Island green 16th among many attractions…
One of the success stories in metro Atlanta’s golf scene over the past 15 years has been BridgeMill Athletic Club, a semi-private facility that has deftly balanced the challenge of serving both its members and daily fee visitors.
The course opened in 1998 to positive reviews, and has maintained its status as one of the Atlanta areas finest daily fee courses, while retaining its membership at a consistent level.
BridgeMill, which is located off I-575, exit 11 outside Canton, has been among the fastest growing developments in the metro area, but is almost built out, with the area surrounding the community changing markedly since the course opened.
The community features one of the widest arrays of family recreational activities to be found in the Atlanta area, with 25 lighted tennis courts, a quality fitness facility, several athletic fields and one of the largest and most impressive aquatic centers.
Those aspects of the community are reserved for the members and residents, but BridgeMill has plenty to offer its daily fee golfers, including one of the area’s most enjoyable courses, an outstanding practice facility with one of the state’s strongest teaching staffs, and an excellent grille.
BridgeMill’s golf course was designed by the late Desmond Muirhead, one of the most distinctive figures in the golf course architectural business. Muirhead was in the vanguard of working golf courses into residential developments, and his unique style of golf course design made his creations something special.
Muirhead designed courses all over the world, with his best known American layout the Mission Hills course in the California desert that hosts the annual Kraft Nabisco Championship on the LPGA Tour.
During his long career, Muirhead worked with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gene Sarazen and Nick Faldo, teaming up with Nicklaus in the construction of Muirfield Village, the site of the PGA Tour Memorial Tournament.
Muirhead worked with Larry Mize on BridgeMill, with Mize providing a player’s perspective in the design of the course. BridgeMill was one of the later Muirhead designs and one of two in metro Atlanta he did late in life for HMS, a Georgia-based golf management company.
Compared to Covington Plantation (now Ashton Hills), BridgeMill is a slightly more subdued design, with less emphasis on some visual flourishes that made his original layout at the Covington course a bit on the quirky side.
BridgeMill does have one of Muirhead’s artistic offerings – the island green par-3 16th hole that is known for its thin, surrounding bunker that gives the hole the appearance of a shooting target when viewed from above.
Apart from the 16th, BridgeMill is a straightforward, conventional design that sports five nicely spaced sets of tees that provide multiple options for most players and smoothly pulls off the balancing act between challenge and playability.
BridgeMill measures 7,110 yards from the tips, with its other tees listed at 6,720 (gold), 6,245 (blue), 5,750 (white) and forward tees that vary from 4,758 to 4,828 depending on the yardage of the difficult par-5 13th. There is also a combo tee between the blues and golds that is right at 6,500 yards.
From the black tees, BridgeMill is rated at a stout 74.1/142, with the golds a strong test at 72.2/138 and the combo set close behind at 71.0/136. The blues and whites both sport some relatively high slope numbers (134 and 125) considering their modest length, with then forward tees rated at 68.9/119.
Apart from a handful of holes from the back tees, length is not a major concern at BridgeMill. Only one par 4 is longer than 430 from the black tees, with the par-3 fifth and a few of the par 5s the only holes with fairly hefty yardages.
With several holes beginning from elevated tees, BridgeMill plays a little shorter than the listed length, and first time visitors can comfortably from a yardage that may be a bit longer than they usually tackle. With an exception or two, Muirhead’s layout has sufficient width to allow most players to take a rip with the driver, but tree lines are well within reach on just about all the holes.
BridgeMill was constructed on some relatively hilly terrain, with a few slightly uphill approaches helping to balance the elevated tee shots. There are not a great deal of hazards in play, with the short par-4 second, the demanding 13th and the memorable 16th the most notable exceptions.
Among BridgeMill’s strongest defenses are its greens complexes, many of which were carved out of hillsides and require a skilled short game to handle a variety of bunker shots and pitches that may need a little height to escape trouble or get to tough to reach pin positions.
The bent grass putting surfaces are typically among the best in the Atlanta area, with superintendent Andy Robbins keeping them quick and healthy on a consistent basis, a significant achievement considering the problems many other area courses have encountered in recent Summers.
Many of the greens have decent amounts of slope, and considering their size and contour, most putts of length or across ridges represent serious challenges to find the hole in just two strokes.
Provided you can avoid the water right of the second fairway and perilously close to the green, Muirhead’s layout provides a fairly tame opening trio of holes, all par 4s of modest length.
After an inviting, straightaway opener with little danger, the second hole features a short but very testy approach shot to a two-level green, with the lower right side offering very little room to miss with water and sand all around. It’s among the best short par 4s in the metro area and a visual standout as well.
The uphill third plays longer than its minimal yardage, with a large front left bunker and one of the many rolling greens along the way the main concerns, along with a fairway that will produce some uneven lies.
The other par 4s on the opening nine (6 and 7) are straight and rolling, with the approach on the seventh the most uphill shot you’ll face on the course.
BridgeMill’s par 5s on the opening nine are a contrasting pair, with the moderately sharp dogleg right fifth not particularly long, while the ninth, which turns gently to the left, topping out at 600 yards from the tips and almost 550 from the blues. The ninth offers plenty of room off the tee, with the hole narrowing as you approach the putting surface.
Although the 16th draws most of the attention, the fifth is an outstanding par 3, with the green positioned at the base of a hill to the right, with a steep drop-off below a rock wall to the left. Club selection is key because of a deep green, which will produce its share of three-putts.
The back nine begins with a solid par 4 that is the longest on the course, but manageable at 445 from the tips and 416 from the golds. An angled green makes for a tough target, with the putting surface slightly raised above most of the surrounding area.
The best scoring opportunity on the course is found on the short, par-4 11th, which tops out at 334 yards from an elevated tee. Trouble looms left of the fairway, but a relatively straight tee shot will result in a short second that has to negotiate a front bunker to set up a possible birdie try.
Like the eighth, the par-3 12th features a wide, relatively shallow green over sand, with some testy left side pin positions.
With mounds to the left and trouble right, the par-5 13th starts with one of the tighter drives on the course, followed by a second that poses a potential problem for shorter hitters with a creek bisecting the fairway. The well-guarded putting surface requires a precise third to set up an attempt for birdie, providing you avoid the perils along the way.
The downhill, par-4 14th is also on the narrow side, with the dogleg left nature of the hole necessitating a well placed tee shot down the right side to avoid having to carry the trees at the corner with your approach.
One of the tougher second shots among the par 4s follows at the 15th, with a false front to the green making for a testy second shot to a front pin, and one of the more undulating greens on the course making putts to any hole location a challenge.
The 16th is longer than its counterpart at TPC Sawgrass, measuring 199 yards from the back tees, 183 from the golds and 169 from the blues. The hole is not quite as visually intimidating as its Florida relative, with the thin strip of sand a potential ally if you’re tee shot is a little off.
BridgeMill head professional Zac Donovan says the 16th is a popular topic of conversation with first time players, with the “fair” and enjoyable nature of the course and its consistent quality condition bringing them back.
The two finishing holes aren’t quite as dramatic, but the downhill, dogleg left 17th is a pesky par 4, with a narrow, well-guarded, multi-level green that can be tough to hit from the wrong side of the fairway. The winding par-5 18th has some length, but the only serious concern is staying between the tree lines on either side.
The BridgeMill Golf Academy is also among Atlanta’s best, with an expansive practice facility, state of the art swing technology and experienced, highly respected instructors Tom Losinger and George Kelnhofer. Former LPGA Tour player Denise Killeen heads up the club’s junior program, and rounds out the veteran teaching staff.
For information on BridgeMill, call 770-345-5500 or visit its web site at www.bridgemillathleticclub.com