In Atlanta, a course, legend and legacy meet
Bobby Jones G.C. is no Augusta National. Created as a tribute to the legendary Masters co-founder and winner of the original Grand Slam, the tired old muny within proximity of downtown Atlanta could use a restoration. Stepping up are visionaries from Georgia’s golf community that want the facility to reflect Jones’ legacy. At the top of the list is Jones’ grandson, Bob Jones IV.
Jones IV is a board member of Bobby Jones Golf Course, Inc., a conservancy that has plans and funds to reinvent the 83-year-old course into a 21st-century model for a public facility that can grow the game. Featured will be an innovative nine-hole course with reversible routing, and a clubhouse called the Georgia Golf House that will be home to the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, headquarters for the Georgia PGA and the Georgia State Golf Association.
The course’s namesake christened the existing layout in 1933 -- the same year Augusta National opened -- on land donated by the city. Located in one of Atlanta’s trendiest zip codes three interstate exits north of the city center, it averages 36,000 rounds per year with affordable green fees ranging from $10 to $43, including discounts for juniors and senior citizens. Club historians, however, told me the 18-hole, 5,888-yard par-70 design never pleased Jones -- a fact his grandson confirmed.
“The problem is, Bobby Jones Golf Course was always a well-meaning honor the city of Atlanta paid my grandfather,” Jones IV says. “But almost from inception it was inadequate to the task.”
Part of the inadequacy is that the course was designed to fit next to Peachtree Creek, with holes dangerously close to one another to fit inside 110 acres of land. To work around the flood plain and safety issues, course architect Bob Cupp has created a nine-hole concept that measures 3,600 yards to put in the current course’s place, along with a Wee Links dedicated to junior golf development and a practice range/short-game area for the Georgia State men’s and women’s college programs.
Standing in the way are two elements. The Friends of Bobby Jones Golf Course, formed in 2011 and comprised of “later-in-life golfers,” doesn’t like the nine-hole concept, is fearful of hiked greens fees and has a petition with more than 2,000 signatures against the proposed changes.
“We’re just golfers,” a FOBJGC member said. “I’m just a guy with a job that plays golf there, and we’re going up against some of the richest people in Atlanta with connections to the governor and the mayor. We’re probably going to lose.”
Another wrinkle for the conservancy is a proposed deal between the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia. It would involve the exchange of a parking garage near Underground Atlanta for the golf course. According to insiders, the state wants the course as an asset for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, as well as an enhancement for Georgia State. The deal would likely allow for the conversion to the nine-hole course, but could impact the time table.
With the management contract with American Golf expiring and the city council playing politics, the future of Bobby Jones G.C. is to be determined.
“My grandfather was always sensitive for the honor the city of Atlanta paid to him by naming that course after him,” Jones IV said. “To expand the game of golf in his hometown would make his heart really, really burst with pride.”