ATLANTA -- The new reversible Bobby Jones Golf Course is being billed as one of the most innovative golf courses in the world. And that's true. The way it uses land could start a new trend in public golf and continue a growing trend of building flexible golf layouts that can be enjoyed by every level of player.
Located just south of the Buckhead area of Atlanta, the new layout opened to the public this week. When played as 18 holes, it can be stretched out to more than 7,400 yards. It has nine huge double-greens with two pins on each of them. More than 500 trees were removed from the old course to open up corridors. It comes with no rough, wide fairways, interesting short game options, a new putting green and a new driving range. Before this week, local golfers had to travel 10 miles or more to find a suitable practice facility.
The new, flexible design, suitable for all levels of golfers, replaces the original course – a tight John Van Kleek design that had deteriorated over the years after opening as the first public golf course in Atlanta 86 years ago.
The course's namesake, the great Robert Tyre Jones Jr., who was born in Atlanta's Grant Park neighborhood in 1902, hit the first tee shot here in 1932; his grandson, Bob Jones IV, hit the ceremonial shot off the first tee last Thursday. Jones IV said if his grandfather were alive today, he would be proud of the new course because of its ingenuity and promise to grow the game, especially among juniors and adaptive players.
"We are so honored to be here today," said Jones IV, flanked by family members at a luncheon for sponsors and donors before the new course's opening. "Quite frankly, I didn't think this would happen. But here we are today."
Big dream comes to fruition
Jones had reason to have his doubts seven years ago when he first heard of Marty Elgison's plan to revitalize the course, which is located in Memorial Park less than seven miles north of downtown. The plan was to completely blow up what was there, replacing 18 holes with a revolutionary design by architect Bob Cupp. It involved multiple moving parts: a land swap between the city and the state of Georgia; building new tennis courts at the adjacent Bitsy Grant Tennis center on top of a new parking garage to provide additional room and safer parking; and contributions from several agencies and golf associations as well as considerable fundraising.
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Bobby Jones IV recently hit the ceremonial first tee shot at the new reversible Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta. This comes long after his famous grandfather, Robert Tyre Jones, did the same when the original course opened in 1932. The revolutionary new course opened to the public this week. @golfadvisor @bobbyjonesgolf #bobbyjonesgc
In the last seven years, all of that has happened. More than $23 million was raised by the newly-formed Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, and on the first weekend in November, players were teeing it up on one of just a handful of reversible golf courses in the United States.
Cupp, a longtime Atlanta resident and member of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, got his inspiration from the Old Course at St. Andrews (the original reversible course). Unfortunately, he didn't live to see this day. Cupp died Aug. 19, 2016 from complications due to pancreatic cancer. His son Robert "Bobby" Cupp Jr., who now runs Bob Cupp Inc., saw the project through to completion.
"This is the genius of Bob Cupp," said Elgison, a lawyer who has worked for the Jones family for more than 30 years. "It tears me up that he's not here to see it."
How the project came about
Elgison, who serves as the president of the Foundation, had been thinking about what it would take to renovate the old, tired course for some time. In 2011 he got together with Cupp, who had some ideas of his own and volunteered to design the course pro bono.
The problem, in Cupp's view, was that the 128 available acres weren't sufficient for everything they wanted, especially a championship course. The best they could hope for, if it was to be more playable than what was there before, would be a 5,400-yard 18-hole course, which would only serve a portion of the golf population.
Later that year, Cupp told Elgison, "I got it," and presented his initial design, a reversible layout that is pretty close to what opened this week.
The design was just part of the equation, though a major part, obviously. Elgison got together with community leaders, including Chuck Palmer, a lawyer and former professional golfer who was involved in the rebirth of nearby East Lake Golf Club and its surrounding community more than a decade ago. Palmer is chairman of the Foundation, which was responsible for fund-raising as well brokering deals with various associations. That includes a collaboration with the Georgia State Golf Association and the Georgia Section of the PGA of America to create the 23,000-square foot Murray Golf House, which will house the groups' headquarters as well as the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame. Bobby Jones GC will also serve as the home course for the Georgia State University golf team.
The Murray Golf House (the Foundation is trying to raise another $4 million) will also include The 10th Hole (not 19th) Bar and Grille, overlooking the course. In addition, the golf shop will operate much like an Apple Store. Lacking the traditional counter you see in most shops, staff will use iPads to help customers find merchandise and check out.
Course is the star of this show
While the new Bobby Jones Course isn't the first reversible course in America – most significantly there's The Loop at Forest Dunes in Michigan and Silvies Ranch in Oregon -- it has a feel and look all its own.
As mentioned earlier, the greens are huge, with plenty of character available pin positions. Grassed with TifEagle Bermuda, they were also perfect on opening day, thanks to superintendent Kyle Macdonald and his staff, who battled extended periods of rain to get the course pristine and open on time.
On the majority of days, the courses will alternate between the Magnolia and the Azalea. If you play the Magnolia, then you'll be shooting to the white flags. If Azalea, the target is the red flags. But you don't have to play it that way. If you want to make it harder, you can play any flag you want; they will both be represented on each green and there aren't other players on the "other course," playing the same holes. On days the course runs a shotgun start, both courses can be played in the same day.
The teeing options also present a vast array of combinations. Modeled after what U.S. Kids golf did at Longleaf Golf & Family Club in North Carolina, the idea is that golfers should play tees according to how far they hit their driver, not their handicap. Each hole has eight teeing areas designated by plaques. For example, the par-4 sixth hole on Magnolia is just 198 yards from Level 1, but 486 from the Level 8 tees. This makes the course perfect for adaptive golfers, juniors, seniors, college level players and everyone in between. And golfers can certainly vary the tee selection throughout a round, perhaps letting the winners of holes in match play pick the next tees.
The course also features a large lake that comes into play, several holes that cross creeks and plenty of new "Better Billy Bunkers" with pure white sand in their flat bottoms. The way the bunkers are situated, especially around the greens, they pretty much only come into play for their designated holes.
As for the holes, they are memorable. There are long par 5s and short par 5s, easily reachable in two if you play the proper tees. The par 3s are all different both in look and distances, and there are drivable par 4s mixed with others that are relatively long.
A new range, practice green and short-game area also enhance the experience. The range, sponsored by PGA Tour Superstore, provides a new place for local golfers to hit balls. A state-of-the-art instructional facility is also coming soon.
There is also plenty of technology to enjoy. The new fleet of Club Car golf cars are equipped with GPS and the Shark Experience, an interactive experience that provides golfers with music and sports options as well as the ability to Bluetooth their own tunes or podcasts through their smartphones.
Also coming is the Grand Slam Golf Academy, in collaboration with U.S. Kids Golf, which will offer junior camps. The course will also partner with the local YMCA and Boy & Girls Clubs as well to introduce the game to kids.
As for green fees, right now the course is employing dynamic pricing, which ranges between $40 and $80, depending on time of day, weather and demand. For now, the course is also using a ballot system. Golfers can register for that here.