The Bobby Jones Golf Course’s metamorphosis is complete.
The Buckhead links, transformed from an 18-hole course to a nine-hole reversible one during a yearlong redevelopment project, officially opened Monday.
“A lot of emotions, mostly just really grateful to all the people who have supported us along the way,” Marty Elgison, president of the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, which oversaw the project, said of seeing the redesigned course opening. “It took a lot of people to make this happen, and I think what we’ve produced is something to be proud of.”
Chuck Palmer, the foundation’s chair, said his emotional roller-coaster included “gratitude, relief, excitement (and) anticipation” as the organization went through the process.
The 144-acre course, located within Atlanta Memorial Park, was built in 1932 as a tribute to golf legend Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones Jr. It was sold by the city of Atlanta to the state in 2016 as part of a plan to reconfigure the course. The foundation spent $24 million to refurbish it, and no public funds were used for the redesign.
Though the course is open, some facilities won’t be operational until as late as the end of 2019. The course’s driving range opened Monday, and a nearby maintenance facility/cart barn is expected to open Jan. 1.
Two practice/instructional facilities won’t be completed until this spring or early summer. One will be for the Georgia State University women’s and men’s golf teams, which call the course their new home. The other will be the Bandy Instructional Facility, an indoor, state-of the-art building with three hitting bays, a lounge area and a vending area. It will also include the Grand Slam Academy.
The Murray Golf House, which will include the headquarters of the Georgia State Golf Association and the Georgia section of the PGA, is not expected to open until December 2019. It will also include the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame and other golf organizations and the 10th Hole Bar and Grille and pro shop.
Other future amenities include a short game practice area and a six-hole short course named the Cupp Links in honor of Bob Cupp, the architect who designed the new course but died in 2016. Cupp’s son Bobby, who took over his father’s business, led the redesign after the elder Cupp’s death. All of those are expected to open this spring.
“We all feel very strongly about Bob,” Elgison said. “We’re all sad he wasn’t here to see it through. … Bob Cupp designed it but Bobby Cupp really built it. It’s got Bob Cupp’s design but Bobby Cupp’s artistry. … I think (Bob) would be extremely proud. I think he’d be really happy that his vision came to life and I think it’s going to be exactly what he thought it would be. It’s going to be a fun, playable course that is going to bring people in.”
The course will partner with U.S. Kids Golf and local youth organizations to offer programs to introduce children to golf.
The course property also includes the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center, whose 12 hard courts were moved from a lower-lying spot to higher elevation, including six courts on top of a new parking deck that will be shared by both tennis and golf players. The center and its 13 clay courts will stay in place.
The course, managed by Alpharetta-based Mosaic Clubs, will be one of the first in Atlanta to have Shark Experience golf carts, which offer players an array of connectivity and entertainment options including music streaming, live TV and GPS yardage tracking.
The old golf course clubhouse, which dates back to 1941, is not be part of the project and will be leased back to the city to be used as an arts venue/event space.
Elgison said the redesigned course also has a new drainage system that has “17,000 linear feet of drainpipe here, to make sure the course drains properly.”
Outside the course but on the park property, the Path Foundation is building a trail along Woodward Way that will one day encircle the park and link to the BeltLine.
Concerns from others
The process to redesign the course was not always a smooth one. Shortly after construction started and many trees were cut down, residents living nearby complained about the project. In response, Palmer said, the foundation decided to replace one tree for each of the 525 trees it planned to remove.
Also, Elgison defended the removal of trees, saying nearly half of them were dead, dying or in bad shape.
Tanyard and Peachtree creeks, which flow into the Chattahoochee River, run through the course property. In November 2017 the foundation filed an application with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division’s watershed protection branch for a variance that would pertain to about a mile of the creeks’ banks and permit construction within a 25-foot stream buffer, including to build a golf cart path and golf tee. The application was amended and refiled March 30.
In April, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, whose mission is to protect and preserve the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries and lakes, emailed a letter to branch Chief James Capp outlining six concerns it had with the project.
The issues ranged from the foundation submitting a variance application under criteria that don’t apply to the project to failing to “propose mitigation required for major buffer impacts,” according to the letter, written by Jason Ulseth, the Riverkeeper’s riverkeeper/spokesman.
But in August, in a joint news release, the two organizations announced a compromise that was reached after several months of talks between the two entities. They “worked together to amend the foundation’s original application to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for a stream buffer variance, which initially proposed significant impacts to the 25-foot state designated stream buffer,” the release stated.
In May six residents living near the course – Bryan Baer, Lynn Barksdale, Jeffrey Carper, Jeannette Greeson, Li Yu Lo and Maxine Suzman – filed a lawsuit against the foundation.
The plaintiffs claim the course property should be subject to city of Atlanta ordinances, especially in terms of tree removal and environmental impact. According to online court records, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan Oct. 16 issued an order to stay the case. Palmer said the foundation and the Georgia Building Authority, which is also involved in the lawsuit, are in discussions with the plaintiffs to possibly resolve the case.
Though the course is open, the foundation is working with its landscape architect, HGOR, on a revised tree plan regarding the ones it will plant.
“We’re having a variety of conversations with folks about how best to implement that plan, what the tree palette is, using all native trees,” Palmer said. “So that is ongoing, and right now we’re getting into the tree-planting season.”
The course had its soft opening over the weekend, when foundation donors and the media were invited to play it for the first time.
“I think the thing I would say at this stage is the striking contrast from what was there before to what is there now. To me, that’s the thing that is the most visible aspect of it,” Palmer said.
Both he and Elgison said they saw “a lot of smiles” from the individuals who played.
“The main thing I’ve heard, which is really interesting is, ‘That was fun,” Elgison said. “… That’s exactly what we were trying to accomplish. That’s exactly what Bob and Bobby Cupp were trying to accomplish: to create a golf course that would be fun to play. That’s the word we got from literally everyone we got who played here.”
The criticism from residents early this year has been replaced with “excitement and joy,” Palmer said.
“We were out there playing golf over the weekend, and people would stop us and say how wonderful it looked,” he said of the course. “You didn’t have that happening when it was a lot of mud and dirt.”