When Chestatee Golf Club opened for play in 1999, the course quickly acquired the reputation as one of best and most popular daily fee facilities in metro Atlanta.
Chestatee had a lot going for it, beginning with a standout and scenic Denis Griffiths layout that was in quality condition from day one. The setting at the foothills of the north Georgia mountains in proximity to Lake Lanier was another asset, as was the addition of personable head professional Jeff Paton, who joined the staff a few years after the club opened but has since returned to the Golf Club of Georgia.
In recent years, however, Chestatee slipped into a lower profile, even as the number of daily fee courses in the metro area has been reduced due to the closing of some facilities and the conversion to private status of others.
Affiniti Golf Partners assumed management of Chestatee late in 2010, and has begun the process of returning the club to the status it held during its early years.
“We’re coming back,” says Patrick Beidle, the club’s PGA head professional and General Manager. “We’ve got a new superintendent from Echelon (formerly the Georgia Tech Club), and we’re getting the course back to where it was.”
Griffiths, an Atlanta-based golf course architect, has designed some of the state’s finest daily fee courses, with his long list of creations including Brasstown Valley, all three courses at Chateau Elan, Chicopee Woods, Crystal Falls, Crystal Lake, the Georgia Club, Georgia National, Georgia Vets, Old Union, RiverPines and St. Marlo.
Chestatee is among his best efforts, offering an entertaining but serious challenge, particular to those of us whose misses off the tee tend to drift to the right.
The preponderance of trouble at Chestatee lurks along the right side, with Griffiths providing a sufficient amount of room away from the trouble to avoid it, assuming you can leave your fade in the bag.
With an exception or two, length is not a serious concern, in part due to the number of elevated tees. There are only three par 4s with substantial yardage, and a few of the seemingly healthy par 5s may not be quite as strong as the yardage on the scorecard indicates.
Chestatee’s overall length (it’s listed at 6,875 from the tips with gaps of 400 yards between each of the next two sets of tees) is a bit deceptive, since the course plays to a par 71 with five par 3s, making it the equivalent of a par 72 in the 7,100-yard category.
None of the par 3s has much length, either, with a few of them playing significantly downhill. Most notable among the group are the short, over-water third, which features a well-guarded, two-tier green, and the gorgeous 17th, which offers an ample target with Lake Lanier clearly visible in the background for the only time during the round.
The 11th also requires a carry over water, but as a group Chestatee’s par 3s are among the tamer you’ll encounter, with the slightly uphill 7th the only one that might require more than a short iron for most players.
Both nines begin with elevated tee shots on par 5s that are not nearly as daunting as the listed yardage (590 and 580 from the tips), Each hole turns right after the tee shot, with the 10th among Chestatee’s collection of holes where right is wrong. The tree line along the right side includes a hazard just below the surface of the fairway, with any tee shot heading in that direction almost certain to result in a penalty stroke.
The approach shot must also carry a pond that fronts a small target and requires considerable precision with a short iron to provide a birdie opportunity, presuming you did not venture off course from the tee.
The opening hole is more inviting, with large mounds and a number of bunkers the only real impediments to a successful start. Griffiths gives you a chance to get something going early, as the par-5 opener is followed by a short and potentially vulnerable par 4 and the downhill par-3 third, where the water is only a concern if you suffer a serious miss-hit from the tee.
All four par 5s present scoring opportunities – even for the distance-challenged – but some accurate placement and strategic thinking will come in handy. The 9th angles left off the tee, with a creek snaking down the right side and very much in play on both the tee shot and second. The lay-up area is not very wide, with mounds left also having to be avoided to set up a short third to a wide, shallow green that is hidden behind a front bunker and features plenty of slope.
The rolling terrain at Chestatee impacts play in a variety of areas, including around the greens, where the ability to get the ball in the air and land softly can be very useful. The putting surfaces, on the other hand, are on the gentle side, with a few modest false fronts and divided levels that have only minimal differences between tiers.
The most intriguing of the interesting group of par 5s is the 16th, which provides two differing paths to the green. The safe route is down the left side, although a row of trees that divides the two corridors can be a problem if your second shot does not clear them to achieve the best angle for a short third.
The more adventurous right side includes some severely rolling terrain, along with trees and sand. The approach angle is not quite as friendly, but for big hitters, it represents the best chance to get home in two among the par 5s.
As is the case on almost every Griffiths’ design, Chestatee sports a very diverse group of par 4s both in terms of style and difficulty. Three of the par 4s on the front nine are among the holes where water looms menacingly down the right side, most perilously on the two toughest holes on the course.
The 4th has length (450/430/410 from the three back sets of tees), water all the way down the right side that impacts both the drive and approach and a challenging green with some quick putts from above the hole with plenty of break
The 8th is the No.1 handicap hole at Chestatee for a reason, and is one of the most demanding par 4s you’ll encounter. Like the 9th, the fairway angles to the left with a lake looming off the right edge of the fairway that will swallow up tee shots that drift just a bit.
Unlike the 4th, which eases up a bit if you hit it solidly off the tee, a finger of the lake just in front of the 8th green presents a challenge for shorter hitters to carry it with their second shots. For longer hitters, the main obstacle is a sizeable front left bunker that makes it extremely difficult to challenge any pin position cut behind it.
Beginning at the 3rd hole, seven of the next nine have water in play to one degree or another, with the distant view of Lake Lanier from the 17th tee the only hazard in sight from that point.
The most interesting of the par 4s coming in are the downhill 13th and uphill 18th.
The 13th offers the opportunity to take a big rip from the tee to set up a testy downhill approach to a green surrounded by sand, with the rear bunkers keeping over-clubbed approaches from plunging down a hillside.
The length and uphill nature of the 18th makes it a demanding finishing hole, with a well-struck drive required to clear the crest of the hill. With the clubhouse in the background, the view for the approach shot is appealing, but you have to carry the ascending landing area to appreciate it.
From the back tees, Chestatee is rated at 72.5 with a slope of 137. The numbers are 70.7/134 from the blues and 68.8/130 from the whites, with the slope figures a reflection on the potential danger Griffiths’ layout presents.
Thanks to its nicely-spaced, five sets of tees, Chestatee will provide a comfortable option for all skill levels. It also offers the choice of moving up or back a set depending on course conditions, enabling players to decide how much of a challenge they are up for that day.
Chestatee is a semi-private facility, and is currently offering memberships with no initiation and very reasonable rates for individuals and families. The daily fee rates are also an excellent bargain for a course of its caliber, and for golfers in the north metro area, it’s an easy ride up Georgia 400 just a few miles past the outlet malls.
For information, visit the club’s web site at www.chestateegolf.net or call 706-216-7336 or 800-520-8675.