeting room capable of seating 70 for dinner and an outdoor pavilion (complete with grill and TV screen) that can accommodate as many as 120 guests.
The Sevierville Golf Club has partnered with several local lodging providers—including the adjacent Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark Resort and nearby Oak Haven Resort—to offer all-inclusive packages featuring golf and accommodations for one discounted rate.
Although Wilderness at the Smokies is just one of dozens of lodging destinations in Sevierville, it does have the advantage of occupying the same property as the convention center and the golf club. In fact, the resort’s Stone Hill Lodge building is directly attached to the convention center, while its River Lodge building shares a parking lot with the golf club.
With more than 700 guest rooms as well as both indoor and outdoor water parks, all within walking distance of the convention and golf facilities, the resort only enhances the appeal to organizations eyeing Sevierville as a destination. In fact, Wilderness at the Smokies has partnered with the convention center in bringing in events including cheerleading and volleyball competitions.
The resort has even evolved into a sporting venue in its own right, serving for the past three years as a host site for the Chicago-based Santa Hustle 5K and Half Marathon.
“Sevierville and its neighbor cities are experienced at this type of large-scale event because of their many annual parades and large volume of visitors,” says Nikki Harrell, Wilderness at the Smokies’ group sales manager for sports. “Our local authorities are very good at providing traffic control, which gives us an advantage over other markets.”
In just its first few years in Sevierville, the Santa Hustle has grown into a popular regional road race, drawing some 2,200 participants in 2013. Registrants received Santa hats and beards along with their race bibs, resulting in a swarm of red-clad runners zipping along the Parkway between Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.
“This has been the biggest race we’ve done so far, but we would like to do more big races like this,” Harrell says. “This part of the state is a running market and has a strong running culture, so we’ve been able to build this race up and work with the community to grow it every year.”
In addition to its multiple facilities near the Little Pigeon River, Sevierville also points to its city park system as a potential sporting-event venue.
“We host a number of baseball and softball tournaments every year, including events through Game Day USA, the United States Specialty Sports Association and the National Softball Association,” says Marr.
To learn more about Sevierville and what it has to offer, visit www.visitsevierville.com; www.seviervilleconventioncenter.com; www.seviervillegolfclub.com; and wildernessatthesmokies.com.