121119_MNS_NAF_fields golf tourney group

Participants in the Northside Athletes Foundation’s 29th annual golf tournament gather on the putting green in front of the North Fulton Golf Course at Chastain Park in Buckhead.

The North Fulton Golf Course at Chastain Memorial Park in Buckhead is reopening for players to hit the links again June 15 after it was closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the following day, it will shut down for golf again once a week as part of a 60-day experiment where the course on Tuesdays is open only for residents and visitors to walk on it as greenspace.

“We’ll have a conversation on how it might work and see how it works, and after that we’ll make a permanent decision,” District 8 Atlanta City Councilman J.P. Matzigkeit, who represents the area where the park and course are located and lives a block from it, said in a June 10 interview.

He pointed to a longtime tradition at the famed St. Andrews course in Scotland, the oldest golf course in the world. It’s closed on Sundays (except when it hosts major tournaments such as the British Open), so it can be opened as greenspace for the community.

“If they can do it in St. Andrews, it’s probably worth a test here,” Matzigkeit said.

He first talked publicly about the proposal during a panel discussion that included fellow council members Jennifer Ide (District 6) and Howard Shook (District 7) during at the Rotary Club of Buckhead’s June 8 weekly lunch meeting, which was held virtually due to the outbreak. Livable Buckhead Executive Director Denise Starling served as the panel’s moderator.

While the North Fulton course has been closed due to the pandemic, many individuals hit the course to walk around, fish and participate in other activities. They enjoyed it so much that the city of Atlanta placed signs around the course to remind them that fishing was prohibited, along with walking on the greens and tee boxes and in the bunkers.

In May, the Chastain Park Conservancy even posted a message on Facebook that included photos of the signs to reinforce that message. Based on the comments posted by eight individuals in response to the message, residents and visitors are for and against the course being used as greenspace.

While not everyone using the park as greenspace followed the rules, Matzigkeit said the large numbers of users proved there’s a demand for parks in the city.

“You see kids learning how to ride bikes and people fishing and jumping off bridges to put small boats in ponds,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of greenspace and don’t have a lot of open greenspace like you would have at a Piedmont Park. People have been really excited about using the golf course as greenspace.”

However, with the course’s popularity – Matzigkeit said it’s the most popular one in the state – and the revenue it generates for the city, closing it one day a week to let others walk on it could be a problem.

“Chastain Park is a jewel for neighborhoods and the city. It’s the largest park in the city. The golf course is a key to that. … There are over 50,000 rounds played at North Fulton Golf Course each year. It actually also subsidizes the three other golf courses the city (operates). There are a lot of people who love the course like I do.”

Matzigkeit said the Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation decided to move forward with the 60-day plan, and the city will have meetings where the public can weigh in on the issue to see if should remain closed to golfers one day a week after the two-month period ends. The first meeting date has not been set yet.

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