When CGL, a Savannah-based golf course management company, assumed operations of DeKalb County municipal course Mystery Valley a decade ago, its task was to restore some of the shine to one of metro Atlanta’s most popular daily fee facilities.
The company succeeded on that count, upgrading the course conditions and operation at Mystery Valley, which again offers one of the most affordable, quality golf experiences in the Atlanta area.
CGL’s most recent venture is Collins Hill Golf Club in neighboring Gwinnett County. The company took over operation of the course on Jan. 1 of this year, and faces a somewhat greater challenge of elevating the status of a facility that has struggled to overcome a largely negative image that has been attached to it for many years.
The one thing Collins Hill GC has always had going for it is its location in the heart of Gwinnett between Lawrenceville, Suwanee and Buford. The course, which is owned by Gwinnett County, is easily accessible from either I-85 or Georgia 316, and has drawn a large percentage of its play from within the county, even with its convenient location to non-Gwinnett golfers living north or east of Atlanta.
The history of Collins Hill GC is a bit murky, with its origin dating back to the 1960s. At one time, it was two separate courses on either side of Camp Perrin Rd., with the current clubhouse and front nine on one side of the road and the back nine and practice range on the other. Prior to being re-named, the course was known as Springbrook GC.
John Crumbley, who helped oversee the improvements at Mystery Valley as the club’s Director of Golf and General manager, is now CGL’s Director of Golf Operations for Mystery Valley and Collins Hill, with Scott Hare the Director of Golf/GM for Collins Hill.
Crumbley recognized the challenge he, Hare and the Collins Hill staff faced when CGL assumed operation of the club.
“There’s been such poor management for years. There hasn’t been a real superintendent for some time. Just having somebody doing routine maintenance and putting money into the course; in six months people will see a huge difference.”
Crumbley says Collins Hill “is right where Mystery Valley was ten years ago. There was just a small core of people supporting it.”
CGL has a five-year agreement to manage Collins Hill, which has been the subject of reports in recent years about its lagging financial fortunes and uncertain future.
Improvements to course conditions have already begun, and with its location, playability and affordability, Crumbley says, “This course will be successful. Anything we do to improve it will be a home run. What the public got at Mystery Valley, that’s what they can expect at Collins Hill.
“This is a golf course anybody can play. It won’t beat you up, it has an interesting layout, it’s pretty and it’s fun to play.”
Those who have braved the mostly unpleasant Winter weather since CGL took over have already begun to notice a difference both on and off the course. The relatively new Champions Bermuda greens were rolling nicely during last month’s stretch of mild weather, with some of the more sloping surfaces sporting some truly scary putts from above the hole.
“The people who have played here in the past have noticed the changes,” Hare says. “Now the place looks like it’s cared for.”
One of the changes that already has been made was the removal of the back gold tees, leaving Collins Hill with a standard blue-white-red, three-tee alignment. The blue and white tees may be adjusted a bit, lengthening the blues to somewhere between their listed yardage of around 5,900 yards to something closer to the former gold yardage of 6,363. The current white tees are 5,569 on the card and the reds 4,826, with the course playing to a par of 71 (72 from the forward tees).
Even with the absence of length, the slope rating at Collins Hill is 128 from the sub-5,900-yard blue tees and 122 from the whites.
The two nines play appreciably different. The front is short, narrow and rolling, with the landing area on several holes out of view from the tee due to the terrain. With just one par 5, a string of short par 4s and two par 3s of minimal distance, the opening nine bears some resemblance to City Club Marietta, with a real chance for scoring provided you keep it in play off the tee, which can be a real challenge.
With several holes playing downhill, the front nine can play even shorter than the modest yardage, although a few of the holes conclude with slightly uphill approaches, most notably the 9th, the lone par 5 going out.
Positioning off the tee is vital, with the driver staying in the bag most of the way for longer hitters. Almost every hole features tree lines tight to both sides, with the downhill 3rd one of the few where an errant drive might find the refuge of a parallel fairway.
Among the more exacting tee shots is on the 2nd hole, with a fairway that tilts severely to the left while the hole bends slightly to the right. The landing area is hidden by the terrain, leaving some anxious moments after a tee shot that hugs a little too close to the left side and the possibility of rolling into the trees or a very awkward lie.
Another hole where a decision regarding club selection and placement off the tee is vital is the 6th, one of three holes in the 300-yard range on the opening nine. The hole turns fairly sharply to the right, with plenty of trouble awaiting for those who go left, hit it through the fairway or challenge two small water hazards at the corner of the dogleg
The 7th hole begins with the lone forced carry off the tee, but any well-struck shot will make it to the fairway, which turns left and a little uphill to one of a number of greens that are slightly elevated with some pronounced drop-offs along the edges.
Several of the putting surfaces, which tend to be small with minimal bunkering, have a healthy amount of tilt, with the par-3 4th at the top of the list. The hole measures barely over 100 yards from the blue and white tees, but if you come up a bit short, there’s a good chance your ball will roll halfway back to the tee down the hill. It’s also a distinct possibility that putts from above the hole to a front pin position will wind up in a similar position if you get a little too aggressive with them.
The back nine presents more of a challenge from a yardage standpoint, and is not much more generous in terms of width. After a fairly tame, downhill par-5 opener, you encounter what may be the toughest hole on the course.
The 11th hole exceeds 400 yards from both the blues and whites, with another sloping fairway, this one tilting to the right. The second shot has to carry a lake that fronts the green, although there is some bailout room to the left of another slick putting surface guarded by bunkers pinching in on either side.
There are only two short par 4s on the incoming nine, but neither is a pushover. The dogleg right 12th has yet another sharply sloping fairway and green to match. Keep it under the hole, especially when the pin is cut back left, or suffer the consequences. The narrow 18th features one of the larger greens on the course, but is not an especially demanding finishing hole, assuming you stay out of the trees.
Preceding the 18th are the longest par 3 and par 5 on the course. The tee shot on the par-3 16th has to negotiate a creek just short of the well-bunkered green as well as trees that pinch in on either aside, with the down-and-up 17th offering a more generous corridor tee to green to offset the ample yardage a bit.
The incoming nine also includes a pair of stout par 4s (14 and 15), both of which have uphill approach shots and tiny creeks well short of the green that can come into play if you get out of position or suffer a miss-hit.
Given the track record CGL has established in the Atlanta area with its efforts at Mystery Valley, the regulars at Collins Hill have good things to look forward to. And those unfamiliar with the course or having experienced its recent struggles have a reason to give it a fresh look.
Under CGL’s management, Mystery Valley has continued its long commitment to junior golf that was spearheaded by former head pro Dave Ayers, and Collins Hill is positioned to do that in Gwinnett.
The course offers discount rates for Gwinnett residents, as well as for juniors and seniors, with the non-resident rates still very affordable. Frequent visitors to the course can take advantage of its annual pass.
For information, call 770-833-5400 or visit www.collinshillgolf.com.