KENNESAW — Members at Pinetree Country Club say it’s no secret why the club has made it for 50 years.
“The golf course is on par with any in the area,” said Buzz Alexander, whose father, George, was a charter member at the club in October 1962. “I’ve played a lot of them, and right now, I don’t think you will find any in the area that’s better.”
Alexander has played the course since it became part of a private club and joined as a member in 1974. The board member will be part of Pinetree’s 50th anniversary celebration this weekend, which starts with a dinner tonight and concludes with a golf tournament Saturday.
The dinner will be highlighted by a speech from Marietta resident Larry Nelson, a World Golf Hall of Fame member who picked up golf at Pinetree at age 21 after returning from service in Vietnam. Nelson went on to win a US Open and two PGA Championships and now plays on the Champions Tour.
“Some of our members got up the money to get him to go on tour,” club golf pro Rob Williams said. “The rest is history.”
The course opened as O.B. Keeler Memorial Golf Course in 1960, part of the county-owned Cobb Recreation Center and funded with a $2 million bond. It had a dedication ceremony featuring legends Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead and 1973 Master’s champion Tommy Aaron. But it quickly became apparent that the 600-acre recreation area, which also included an eight-lane Olympic-sized swimming pool and 375 lots intended to be sold for houses, was a financial drain for the county. It was sold to a group of Atlanta investors in late 1962.
Over the years, many other successful golfers have come to Pinetree, particularly for the Tip-Top Pro-Am during the 1980s and early ’90s. Several future PGA stars including Payne Stewart, John Daly, Wheeler alumnus Bob Tway, Paul Azinger, Larry Mize, Mark Brooks and Jim Thorpe competed.
But Pinetree, nestled between Kennesaw State University and Cobb County Airport-McCollum Field, has hardly rested on the legacy Nelson and other pros created for it. The course has evolved in recent years, undergoing renovations in 2008. Though it was known as the course with the first bent grass greens in the Southeast, Pinetree changed things up and put in Champion Bermuda grass greens, and improved the course’s bunkers.
“They are much more resilient to the heat,” said Jim Corrigan, who has been Pinetree’s operations manager for a year. “(The ball) rolls so much easier.”
Corrigan said the changes are paying off, with 91 new members joining in the past 10 months. That brings the total membership up to 475 for the club that started with 150 charter members.
Of that original group, a few members still remain at Pinetree, Corrigan said. They include the Cook, Austin and Willis families, as well as Edith Clark.
Along with the golf course, Pinetree includes a 27,000-square-foot clubhouse, tennis center and one of the few Olympic-sized pools in the county. Corrigan said he doesn’t know of another 10-meter diving platform like Pinetree’s in Cobb, though it is closed to members and only used in special events. He said some Olympic swim teams used the facilities to train during the 1996 Olympics.
Pinetree has other features not typically seen at golf courses, including a small Civil War cemetery off the sixth green. The lots the county originally intended to sell to make its money back on the investment in the recreation center have gone on to be developed around the course, though they are not affiliated with the country club and memberships are not included in the home price.
The club is also available for weddings and corporate outings, for both members and non-members, Corrigan said. It has a July 4 fireworks show that causes people to line the surrounding streets to watch.
Pinetree has a variety of fees for those who want to join, with initiation costs ranging between $5,000 and $10,000 depending on what facilities you want access to, Corrigan said. For golfers, monthly dues are $479 for full privileges, and $359 for “intermediate,” which restricts players from taking the coveted tee times before 1 p.m. on weekends.
Players say a round on the 7,108-yard course can be completed in four hours, something that would be tough at many area courses.
“We’re really like a family-oriented club,” said board member Jerry Pannell, a member at Pinetree since 1987. Like Buzz Alexander, he lives in one of the subdivisions along the course.
As for the future, Corrigan said the member-owned Pinetree will remain a private club. Though KSU’s golf team plays there, he doesn’t expect the university to take Pinetree over.
“We have quite a few members of the KSU faculty who are members here, and we are big supporters of Kennesaw State University,” Corrigan said. “But we will remain a private club.”
While Pinetree is looking at renovations to the clubhouse, Williams said its priority will remain the golf course.
“The golf course is what sells us,” said Williams, who returned to Pinetree as head pro last year after serving there as assistant pro in the 1980s and ’90s. “When you’re shopping around for facilities, our product that takes us over the top is our golf course.”