Great Golf Fore Your Consideration
written by JENNIFER COLOSIMO | photography courtesy of THE MANOR GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB; BEAR’S BEST ATLANTA; JENNIFER COLOSIMO; RIVER PINES GOLF CLUB; CLUB CORP
By the time you read this, a new Masters champion might already be wearing his green jacket … and that means, it’s officially golf season. With warm weather that never really left in the first place, we’ve essentially had a year-round golf season, and most of you have been booking tee times since early December. Call it a perk of living in the South, and especially on the Northside, we’re lucky to boast some of the country’s mildest temps and fairest seasons, which inevitably brought many golf greats to build their namesake courses here.
No, I wouldn’t dare attempt to help tweak your swing, nor do I have tips to help you sink more putts, but I can share some ideas on how to take advantage of an area that’s known for great golf. Read up on a few noteworthy public rounds, private memberships worth the penny and opinions by talented locals on either opportunity.
CAN’T MISSES FOR NONCOMMITS
Whatever your reason for opting out of a private membership – be it limited time for rounds or the price tag – choosing to remain a free agent doesn’t mean you have to give up all of the exclusive perks.
In fact, Superintendent of Bear’s Best Atlanta, Luke Ralston, told us any course is as good as its resources. With the right care and maintenance, even public courses are worthy of high praise. If you’re an every-weekend type of golfer, you’ve certainly seen that point proven on this Jack Nicklaus-designed course in Suwanee, where each hole is inspired by different golf courses worldwide. In fact, it’s the only semi-private, daily fee course that’s part of the larger, private ClubCorp group (more on that later), and helps lead the way in a collection of courses that keep a large part of our community uncommitted to one course.
Just ask the four-time State Champion Lambert High School girl’s golf team. Alison Crenshaw is a member at Bear’s Best, but also plays Legacy on Lanier for its additional golf outing perks and long, lakeside holes that can easily distract from counting strokes on such a challenging course.
Another top-level lady on the team (which already won the season opener at Bear’s Best in February) is Kate Owens, who likes playing The Hooch Golf Club in Duluth. As a kid, Owens would play the executive course as a way to graduate from a Par-3 course and get more experience. If you’re contemplating the drive to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, know that you’ve also got the chance to play after the sun goes down, as their additional Par-3 course and the driving range are both lighted.
Jordan Baker, a senior member of Lambert’s boy’s golf team – State Champions in 2015 – said, “The few public courses here are really good. [I like Bear’s Best too, because] you get looks from Scotland, the West Coast, the East Coast … It’s a really interesting format. I have also always liked River Pines Golf because my very first tournament was [there] on their Par-3 course. If you have kids, it’s the perfect place to take them to get used to playing the game.”
KIDS TO HANDICAPPERS
Ask any golfer and they’ll tell you the one thing they wish they could change is when they started playing. Owens first picked up clubs at the age of 2, when her dad turned quality time together into a trip to the driving range. Crenshaw was 10. Baker can’t remember a time when he wasn’t playing.
“I’m jealous they started early and that they get to play every day,” said Brooks Youngblood, Lambert’s boy’s golf head coach. “They play all the time, and when you start as young as you can, the more exposure you get. You’ll get the feel for it sooner and it will make a bigger impact on your game.”
Taking Baker up on his recommendation, one place young golfers can start logging those hours is at River Pines Golf in Alpharetta. In the past 25 years, the course has grown to include a top-ranked teaching facility that serves golfers of all ages, a Par-3 course and a winding 18-hole championship course along the Chattahoochee River. For novices, there’s Get Golf Ready, a session which teaches everything from what to wear and how to carry your clubs to etiquette, rules and – of course – how to hit the ball. Kids aged 6 to 17 can join the Junior Flames, a comprehensive program offering competitive play, instruction and course discounts.
Perhaps more importantly, the program provides a window to the world of junior tournaments, better known as years of affordable instruction that can prove invaluable once scholarships are being sought. Golfers of any level can enlist professional instruction through adult clinics taught by some of the state’s best golf instructors. These include Mike Perpich, a Golf Magazine Top 100 instructor and Paul Belongie, one of the Top 50 U.S. Kids instructors.
“With both of those guys heading up our program … we’ve got a lot of credibility,” said head golf professional Phil Wagoner, and last year’s winner of the PGA’s Bill Strausbaugh Award. This accolade recognizes the outstanding integrity, commitment to mentoring fellow pros and involvement in community and charitable activities needed to foster a top-level program.
“We’re really in a great location, being the only public course in an area surrounded by private clubs,” Wagoner said. “We have a diverse offering, with not only the 18-hole course, but also the 9-hole Par-3 course, the large, grass-tee driving range and one of the best instruction programs in the area. All of that combined, that’s why people like to come here.”
PRIVACY WORTH PAYING FOR
Despite luscious links off every main road, there’s no judgment for paying to play one course for the rest of your life. But if fairway monogamy gives you cold feet, there are some worthy options that allow for affordable commitment.
Not only was St. Ives Country Club named one of the Best Courses in the Country by “Golf America,” but it also boasts one of the most affordable memberships in our area for private play. The 18-hole, Tom Fazio-designed course features broad fairways, six tee boxes per hole and challenging play that’s beautiful enough (and geographically friendly enough) to walk. Here, you’ll find the new hybrid Mini Verde Bermuda carpeting their greens, courtesy of a 2013 renovation.
I mentioned ClubCorp’s semi-private course, but if you’re interested in something more exclusive, take advantage of ClubCorp’s Champions Club membership. Joining grants you membership to Atlanta National Golf Club, White Columns Country Club and The Manor Golf & Country Club, three of the most prestigious courses in the organization’s Atlanta market. It should be mentioned that this membership delivers unmatched perks for 32 unbeatable courses, plus several other iconic courses nationwide. This also means immaculate playing surfaces, discounted access, cart and food fees, plus unlimited access to amenities your entire family can enjoy. 2017 is an exciting year for ClubCorp, now celebrating their 60th anniversary, but even more so for members, as they can enter to win tickets to the Masters, a trip to New York City, California’s Napa Valley and more.
The Standard Club, arguably one of the most exclusive courses in the state, also celebrates a big birthday this year. Its 150th anniversary invites current and future members to join them on May 6 for music, food, beatthe-pro games, sidewalk sales and more. Considered one of the Top 20 courses in Georgia by Golf Digest, this club is known for its 270 acres of seclusion and beauty. With no homes on the course, they used native trees, shrubs and grasses to naturally landscape the golf course and enhance the beauty of each hole. The result is a town favorite that plays to all levels of golfers.
THE SCIENCE BENEATH THE SPORT
What allows for such a large collection of quality courses to entertain the masses and support the next generation? Ralston will tell you that it starts from the ground up. Be it classic Bentgrass, Bermuda or one of the industry’s newest hybrids, there’s a well-manicured fine line to making those strokes count.
He would know – he’s worked everywhere from Carrollton’s The Frog as a young golfer to Washington, D.C.’s Trump National Golf Club.
Ralston’s sense of home remains local, where he’s worked at the prestigious Capitol City Club in Crabapple, at Alpharetta’s The Standard Club and, since last year, at Bear’s Best.
“The ultimate goal is to have fast, firm and true rolling greens 365 days a year, no matter what species the grass,” he said. He explained that Bentgrass (what you’ll see on most courses, including Augusta National) accomplishes this nine months out of the year, requiring a little extra hands-on time during the hot summer months. Bermuda grasses thrive in the hot weather months (meaning you’ll probably spot them if you’re playing along Florida’s 30A Highway this spring break), but don’t do well in the shade. Taken care of, either is a good option.
“Pretty much every course is going to mow their greens, change the hole location and do a basic golf course setup every day,” Ralston said. How often this is done, he says, is what differentiates high- and low-end courses.
You can do your part by filling your divots.