Reversible Bobby Jones GC opens in Atlanta


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About eight years ago, Marty Elgison, the attorney for the heirs to Bobby Jones, shared an idea he had with Bob Jones IV. Elgison wanted to renovate Bobby Jones Golf Course, a scraggly, cramped muni shoehorned into an undersized parcel of land off Northside Drive in Atlanta.

Jones, grandson of the golf legend, appreciated what the family’s longtime attorney was trying to do, but admits, “I didn’t think it had any chance of getting done because of bureaucracy.”

On Nov. 5, however, a thoroughly reimagined Bobby Jones Golf Course will reopen to the public. Rather than 18 holes, it will be a far more workable nine-hole reversible course. It has a new, two-sided practice range, something that didn’t previously exist, and a six-hole short course that probably won’t be ready for play until next summer. The range will become the new practice home for Georgia State University’s golf teams.

The layout incorporates the Longleaf Tee System, with eight tees per hole – a reflection of an effort to welcome young golfers and those with disabilities. The entire course, except for greens, will be cut at fairway height, according to architect Bobby Cupp. That will make all of those tee boxes seem less intrusive while also enhancing playability.

Those priorities would seem to be a worthy reflection of the values of the man the course honors.

“What we have trouble recognizing nowadays is the almost-radical impact Bobby Jones had on the game,” Jones said of his grandfather. “People forget he was a mechanical engineer by training. He had a passion for making golf more accessible to the average player, so much so that when he designed Augusta National, that golf course was incredibly radical for its day. It allowed the average player to play it and have a fantastic time, but it also challenged the expert player.”

Bobby Jones Golf Course opened in 1933, with the city of Atlanta naming the course after its favorite son. Jones family lore is that Bobby Jones was not involved in the development of the course, but simply was too gracious to decline the honor of his name being attached to the course.

Jones IV said the family appreciated the gesture, if not the execution. In effect, it took 85 years to produce a course that the Jones heirs consider worthy of Bobby Jones.

“Even from its inception in 1933, the course was woefully short distance-wise, and as modern technology increased, that lack of length became something that affected not just the playability of the golf course, but also it made the course dangerous,” Jones IV said. “You had so many holes that were running adjacent to one another. … Frankly, you almost needed a hardhat on some holes to play it.”

The late architect Bob Cupp concluded there was no way to route an 18-hole layout on the site, and instead devised a nine-hole reversible loop and the new practice area. Cupp died in 2016, and his son Bobby shepherded the course to completion.

Bobby Cupp said he tried to adhere as closely as possible to his father’s design. This was the first reversible course either of the Cupps had designed or built, and Bobby Cupp said he’s hopeful of doing more.

“What a great way to use a smaller property, particularly in an urban setting,” Cupp said. “There’s huge potential, particularly with daily-fee courses that are aging a bit and a little short on acreage. There’s a chance to reinvent those properties into something really special.”

Elgison, president of the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, worked much of the past decade to renovate the course and make it something in which the Jones heirs could take pride. He and Chuck Palmer, chairman of the foundation and a former president of the Georgia State Golf Association, spearheaded the effort.

The Bobby Jones Golf Course originally opened in 1933. Here is the view of No. 3 (BBGC).

Jones IV, also a member of the foundation board, said that once the project gathered momentum two years ago, everyone was on the same page.

“Throughout the whole process, I never had a time when I came away from a board meeting upset or disgruntled about anything that happened,” Jones IV said. “I’ve never had a board meeting that I’ve not come away from feeling very excited. I’ve served on a lot of boards, and I’ve never had that experience.”

The breakthrough for the foundation came in 2016, when the property, which includes the Bitsy Grant Tennis Center, was turned over to the state of Georgia as part of a land swap with the city. The state subsequently leased the property to the foundation for 50 years.

The foundation raised $23 million to pay for the golf course, practice range, reconstruction of the tennis center and a 23,000-square-foot clubhouse, which is expected to open in late 2019.

The clubhouse will become the home of the Georgia State Golf Association.

“Mr. Jones had won our first state amateur championship in 1916, at the age of 14,” Palmer said. “Our golf association has always had a strong connection to Mr. Jones, and to have the new Georgia State Golf Association headquarters go in there at the course named for him is a special thing for the golf association.”

The clubhouse also will house the Georgia PGA and the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame. It will, in a sense, become the home of golf in the state.

“I can’t help but think that my grandfather would have been incredibly thrilled and honored by that,” Jones said. Gwk


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