In real estate, the old saying goes that the three most crucial elements to success are location, location and location.
Fortunately for facilities like Cateechee Golf Club, that doesn’t necessarily apply.
Cateechee is located in the northeast Georgia town of Hartwell, which is closer to Anderson, S.C., than any Georgia city. The course almost borders on the southern edge of Lake Hartwell, a popular summer getaway destination, but the area is not exactly a hotbed of golf.
With little in the way of quality golf within reasonable driving distance, Cateechee GC opened for play in 1997 to good reviews, but has remained little known outside its immediate area.
The course has developed positive word of mouth, with the club’s profile getting a boost when it became part of the Canongate family last year. Cateechee remains semi-private and locally owned by Lee Burton, who has made a serious investment in providing the club’s members, daily fee visitors and the local community with an absolutely first class course and overall facility.
Canongate manages Cateechee, with the club’s members now part of the growing Canongate roster, and Canongate’s members having increased access to the standout Mike Young layout.
First time visitors to Cateechee likely have heard good things about the course and the club, but that does little to diminish how impressed they are once they experience it in person.
The course is one of the state’s best and most scenic, and the caliber of the clubhouse, which includes meeting, banquet and dining facilities, is comparable to that of many top private clubs in metro Atlanta. Cateechee is a major part of the Hartwell community, as well as surrounding towns in northeast Georgia, and also draws a sizeable portion of its membership from the Anderson area, which is only about half an hour away.
Unless you’re driving from Athens to Anderson, Hartwell really isn’t “on the way” to anywhere, but is only about 15 miles south of I-85 and is a comfortable drive from metro Atlanta, especially for golfers in and around Gwinnett County.
“It’s worth the drive to them,” says Cateechee PGA Director of Golf Jeff Gotham, who came to the club five years ago from Hamilton Mill, a Canongate course in Gwinnett. “People make a day trip out of it.”
Gotham has taken the PGA’s aim to “grow the game” to heart at Cateechee, convincing the club’s owner to build a top-of-the-line learning center with launch monitors, fitting equipment and a practice facility that, again, is indistinguishable from what you will encounter at top Atlanta clubs.
Then there’s the golf course, which has to be top notch to attract golfers from an hour or more away.
The Athens-based Young has designed almost 20 courses in Georgia over the past two-plus decades, some in the state’s larger cities, others in towns like Hartwell.
His varied portfolio includes Maple Ridge (Columbus), Henderson GC (Savannah), Lane Creek (Athens), Oak Grove Island (Brunswick), River Pointe (Albany) and several courses in communities similar to Hartwell. Among those are LaGrange (Overlook Links, formerly the Fields), Hawkinsville (Southern Hills), Jackson (Hickory Hills), Monticello (Hunter Pope) and his most recent Georgia design, Long Shadow in Madison.
Young’s Atlanta area courses are Heritage Golf Links and Wolf Creek, two of the metro area’s most highly regarded daily fee layouts, the well-received re-design of City Club Marietta, Country Land in Cumming, and the late and lamented Gold Creek in Dawsonville.
Cateechee is as good as anything Young has done in the state, and is among the best daily fee layouts in all of Georgia. The course draws high marks for its scenic appeal and natural feel, and has earned the designation as an Audubon International Signature Sanctuary. Led by superintendent Buck Workman, the course is in superb condition.
Measuring 6,925 yards from the back tees and around 6,500 from the next set, Cateechee is not a long course by modern standards, with a few dramatic downhill shots along with a handful of holes that play slightly uphill. With the exception of a hole or two, most notably the perilous par-4 10th and monster par-5 17th, length is not a serious factor, and Cateechee is a mostly generous course off the tee.
Native grasses are typically well removed from the playing corridors, with the par-4 11th about the only hole where it doesn’t take a seriously off-target drive to find them (and likely lose your ball). Because of the rolling terrain on the 11th, you can’t see the trouble off the tee, and even though the sight lines are typically excellent, there are a few blind shots along the way.
The terrain also is a major factor with the greens complexes, which have ample amounts of roll and are frequently cut out of hillsides, making for some testy short game shots if you miss the greens to the side. The bent grass greens are outstanding, and the challenge of the putting surfaces is just one of the reasons for the stout Slope numbers from the two back sets of tees (143 and 136).
Cateechee’s Course Rating is not overly high (73.5 and 71.6) from the Black and Purple tees, with three shorter tees (White, Gold and Red) offering multiple options for seniors and women at 6023, 5600 and 4771 yards.
The first hole provides a wonderful example of the scenic treasures to come, with the downhill par 5 offering a view of the green from the tee. A stream in the midst of a wetlands area is in play on the second shot, with a shallow, elevated green making for a tough target for big hitters going for it in two and for most players hitting their shorter third shot.
The second is one of two par 3s that have to carry hazards, with a pond sitting below the level of the putting surface and rocks between the water and the sizeable green, one of many carved out of a hillside. The down-and-up 13th has to carry a scrub area, with a bunker well beneath a wide, shallow green getting plenty of play from those who don’t catch their tee shots solidly.
With three par 5s among the first five holes, none of them especially lengthy, Cateechee offers the opportunity to get your round off to a positive start, with the inviting third and downhill fifth offering little in the way of resistance.
That’s not the case on the par-35 back nine, which begins with the most intimidating hole on the course. It’s the longest par 4 at Cateechee (463 and 428 from the back two tees), with the downhill second having to carry a pond just short of the green. Shorter hitters may play the hole as a three-shotter, with those of average length facing a daunting approach, although its sharply downhill nature eases the task a bit.
The other hole where length is a definite asset is the 17th, which is over 600 yards from the back two tees and 584 from the whites. The hole bears some resemblance visually to the 18th at Kapalua, with two carries over native areas. The safe route is down the right side, with an elevated green sporting drop-offs all around awaiting when you finally get within range.
Cateechee will represent something of a challenge the first time you play it, but once you get a feel for Young’s fair but demanding layout, you will definitely want to take a second crack at it.
Cateechee Golf Club burst onto the golf scene in 1999 as one of the most highly acclaimed new courses in the country. As it matures, it has only gotten better. Cateechee was immediately named one of the nation’s best new public-access courses. Golf Digest named it the sixth best “affordable public course” in the magazine’s annual ranking of America’s Best New Courses.
In 2006, Cateechee was again recognized by Golf Digest, this time as a “Four-Star” destination. Architect Mike Young, a native Georgian, carved Cateechee from 380 acres of virgin forests and open meadowland. By contrast, most courses are developed on less than 250 acres of land. No need to worry about balls from adjacent holes finding their way on to your fairway at Cateechee Golf Club. The site features dramatic elevation changes, from high ridges that afford panoramic views, to low-lying wetlands along Cedar Creek, which meanders through the property, coming into play on five holes. More importantly, Young was not hamstrung in his routing of the course by development constraints. Here, fairways and greens are framed by nature, not houses. As it was when it opened in 1999, Cateechee remains a pure golf experience, unencumbered by real estate development.
For information on Cateechee, call 706-856-4653, or visit www.cateechee.com.