Reversible, 9-hole layout
Perhaps the most legendary name in the history of golf is that of Atlanta native Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., golf’s most storied amateur player ever and one of the game’s all-time greats.
Bobby Jones, as he is known in the annals of golf, captured the game’s four most prestigious events in 1930 – the U.S. Open and Amateur and the British Open and Amateur. He retired after that amazing feat, and soon thereafter helped create Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament.
Atlanta honored Jones by naming its first public golf course after the local legend, with Bobby Jones Golf Course opening in 1933. The course has survived for more than 80 years despite frequent battles with overflowing water from creeks that wind through and around the property, with many alterations to the layout – some minor, others more significant – made over the years.
If things go as planned, the Bobby Jones Golf Course will undergo its most extensive renovation ever, as a land swap between city and state governments will transfer ownership of the course to the state and facilitate major changes to the layout of the aging course.
The person who will be responsible for the complete renovation of the course, as well as the addition of a first class practice facility that will be used by the Georgia State golf team and a short course constructed primarily for use by juniors, is long-time Atlanta resident and renowned golf course architect Bob Cupp.
A veteran of more than 45 years in the golf course design business, Cupp began his career working with Jack Nicklaus and created his own design firm more than 30 years ago. He is responsible for some of the most acclaimed golf course designs in the U.S., a number of them in Georgia, and was selected to the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in 2014.
Cupp was faced with something of a dilemma when he began to contemplate how to make the changes to Bobby Jones Golf Course that would bring it more into line with the high standards set by the golfing great who gave the course its name.
The course was constructed in a confined setting, with its total acreage much smaller than the average golf course. The course has been reduced from its original yardage of 6,455 yards to under 5,900 yards in its current configuration, and the number of holes in close proximity to others puts those who play the course in peril of being struck by an errant shot from a player on an adjacent hole.
“It’s an inordinately dangerous course,” Cupp says, with his efforts to keep Bobby Jones as a standard 18-hole layout unsuccessful. The only way the course could be made safe for play was to reduce the yardage even further to around 5,000 yards, slightly longer than what is known as an “executive” course.
Cupp turned to a famous course for inspiration on how to proceed, with that course inextricably linked to the career of Bobby Jones and his Grand Slam effort of 1930. The Old Course at St. Andrews was designed to play in separate directions, and for a small number of days a year, is played in the reverse order of its original design.
Cupp does not have the luxury of an expansive piece of land that would allow for a full-length 18-hole course, but his design of the renovated Bobby Jones Golf Course will result in it being a reversible layout that will measure as long as 7,500 yards from the back tees to accommodate the needs of the Georgia State golf team.
“Nine holes is the coming thing,” Cupp said of the emphasis on nine-hole facilities to better fit into the time crunch that keeps many prospective golfers off the course. “Based on the land, it was going to be nine holes and we wanted to see if there was enough room for a practice facility.
“I took a page out of the St. Andrews book on reversible holes. They have a lottery for those days when they play the course backwards, and people love it.”
By playing the course in both directions, Cupp says the new Bobby Jones Golf Course will feature “a completely separate 18 holes of golf. It will be 18 different holes. It’s a fascinating concept.”
For safety reasons, a course can’t be played in opposite directions at the same time, but Cupp says there are ways to give players a complete 18-hole experience through the use of shotgun starts with A.M. and P.M. starting times.
Playing a course in two directions is also beneficial from a maintenance standpoint, as the divots will be better dispersed with the length of approach shots different depending on which way the hole is played.
Cupp says he intends to design the course in the style of classic golf course architects Donald Ross and A.W. Tillinghast, while being cognizant of the public nature of the facility.
“We will keep as many trees as we can,” Cupp says of the moderately tree-lined layout. “Some will come out for drainage. We want it to be a completely public course. Because part of the course is in a flood plain, we will use lots of grass hollows and the bunkers will not be very big, like older courses.”
Drainage has been a problem with the Bobby Jones Golf Course for many years, and Cupp says the drainage situation should be “significantly better” after the renovations. “It will be playable after rain.”
Cupp believes the par-3 course, which he hopes to fit in as many as nine holes in the 40-to-85-yard range, “will be a great place for kids to learn. The kids will be able to play golf like we used to when we were kids. Their parents will drop them off and they can stay all day, maybe going up to the big range and hit a bucket or two.”
In addition, Cupp says the par-3 course will also serve as a short game practice area for Georgia State’s golfers.
The current Bobby Jones Golf Course has its advocates, who appreciate the entertaining nature of an interesting, if somewhat quirky layout despite its inherently hazardous nature. The variety of the holes is among its strengths, with some very tight tee shots interspersed with some that are extremely forgiving. The forgiving nature of many of the holes is part of the problem, as adjoining fairways provide room to stray off the tee, which places players on other holes in peril.
The creeks that wind through the course provide some of its character as well as danger, with the sharply dogleg right fifth hole, at one time the 18th on the course, one of the more interesting par 4s in all of Atlanta.
The par-70 layout is short on length, with the first (406) and second (425) holes the only par 4s over 400 yards from the back tees and four par 4s in the 335 range or shorter. There are only two par 5s, one of which is basically a long par 4 for players who hit it reasonably far (the 455-yard 10th). Only one par 3 is longer than 165, and one of the four is among the shortest, least demanding holes you’ll encounter (No. 9).
For the most part, the greens complexes are on the gentle side, with the quality putting surfaces rolling at moderate speeds with little in the way of serious undulation.
Other than the fifth hole and the thread-the-needle tee shot from the elevated 18th tee, there isn’t much that is particularly memorable about Bobby Jones Golf Course (providing you don’t get conked on the head by an errant shot), but it has proven to be a playable, enjoyable destination for its loyal regulars, who will miss it, even if it’s replaced by something better.